Todd's Homecoming

Jess Todd

Former Razorback Jess Todd gets a chance to pitch in front of some familiar fans on Wednesday night when he takes the hill for the visiting Springfield Cardinals against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals in a 7 p.m. game

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - Jess Todd's truck is sitting in a parking lot in Palm Beach, Fla.

The former Arkansas pitcher said his parents delivered it two weeks ago. The 22-year-old thought he'd spend his first full season of professional baseball pitching for the Palm Beach Cardinals in the Florida State League, so he got them to drive from their Kilgore, Texas home to Florida and drop it off.

He should've known better.

"I don't know what's going to happen with it now," Todd said as he slipped off his new Springfield Cardinals jersey 1,200 miles away Tuesday. "But you just have to go with the flow."

Todd's blink-of-an-eye rise through the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system took a big step this week, when the right-hander landed in Class Double-A - without his truck.

The next phase begins tonight when he makes his debut with the Springfield Cardinals in Arkansas of all places. Todd is scheduled to start on the mound when the Cardinals play the Northwest Arkansas Naturals in Arvest Ballpark tonight at 7.

He and teammate Casey Rowlett will become the first former Razorbacks - outside of Naturals catcher Cody Clark - to play in the state. And the noteworthy return to Arkansas has been just another piece of a dizzying year for Todd.

"Things are happening real fast," Todd said. "All I know is that one day I was in spring training hoping to go to Low-A. Then I started in High-A. Now I'm in Double-A."

Not bad for someone who was wearing an Arkansas uniform and hurling fastballs in Baum Stadium last May.

St. Louis selected Todd in the second round of the 2007 draft after he went 9-3 with a 2.89 earned run average in 23 appearances with the Razorbacks. He only pitched one year in Fayetteville, but cemented his spot in the hearts of fans after striking out 17 batters - including the first nine - against South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

The remarkable performance set school and SEC Tournament records. It also made it clear Todd had a bright future.

"Jess doesn't say a whole lot, he just goes out and proves it," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "He's competitive. You put him on the mound and he doesn't like to lose."

He has lost only once in his young pro career, which started with a 4-1 mark with the Batavia Muckdogs in the New York-Penn League last summer. In fact, Todd was recently named the Cardinals' minor league pitcher of the month in April after going 3-0 with a 1.65 ERA in Palm Beach.

His most notable performance came on April 24, when Todd struck out nine batters - including seven straight - in a five-inning outing against Vero Beach. Todd said it reminded him of his outing in the SEC Tournament last May.

"I was like, no way this is about to happen again," said Todd, who has added a cut fastball to his repertoire since turning pro. "But it's a lot easier in college when you strike out seven than it is here. ... The strike zone is a lot bigger in college."

Todd's play led to the Double-A jump, but it wasn't the only factor. The St. Louis system has experienced a wave of movement because of injured pitchers at the Triple-A level.

The ripple effect reached Palm Beach where Todd said he got a call that he was moving up Saturday night. He jumped on a plane the next day and arrived in Springfield.

Springfield pitching coach Bryan Eversgerd said the moves have been so quick that he hasn't seen Todd pitch.

But his message to the newcomer tonight is simple.

"He's obviously had success at the level below this one, so use the things that have gotten you here," Eversgerd said. "The game doesn't change. Whatever pitches he's using to get guys out there, he's going to use them at this level also."

Rowlett said that shouldn't be a problem. He believes Todd has "electric stuff" and will make an impact in Double-A.

"He flew through the system," said Rowlett, who worked out with Todd in Fayetteville in the fall. "He deserved it. He put up numbers wherever he's at. The way things worked out with our starters moving up to Triple-A, this is a great opportunity for him to jump in and take advantage of it."

Todd is expecting 30 or 40 people he knows in the stands for his debut tonight. Plus, he has a feeling thousands of Arkansas fans will be watching. There's no doubt interest is high.

Mike Lindskog, Springfield's public relations manager, said the organization has been flooded with interview requests from Arkansas media outlets since Todd's arrival. He said Todd's start has attracted more media interest than big league pitcher Mark Mulder's rehabilitation stint last month.

It's also being hyped by the Naturals. On Monday, the front page of the team's Web site announced Todd's scheduled start with one emphasis: Tickets remain available.

"It's going to be tough to calm those nerves," Rowlett said. "But Jess is the type of guy if he goes out and pitches like he knows how he's got good enough stuff for it to work."

Van Horn, who will be in attendance, believes his former pitcher will have no problem making the adjustment. In fact, he believes Todd's climb to Double-A is right on schedule.

"He was a high draft choice for a reason: He's very talented," he said. "They projected him to make it pretty quick.

"I'd say that we felt like he'd be in Double-A this summer and once you get to Double-A anything can happen."

Of course, the unpredictable world of minor league baseball guarantees nothing. So Todd could go anywhere next.

He could move up the system with success or more injuries to pitchers. He could go back down to Palm Beach if players get healthy. He could stick around in Springfield for awhile.

The next few weeks will dictate that. For now, Todd said he isn't getting comfortable in Springfield. Or moving his truck.

But he does have a goal for his first Double-A start.

"I just have to go out and prove that I belong here," he said.

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