John Clay Reeves has finally found a baseball home at Rice University. Coming from Monroe, Louisiana, the Owls’ starting catcher played his first two seasons at the University of Arkansas and Navarro College, respectively, but has finally established himself at Reckling Park.
Last season, his first season as an Owl, was Reeves’s breakthrough year in which he recorded a .317 batting average led the Owls to another conference championship and earned him a collection of individual accolades. He was named the Conference USA Newcomer of the Year in addition to being a second team All-Conference USA honoree.
Reeves played his freshman year at the University of Arkansas, where he helped the Razorbacks reach the College World Series as a true freshman. However, due to a crowded depth chart at catcher, he transferred to Navarro College after the season. According to Reeves, he enjoyed his time at Arkansas but felt he could achieve greater accomplishments at other programs.
“Arkansas was a great experience for me my freshman year,” Reeves, a McMurtry College senior, said. “I had some great times and got to learn from a great catching coach, but I was splitting time and it was best for me to move on.”
At Navarro, Reeves led his team to the Junior College World Series while posting a .367 batting average. After completing his junior college year, he landed at Rice.
Reeves said ending up at Rice was a dream come true.
“Not many people want to pass up the opportunity to come to Rice and play for a great coach in Wayne Graham,” Reeves said. “I thank God every day that he gave me the opportunity to be on a team like this.”
After sustaining a hip injury last season, he had surgery on June 26 to begin his rehabilitation. He missed fall baseball practice as part of his five-month recovery process. Reeves said he has been aggressively training to get back into top-tier baseball form since mid-November.
“I have been hitting it real hard,” Reeves said. “I have been catching and hitting as much as I can to get ready for the season and handle all these great pitchers that we have. I want to put up some of the same numbers I put up last year and maybe improve since I am healthier this year.”
Reeves is focusing on fixing the last season’s mistakes. Despite his all-conference-caliber numbers from last year, he believes there is plenty of room for improvement, for both himself and the team. Primarily, Reeves said the team needs to do a better job taking each game with the same intensity.
“I want to have a good season, not only for myself but for my teammates,” Reeves said. “We want to take each game one at a time and win the series every weekend.”
Head Coach Wayne Graham is also looking forward to another impressive season from Reeves, whom he named Most Valuable Player of the team last year. According to Graham, Reeves has a chance to improve his performance from last season due to his improved health.
“He played hurt [last season] and he played well and called a great game,” Graham said. “He has a chance to have a great year. He is just a fine and intelligent player.”
In addition to his hitting prowess, with his six home runs and 41 RBIs in 2014, much of Reeves’s contribution to the Owls comes from his job as a game-managing catcher. Reeves said he works closely with the Owls’ top-tier pitching staff and is entrusted by Coach Graham to call the pitches in games.
“As a catcher, I want to be able to lead our pitching staff and help call pitches,” Reeves said. “I can’t say enough about this pitching staff. We have so many good pitchers on this team.”
This year, Reeves will have some defensive help with junior Hunter Kopycinski ready to take on some of the load at the catcher position. According to Reeves, Kopycinski has shown promise and will be able to fill in for him, if needed.
“Toward the end [of last season], I got a little tired,” Reeves said. “This year we have Hunter Kopycinski to share some of the games at catcher. He’s been playing great and had a great fall.”
With Kopycinski ready to share the load, Graham said Reeves and Kopycinksi would be splitting games defensively at catcher. When not catching, Reeves will be the team’s designated hitter, replacing the pitcher in the batting lineup.
“Reeves will always bat in the lineup,” said Graham. “Kopycinski is hitting better but will not always be in the lineup.”
Reeves’s goal is to return to the College World Series in Omaha for the first time since his freshman year at Arkansas, and he said he believes this team has the ability to achieve their objective.
“I think this is a great team and a great group of guys,” Reeves said. “This is a team that does have potential to go to Omaha.”
Reeves, who is entering his final year of eligibility, said he is looking to play professionally after this year. He said his goal is to continue to play baseball and someday continue working in the field as a coach.
“I want to try to play baseball as long as I can like every guy in that locker room,” Reeves said. “Eventually coaching is something that I think I have a lot of passion for. These coaches here have done nothing but great things for me.”
Reeves, a sports management major, said he is also thankful for the academic value that his Rice experience has given him. He has been working hard in the classroom to make up for the 30 hours he lost when he transferred. Named to the C-USA All-Academic Team last year, Reeves will walk at graduation, but will be six credits short of a diploma.
“Rice does a lot of great things for you other than athletics,” Reeves said. “It is a great school for academics, which is another reason I came here. It has given me the opportunity to have some great internships through our sports management program.”
Reeves looks to stay healthy and be on the lineup card for the entire season as he enters his final year as a college athlete, having found a place in which he could excel.
“There is no better place to me than Rice,” Reeves said. “It really has been a blessing to have the opportunity to play here and I could not be more thankful.”