By STEVE KRAH
A Homestead High School graduate in 2012 and Louisville Slugger All-American at Xavier University in 2016, Jernigan was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 14th round of the ’16 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft after being named Big East Conference Player of the Year.
At spring training this year, Jernigan enjoyed picking the brains of former Minnesota Twins who were Fort Wayne Wizards coming through the minors — LaTroy Hawkins (with Fort Wayne in 1993) and Torii Hunter (1994).
“It’s incredible to play on the same fields and in the same league as them,” says Jernigan, who played 36 games for Elizabethton (Rookie-level Appalachian League) after the draft and four contests for the E-Twins in ’17 before being assigned to Cedar Rapids June 29.
“We’re lucky to come out here and just play,” says Jernigan. “I just like to take it day by day and enjoy the experience. It’s that fun and excitement you had when you were a kid that made you want to become a professional baseball player.
“It’s very easy once you get out there to lose sight of that. You start to think of it as a job. My main goal is to come out and learn something new and get better each and everyday.”
Playing so many games, pro baseball can become a mental and physical grind. But Jernigan chooses not to see it that way.
“You don’t think I have to play today, I get to play today,” says Jernigan. “It’s really just a blessing to be out here.”
Jernigan grew up playing shortstop and accept for being moved to third base by then-Homestead head coach Steve Sotir during his sophomore year, he was an everyday shortstop until he became a pro. The Twins have used him at second base, third base, shortstop and even one game at catcher.
“A ground ball’s a ground ball though the ball gets too you faster at third base,” says Jernigan. “The Twins talk about (playing multiple positions). I’ve always been told the more versatile you are, teams can get you more playing time.”
Jernigan is thankful for a foundation laid by Sotir, who now works at The Base in El Paso, Texas, and current Homestead head coach Nick Byall.
“They run a great program,” says Jernigan of Sotir and Byall. “I look back on the drills and some of the things we did. I can’t thank them enough with helping me with my development.”
Scott Googins, who became head coach at the University of Cincinnati after the ’17 season, was head coach at Xavier during Jernigan’s days as a Musketeer.
“Coach Googins made sure that we put together a tough schedule and faced the Vanderbilts and the Arizona States and some high-power arms,” says Jernigan. “Playing those teams in those series definitely helped in the sense that I’ve seen the velocity and the breaking balls.
“I seen some of that electric stuff. The biggest thing (in the minors), everyone you face now is a Friday night guy.”
The key is to hit the pitcher’s mistakes.
“I want to find a pitch and drive it,” says Jernigan. “You must be ready for the fastball at all times. You can adjust to the off-speed after that.”
Andre was born to Frankie and Stacey Jernigan in Muncie and the family landed in Fort Wayne around the time Andre was starting school.
Frankie Jernigan graduated from Muncie Central High School and earned a baseball letter at the University of Nebraska (1989). He passed along his knowledge and love of the game to sons Andre and Austin (who played baseball at Homestead and is now a senior student at Ball State University).
“I can’t thank him enough for all those days when he threw us BP and hit us ground balls,” says Andre of his father.
Andre played travel in younger days with the Mavericks and then with the Fort Wayne Cubs (now the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks).
In one of those small world phenomenons, The Diamond Baseball and Softball Academy owner/senior baseball instructor and director of player development Manny Lopez was a minor league teammate of Ramon Borrego when both played in the Twins organization. Borrego is now manager of the Gulf Coast League Twins.
Jernigan graduated from Xavier with a degree in finance.
“I’ve always been good with numbers,” says Jernigan. “It’s one of those things that I find interesting.”
Another interesting family connection is former NBA standout Bonzi Wells. He is connected in Andre’s mother’s side.
Wells shined on the hardwood at Muncie Central and Ball State and then played with the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets before stints in China and Puerto Rico.
At 40, Wells now plays in the new BIG3 pro 3-on-3 league.
Jernigan says Wells recently talked with youngsters at Muncie Central.
“He has that inner drive that keeps you going,” says Jernigan.
Andre Jernigan, a graduate of Homestead High School and Xavier University, is in the Minnesota Twins organization with the Cedar Rapids Kernels. (Steve Krah Photo)