BENTON – Former Benton Panther second baseman Jack James will be joining Panther teammate Justin Vincent at Arkansas Baptist College next baseball season as James signed his letter of intent to play for the Buffaloes on Tuesday afternoon at Benton Arena.
“He’s done a good job,” Benton Panther Coach Mark Balisterri said. “He’s a two-year starter. Jack’s had a lot to go through the last couple years. He was real sick this year. He missed a few practices and several games because of it. But he battled through it and he ended up being a big part of our success. He came up with some big hits for us in key situations. I’m glad he’s getting the opportunity to go play and we seem to have a pipeline to Arkansas Baptist. They’re excited about getting him and we’re excited about him going. He’s worked hard. He’s a good kid.”
Buffaloes Coach Shawn Regan concurred on Balisterri’s assessment of Benton being a pipeline to Arkansas Baptist. Regan said ABC has signed 12 players from either the Panthers or the American Legion Benton McClendon’s Appliances in the past five years. The Buffaloes have signed 18 players from Saline County during that time.
“We’ve been following Jack the last few years,” Regan said. “I actually had the opportunity to teach him in class because I’m a teacher. He told me back then that he was preparing, working hard and trying to do his best to have a shot to play college baseball.
“We think we’ll use him probably more out of the bullpen. I think he projects probably more as a pitcher. We give everybody the opportunity to be a two-way player if they want to work at it. We want to see what he can do off the mound. I think you have more opportunity at the collegiate level because you might have to go through a four-game series where you use eight or 10 arms. Pitchers have a better opportunity to play. Jack’s going to be a good addition to the team.”
James, who plans on being a baseball coach, said though he has strictly been middle infield throughout high school, he’s looking forward for the opportunity to pitch again.
“I’m excited to pursue my future there,” James said. “I haven’t pitched that much lately. I’ve been a middle infielder, but I used to pitch all the time growing up.”
McClendon’s Coach Brandon Wake said James has been a leader for him during a season when the roster had the potential to be deep, but didn’t end up that way.
“He’s been our mouthpiece,” Wake said. “He’s meant a lot to me. The kid has an opportunity to do something well. The cool thing about Jack James is I see me in him when I was a kid. Some of the same situations he’s been in. It’s great to see a kid excel toward the end of his career, when at first it was kind of rocky. He’s just a great guy with a great heart. I think he’s going to do well.”