Surrounded by family members in his parents’ home in DeWitt, T.J. Sikkema took the phone call of a lifetime late Monday evening.
On the other end of the call was the New York Yankees, selecting the all-American pitcher from Missouri with the 38th choice in baseball’s 2019 draft.
“It was amazing to be there with my family and to have a chance to share the moment with them,’’ Sikkema said.
“I had been given a heads-up by my agent that the Yankees would likely be calling, but when it actually happened, I found myself at a loss for words. It was just a special night and a special time, something you always dream about.’’
Sikkema, the son of Central DeWitt baseball coach Shane Sikkema, described Monday as “a long day of waiting.’’
He was joined by his family in watching the draft unfold pick by pick, knowing that eventually he would likely hear his name called.
“About the time of the 32nd pick, I got a call from my agent telling me to be ready at pick 38 because the Yankees would likely be calling. When they got to pick 37, the nerves kicked in a bit,’’ Sikkema said. “It was a pretty incredible feeling when the phone rang, just awesome.’’
Sikkema positioned himself to receive that call with his work over the past three seasons at Missouri.
The 6-foot, 221-pound left hander became the Tigers’ first baseball all-American in 10 seasons during a dominant junior season for Missouri, named last week as a third-team selection by Collegiate Baseball.
He finished the year with a 7-4 record and a 1.32 earned run average over 88.2 innings, striking out 101 batters while limiting opponents to a .175 batting average.
Known for his diverse collection of pitches, consistent control and use of multiple arm slots, Sikkema believes an uptick in his velocity during the recent season also helped him catch the attention of professional scouts.
“I feel like that was helpful,’’ he said.
Sikkema knew the Yankees were among teams with a strong interest in him.
From early conversations with an area scout last fall to more extensive interviews, psychological tests and discussions with other Yankees personnel in recent weeks, Sikkema sensed that he was on the organization’s radar.
“I’m happy with how it all worked out,’’ Sikkema said. “I’m happy with where I was picked, I’m happy with the Yankees. They were one of the teams that had spent a lot of time with me and I feel good about moving forward with them, getting to Tampa and starting things off with them.’’
Sikkema’s selection at 38 in the competitive balance Round A of the draft carries a slot value of $1.95 million according to MLB.com
The first Missouri pitcher to be selected in the draft’s extended first round since Tanner Houck in 2017, Sikkema joins Max Scherzer in 2006, Aaron Crow in 2008 and Kyle Gibson in 2009 and Houck among Tiger pitchers taken in the past 15 years as opening-round choices.
“To have my name mentioned in the same breath with those guys, that’s an incredible feeling. I’ve had a chance to get to meet some of them during my time at Mizzou and they’re amazing dudes,’’ Sikkema said. “They’ve continued to be around the program.’’
That served as motivation and helped prepare Sikkema to do the work it took to be competitive in the Southeastern Conference.
“Coming out of high school, pitching in the SEC was something I wanted. The challenges of that level of competition, facing the best hitters in college baseball, was something I wanted,’’ Sikkema said.
“That was big for me and so was getting a chance to pitch there as a true freshman. Getting thrown into the fire and seeing what it was all about right away, it helped me a great deal over my three years there.’’
Sikkema was awarded second-team all-SEC honors last month, becoming the first Missouri player since pitcher Breckin Williams in 2015 to earn that recognition. His 258 career strikeouts rank sixth on the Tigers’ all-time list.