By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa. — Altoona Curve catcher Jacob Stallings is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, but he also has a soft spot in his heart for Vanderbilt University, where his dad, Kevin, is the men’s basketball coach.
“He’s been there since 1999,” Jacob Stallings said of his dad in a recent interview at Peoples Natural Gas Field. “When I was at UNC, we actually played Vandy in a Thanksgiving basketball tournament, and Vandy won, so I was wearing my Vandy sweatshirt around campus.
“We also played (Vandy) later in Omaha,” Jacob said, “and I actually had a lot of friends on that Vandy team, so that was weird. I wanted to go to Vandy, but they had a lot of catchers when I was being recruited. I went to North Carolina and it was the best four years of my life.”
Stallings, who is 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, played basketball in high school and won all-state honors in Tennessee, but baseball was his sport.
“All I did was run around and shoot 3’s and make some passes,” he said. “I wasn’t much of a defensive player.”
Stallings said he had some offers from some smaller schools, but nothing major because he didn’t play AAU which goes on during the summer when he concentrated on baseball.
Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams actually helped recruit Stallings for the Tar Heels baseball team.
“My dad was on (Williams) staff at Kansas,” Stallings noted, “so I actually had a Carolina connection before I went there. Of course, the baseball coaches wanted me to go to Carolina, but Coach Williams was able to give me a different perspective, which was nice. While I was there, especially my freshman year when I was homesick, he went out of his way to look after me, and he didn’t have to do that.”
Stallings said he and his dad have a great relationship. He said he bombards his dad with basketball questions while his dad, a baseball lover, bombards him with baseball questions.
“We’re best friends,” Jacob said. “He was the best man at my wedding.”
Stallings was drafted by the Reds after his junior year, but did not sign.
“I just really wanted to go back to college and enjoy my senior year,” he said. “Getting my degree was the main thing because i knew I wouldn’t want to go back to school after baseball. Plus, I was excited because we were going to have a really good team. We were nationally seeded, one of the top 10 in the country, so I’m glad I went back.”
Stallings received his degree in exercise sports science and was selected by the Pirates in the seventh round of the 2012 amateur draft. He spent the 2012 season at short-season State College where he batted .230 in 66 games and was selected as a New York-Penn League All-Star. He also received the team’s leadership award.
Stallings caught for Bradenton (High-A) in both 2013 and 2014. He batted .219 in 78 games in 2013 and jumped to .241 in 68 games last season. A big second half (.288 in 34 games) earned him a promotion to Altoona (Class AA) this season and he’s doing well, sharing the catching duties with Sebastian Valle for the Curve, who have led the Eastern League Western Division most of the season.
Curve manager Tom Prince also managed Stallings last year at Bradenton.
“That’s been invaluable,” Stallings said. “It’s really cool being able to pick his brain because he’s a guy who caught in the big leagues. He has a wealth of knowledge and experience.
“It’s also great because we have (coach) Miguel Perez, who also caught at the higher levels,” Stallings said. “It’s been great for my development.”
Prince likes what Stallings brings to the table.
“I try to get both Stall and Valle their share of work,” Prince said. “Both are going a great job, especially with Miggy (Perez) behind the scenes. Their blocking and throwing are improving. All the little things we do as catchers, including the game-planning, is all getting better.”