Searcy’s message to today’s youngsters: ‘Dream big’

You could be the next Todd Helton

(Steve Searcy, a 1982 Central High grad who pitched for the Bobcats and UT and played in the major leagues a decade before Todd Helton, shares some of his memories and thoughts about Helton, who will be inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame on July 21.

Searcy often came back to CHS in the winter months to prepare for the next baseball season and in 1990 connected with Helton and the Bobcats in a special way.

A left-handed pitcher, Searcy played at UT in 1983, 1984 and 1985 and was drafted his junior year by the Detroit Tigers as the first pick of the third round. His major league career included three seasons with Detroit (1988-90) and two with the Philadelphia Phillies (1991-92).


“When I was playing ball in the majors, Central’s Coach (Bud) Bales would let me come back and get me a catcher (in the winter months) and I would work out and work with the team and the pitchers. The 1990 season was the year we got ‘locked out’ (by Major League Baseball) and it also was Todd Helton’s sophomore season and the year the Bobcats won their second state baseball championship.

“The year we were locked out, I would throw batting practice to the team. And that team won the state with eight of the nine starters being All-KIL players. They had Chris Freeman, Bubba Trammell and some guys that went a long way in ball, but you could just tell the difference in the swing that Todd would take and the way the ball left the bat even in batting practice. You could just tell there was something special about the way he could swing a bat.

“That year he hit between .600 and .700. It was something ridiculous. It showed how well his hand-eye coordination really was. You don’t even see Single-A pro players doing that. It was just amazing the way he could hit the ball.

“During the time when he was still pitching, you could tell he had the ability and wanted to win. He had a will to win. You could just tell that at an early age.

“Of course, I can still say (chuckling) I’m the best pitcher that’s ever come out of Central High School, because Todd didn’t pitch in the major leagues. He only hit. There’s no telling what he would have done if he had gone in as a pitcher. After 17 years in the majors, I think they made a pretty good decision on which way he went and what he was going to be.

“I was in charge of doing the running in the preseason … When we ran, we didn’t just get out on the track and run, we would get out on the roads so it wasn’t monotones. You could talk about life that way and what was going on in their world. I had fun with it, but it was also hard work. I don’t know if they would tell you it was a lot of fun or not, but I think it did make us all better.

“It was pushing me to get better too because I was still playing. I was pushing as hard as I could and they would see me working. I guess they figured if I was working like that and a major league player, they certainly better work as high school players. Hopefully, that helped. I don’t know if it did or not. But a lot of those players seemed to go a pretty good ways in ball and life itself.

“I stayed in touch with Todd (after my playing days). We visited Colorado and Todd got us tickets to his game and we’d have dinner together.

“I would also see Todd around UT, coming to football games. Our paths crossed here and there, but not a lot. I definitely respect him for what he did. His career was amazing with the numbers that he put up. But you know he hit at Coors Field (with its high altitude and thin air) in home games and put up numbers that may not be quite the same on the road, but other than that it’s just amazing what he did over 17 years with the bat.

“You think about the number of all the major league players over some 120 years and there are only 273 of them in the Hall of Fame. That’s pretty remarkable.

“As for the kids around here in Knoxville today, here’s the way I look at it – dream, dream big. If Todd Helton could be in the Hall of Fame, who’s to say that Johnny Smith or whomever could not. Dream, you can make it. Sure, it will take hard work.

“I tell everybody that as a young child I got cut from the middle school team; of course back then Gresham was a junior high when I played. I said I would never get cut again in baseball …

“So my sophomore year was the next time I was going to be trying out and it was for the high school team at Central. We would have 80 or 90 players try out and only 16 players made it.

“To be able to tell the kids that I got cut in junior high, but made the team by the skin of my teeth as a sophomore, I backed up my goal to not get cut again. I worked and worked to get better. For me to be able to do that and then later get to know Todd … Todd had a lot more ability, just pure God-given ability, but also the work ethic and all that it took.

“I mean you can get there. For the kids around here, look at what Todd did. Look at his numbers and the career that he had. Dream big, you could be next.

“I’ve got a neighbor across the street and he’s actually doing what you don’t see kids do anymore. They get out and play backyard wiffle ball or softball or whatever outside. And I would just love to see him be the next Todd Helton.

“You’ve seen that it’s happened here in Fountain City. Dream big. You can get where you want to go.”


(Six Central High grads have played Major League Baseball. The late Pat McGlothin, a pitcher, was the first in 1949 and 1950 and outfielder Buddy Gilbert, who is 88, was next in 1959.

Then came pitcher Chris Zachary, who died in 2003, in the 1960s and Steve Searcy in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Slugger Bubba Trammell and Todd Helton were teammates on the Bobcats’ 1990 state title team and later at UT before reaching the MLB.)