Once projected to be a 10th round MLB draft pick, former Gaston standout Cody Fassold fell off everyone's radar, but clung to his grandmother's mantra that things would eventually work out
Surprise, Ariz., a town of 115,000 people located roughly 25 miles northwest of Phoenix, was founded with roots of disbelief.
According to the city's web site, back in 1938, Flora Mae Statler founded the town on just one square mile of farmland, commenting, 'she would be surprised if the town ever amounted to much.'
To understand the relevance of an old farmer's pessimism from generations past, know this: Surprise is home to the Arizona Royals, the rookie level minor league baseball team of the Kansas City Royals.
And for former Gaston High School standout Cody Fassold, it happens to be the location of his first real job.
Former Gaston baseball coach Tim Olietti wasn't when Cody signed a free agent deal with the Royals in June.
'He was dominant,' Olietti said of Fassold's time in a Gaston uniform. 'He was poised beyond his years and an absolute workhorse. The program had been down but was on the way up. When Cody came in as a freshman, he gave us that edge. He led us to the state playoffs for the first time in at least 30 years.'
With his I'm-going-to-throw-it-by-you attitude, Cody amassed huge strikeout numbers, but despite his big arm and big frame, he found himself generating little interest from any colleges. There was no talk of being drafted. The only scholarship offer came from Lower Columbia College, when renowned pitching coach Rob Hippi approached him after a game.
'I had an offer that night,' Cody recalled.
Hippi, who retired at the end of the 2010 season, spent more than 25 years at Lower Columbia as a pitching coach and oversaw the development of major leaguers, such as Bud Black, and major league prospect Jeff Ames, one of Tampa Bay's 2011 first-round draft picks. Hippi himself spent time in the Yankee organization as a pitcher.
Under Hippi's experienced eye, Cody blossomed from hard thrower to pitcher.
'He saw my raw tools, and carved me into a pitcher,' Cody said. 'He really showed me the ropes. He helped show me how to keep my composure and shaped me to get to where I am now.'
Cody's numbers backed up his transformation. He finished his freshman year with an 2-0 record, a 2.84 earned run average, and 28 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings pitched. As a sophomore, he improved on those numbers, finishing with an 8-0 record, a 1.17 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 69 innings.
Cue the phone calls from the scouts.
Projections, once non-existent, suddenly hovered near the 20th round. Some had Cody going as high as the 10th.
Cody landed on the Royals' map. An offer was made by the Colorado Rockies, but it came in low.
Still, it was tangible - a chance to play professional baseball.
Cody and his head coach at Lower Columbia, Kelly Smith, deliberated and discussed. Smith advised Cody his target signing bonus should be $50,000. Anything less and it would be smarter to stay in school. The Rockies' offer was $25,000 in cash and to pay for the rest of school.
It wasn't the first time a Fassold had to make a tough decision regarding the draft. According to Cody's grandfather, Bob, Cody's dad, Bobby, was in the same position back in 1984, after he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers. Ultimately, he turned it down and was never re-drafted.
'As a sophomore I had projections as high as 10th round,' Cody said. 'I figured it would be that high or higher my junior year.'
With the decision made and his time at Lower Columbia done, Cody moved on to Lewis-Clark State, a NAIA powerhouse and wonderful resume filler. Over the years, 117 Lewis-Clark players have been drafted, 14 of whom made it to the Major Leagues.
'If you wanted a good program in NAIA,' Cody said, 'this is where you went.'
Once there, Cody took advantage of his opportunity.
'It's challenging here to get to the mound and into the rotation,' Lewis-Clark head coach Gary Picone said. '(Cody) wanted that challenge. Most of what happened, he did and he's earned it and I'm really happy for him.'
Cody went 6-0 in his first season, sporting a 3.14 ERA and 49 strikeouts. During the season, the calls from the scouts came in every other day, gauging interest, gauging health. All signs seemed to point to Cody being drafted.
But once the draft came around, the calls stopped.
'Once the season was done, that was it (in terms of calls),' Cody said. 'After the draft, I asked myself, did I make the right decision?'
Skip ahead to Monday, June 6. Draft day. Done with his senior season and holed up in his grandfather's house, Cody waited to see if his name would be called.
He had done all the resume building he could do, presented all the skills he possessed. He kept his stout 6-foot-2, 230-pound frame in front of the computer, watching for three days as 1,530 jobs were filled, some going to fellow Lewis-Clark teammates.
By the end, Cody remained unemployed.
But he held firm to the belief that everything would work out, that everything would be OK. It was a motto his grandmother repeated during her battle with cancer. She succumbed to the disease when Cody was a freshman.
He's used her words ever since.
Cue the phone call Thursday morning.
On the other end was the Royals' scout Scott Ramsay, who'd been scouting Cody for the last three years. They offered $1,000 plus a requirement that Cody had to be in Arizona in 48 hours.
'It was excited relief,' Cody said. 'I've done nothing but what (the coaches) have said for four years and I did well, but yet, there was still no opportunity.'
'The whole time I was thinking (Cody) would be the next pick,' he said. 'I felt fortunate that he signed. Now he has the same chance as the No. 1 pick.'
It's Wednesday night, June 22. It's Cody's first scheduled appearance on the mound, his first day on the job. The Arizona Royals vs. the Peoria Padres.
He's decked out in company issue. There's the blue Royals cap, blue jersey with the number 77 on the back, grey pants and blue socks rolled up to the knee. But there's a problem:
The thermometer reads 106 degrees at game time. It's so hot, desert iguanas are forced to seek shelter. Remnants of Mariners and Padres spring training still exist in the stadium, reminders of the ultimate goal, the unique corporate ladder Cody is trying to climb in this unique office setting.
He will have two months, until late August, to make an impression on his employer. Though the Royals have rights to him for six years, they have the right to reassess the situation every year.
But tonight, he does everything he can. Tonight the only thing he can complain about is the heat. His line is almost flawless. Three innings pitched, no runs, three hits and two strikeouts.
'My goal is to always do my best,' Cody said. 'Just give me the ball and I'll try to take advantage of the opportunity.
A belief in a town built on disbelief. A belief built around the motto - 'It will all work out' - that Cody learned from his grandmother.
A belief that he hopes upper management will take notice of in the future.
'It's a dream come true, playing here in Royals gear,' Cody said. 'I can't believe this is my first professional job, that my first W-4 is from professional baseball.'
NOTE: On June 25, Cody was assigned to the Idaho Falls Chukars of the Pioneer League in Idaho Falls, Idaho.