Baseball: Aussie Justin Erasmus sparkles as closer for Slammers
By Tim Tierney For Sun-Times Media July 9, 2013 4:52PM
Justin Erasmus suffered the loss Saturday for the Slammers. | File photo
Updated: August 11, 2013 6:40AM
It’s home to the Great Barrier Reef, world-class beaches and dining, and Joliet Slammers pitcher Justin Erasmus.
Born in South Africa and raised primarily in Australia, the 23-year-old Erasmus brings a touch of the land Down Under to the Slammers roster.
“I enjoy meeting new people, seeing new places, traveling around,’’ Erasmus said. “But it is a big adjustment. I’m over here by myself. I have to be completely independent with everything I do, and I love it.
“I had to start fending for myself in a different country when I was 19 years old. I miss my family and I miss my home, but at the same time, this is my job. This is what I want to do.’’
Erasmus spent four years in the Boston Red Sox organization and has become one of the top closers in the Frontier League with nine saves going into this week’s series against Normal.
Joliet signed Erasmus on May 15 after he was released by Grand Prairie in the American Association. He had played in the Australian Baseball League with former Slammer Jim Schult, who recommended Joliet.
Slammers manager Mike Breyman said he received a call from Erasmus near the end of spring training, “did my research on him’’ and signed the Australian pitcher two days before the season started.
“He is a lot of fun to watch,’’ Breyman said of his quick-with-a-quip closer. “He challenges with his stuff. ... He is that good crazy.’’
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Erasmus takes an aggressive posture on the mound, ready to challenge whomever waits in the batter’s box.
His father told Justin when the pitcher was younger that he should throw every pitch like it’s going to be his last.
“I don’t think of that every time I throw the baseball,’’ Erasmus said. “But that’s a big thing to me and it makes a lot of sense because you never know what’s going to happen in life.
“Every single outing, I’m 100 percent focused on the job, the pitch at hand, what I want to do. I leave everything I have out on the field. On a day I get beat, I’ll tip my hat. I’ll be very upset because I lost, but I’ll have worked my hardest.’’
Erasmus signed as a starter with the Red Sox, but was changed to a reliever in his first spring training. Copying the work ethic and learning about the game with the Red Sox were valuable experiences for him.
“I look at myself in the mirror every day and say ‘Did I give 100 percent today?’ ’’ Erasmus said. “To this day, I can’t say that I haven’t. Every day I go out and work as hard as I can.’’
Erasmus, who throws his fastball between 86 and 92 mph, believes pitchers peak when they’re 26.
“I’ve still got three years to peak,’’ he said. “Who knows what can happen.’’
Erasmus does know he’s not going to throw 96 to 100 mph. To get hitters out, he developed a cutter and a curveball in his repertoire.
“My ball constantly moves,’’ he said. “That’s how I’m successful, I’ve learned how to throw a pitch that moves late.
“I still battle with it every day. I know I can throw it for strikes. I have a lot of confidence in it, but there’s times it won’t do what I want it to do. It’s going to take a long, long time to perfect it.’’
Erasmus goes home in the offseason to play in the Australian league and have food such as meat pies and sausage rolls that he can’t get in the U.S.
“It’s extremely laid back; there’s not much rushing around,’’ Erasmus said. “The weather is beautiful. Everything about it is amazing.’’
Even more amazing for Erasmus would be playing major league baseball.
“I’m driven,’’ he said. “I want to get to the big leagues. That’s my ultimate goal. I want to get there any way I can. If that means I’ve got to play in a different country, I’ll do whatever I can to get there.’’