In 2004, when Chesterfield native Cla Meredith first broke into the world of professional baseball, he was a 21-year-old relief pitcher, eager to do some damage against Major League hitters. Now, Meredith, 27, is a husband and a father, and though he still plays the game he loves with the same relentless ferocity, the source of his motivation has changed over time.
“It’s mainly family,” said Meredith, now a Richmond resident. “People don’t realize I almost play the game for other people now. You got to put food on the table and this is the best way I know how to do it. … It’s not like I’m just playing for me anymore. This is really my job now.”
After a momentous season his senior year at Meadowbrook High School, Meredith signed with Virginia Commonwealth University on a partial scholarship ― a decision that would greatly impact the rest of his life as a baseball player ― and saw success. During the 2003 season, he went 6-0 and set a school record with a 1.19 ERA, the second best in the NCAA’s Division I that year.
“When I got to college as a sophomore, I really became a full-time pitcher and learned what I was doing,” he said of his 2003 season. “I think that’s when I really got the confidence … I was starting to realize that a lot of guys coming to the box don’t really want to see me. I thought ‘Wow, I’m getting pretty good at this.’”
A year later, based on his success at VCU, Meredith was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the sixth round as a relief pitcher. He spent the rest of that summer playing in the Minor Leagues until he made his Major League debut on Mother’s Day, May 8, 2005.
That day at Fenway Park in Boston, Meredith was summoned from the Boston bullpen late in a game against the Seattle Mariners; he surrendered a grand slam to hitter Richie Sexson. Not long after his debut, he was demoted to the AAA level of the Minor Leagues, where he remained for the rest of the season.
“I never panicked. I think it meant so much more to the people who might have watched it, like my parents, my friends. The people back here,” he said.
He was traded on May 1, 2006 to the San Diego Padres; he got the win on his first appearance with the team and then “kind of stuck,” he said. In 2006, Meredith baffled big league hitters with the abrupt, late movement of his signature sinker, thrown in the upper 80s from a lower, sidearm angle, and solidified a spot as the team’s middle relief man.
“I was still really hungry,” said Meredith. “I had a huge chip on my shoulder still from being traded and I was somewhat arrogant still. Every time I played I was looking to prove somebody wrong.”
For Meredith, his 2006, record-setting season as a rookie proved him a worthy Major League relief pitcher. That year, with a 1.07 ERA and a .170 batting average against National League hitters, he set a franchise record by not surrendering a run in 28 consecutive appearances, spanning 33 2/3 scoreless innings. He now holds the record for the second-longest scoreless stretch by a rookie relief pitcher since 1920, the beginning of the live-ball era.
“I was still so young on a maturity level that I never got caught up in it,” he said. His whole mentality was: “I know I got 28 scoreless innings, I’m about to go and get 29.”
For the next three and a half seasons, Meredith thrived as the set up relief pitcher for the Padres, putting up solid numbers and even making one playoff appearance. But in the summer of 2009 he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles, and finished that season and the next with the organization.
Plagued with elbow injuries during the 2010 season, Meredith was demoted to the Orioles AAA affiliate, the Norfolk Tides, which is a two-hour ride from his hometown.
Fortunately, his wife, Natalie, 25, was from the Virginia Beach area and her family accommodated the young couple while he played in Norfolk.
Their daughter, Adellyn, who was born a few months before his trade to Baltimore, is now 21 months old, and is clearly the twinkle in her father’s eye.
“She’s one reason why I’ve lost my edge. She’s turned me into such a sucker. I love that little girl to death. She’s got a pretty good arm, too,” he said.
Another baby girl, Harper Louise, is on the way, and is expected at any moment.
Now, with the season that left “a sour taste” in his mouth finally concluded, Meredith is a free agent and could sign any moment to play for a team in 2011. But, rather than worrying about the future, he has prepared for the season and learned to deal with the “itch” for baseball season to start by coaching and giving lessons at the Richmond Baseball Academy (RBA), where he is a partner-owner.
And since seven and a half months of the year are spent away from home, he’s sure to get his family time, as a majority of Meredith’s family lives in or just outside the Chester area.
“It’s not necessarily the older I get, it’s that I don’t think about it just from a baseball standpoint,” he said. “I’m just a normal guy in the community ― a father, a son, a husband ― and I want to be good at all those things.”