His college baseball career was star-crossed, but C.J. Eldred of Mount Vernon has a chance to write a happier story in pro ball.
Eldred, a redshirt junior for the University of Iowa’s baseball team last season, announced Tuesday he has signed a contract with the Kansas City Royals.
“To get an offer to play professional baseball, it just felt like a no-brainer,” Eldred said from Surprise, Ariz., the site of the Royals’ spring training complex. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid watching my dad do it.”
Dad is Cal Eldred, Urbana native and former Hawkeye pitcher who had a 13-year Major League Baseball career. He is an assistant to the general manager with the Royals.
C.J. Eldred’s road to a pro contract was rocky. He started his college career at Indiana as a preferred walk-on, and red-shirted that season. He transferred to Iowa when Indiana’s coaching staff moved to Arizona State, and thus was ineligible to play in 2015.
He pitched 94 innings for the Hawkeyes in 2016. His 3-8 record belied a good 3.43 ERA and the fact he was the team’s Friday (No. 1) starter for much of the season. He was expected to be a vital player for Iowa in 2017. But he pitched six innings in his first game of the season, and then his season was done.
Eldred, 22, had torn the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow of his pitching arm. He had surgery March 15.
“The recovery is 6, 7, 8 months instead of the 12 to 14 for Tommy John surgery,” Eldred said Tuesday.
“(The Royals) told me they want to be patient and make sure I’m not rushing myself.”
Right now, Eldred is rehabbing in the 100-degree Arizona climate.
“I threw 75 feet in my first day yesterday,” he said. “I’m getting into a throwing program, and I should be working off the mound within the next month, month-and-a-half. The Instructional League is from mid-September to the end of October. I don’t know if I’ll throw in any games or not.”
Eldred and the Hawkeyes will always wonder what might have been had he been healthy for the 2017 season. The team certainly did well enough in his absence in winning the Big Ten tourney title. But he could have been a difference-maker in the regular-season standings and Iowa’s appearance in the NCAA tourney.
“It was definitely the most-bittersweet time in my life,” Eldred said. “Sitting in the stands watching my team celebrate winning the Big Ten championship … that was definitely very tough.
“But the sweetest thing was seeing the team that I was a captain of winning that championship game after we had been in that game the year before and lost.”
Starting in a city called Surprise, Eldred will now try to be just that in pro baseball.