September Column Winner

From Panthers to Pirates, Taloga's Jordy Mercer is proud of his small-town roots

BRYAN PAINTER, The Oklahoman

The pitcher's mound is no longer the only bump on Taloga High School's baseball field. Some of the gopher mounds are more than ankle high.
Near third base, the cover of an old baseball is nestled among the weeds and short grass of the base path.
The bulbs on the eight light towers around the field have been cold for a few years, now that the school no longer plays the game. With a declining high school enrollment, the program ended.
Nevertheless the Taloga Panthers are, in a sense, headed to the Major League Baseball playoffs, via Jordy Mercer.
The Pittsburgh Pirates had 20 losing years. While that run ended this year for the playoff-bound Pirates, it's been a half-dozen years since the Panthers, who won a few state titles in school history, have had baseball.
But Mercer, one of seven in Taloga High School's class of 2005, has played in more than 100 games this year for the Pirates and will be on the team's 25-man playoff roster as postseason play begins this week.
Although Mercer resides in Edmond in the offseason with wife, Kasey, and 1-year-old son, Maverick, Taloga, with a population of about 300, is home. It says so right there on the back of his 2013 Topps baseball card.
Jordy's parents, Rick and Tammy, have resided in the same house in Taloga for 30 years. Out of the picture window you can see light towers at the field.
"We were down there virtually every night I was home;' Rick said. "It was his idea. He'd look at me and say, 'Let's go, I need to hit: I'd hit him maybe 50 to 100 ground balls and then I'd throw and he'd hit probably 50 to 100, every night."
After the Pirates clinched a playoff berth, Jordy called his dad.
"He said, 'You've come a long ways. It took a lot of practice, " Jordy said. "He asked me if I'd change anything. I said, `No. We've come a long ways together: I wouldn't have been here without him, that's for sure.”

Like family
Jordy's home field in the majors is PNC Park along the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh.
But as Rick said, "Jordy grew up hunting in the tree line along the South Canadian River."
Jordy's first vehicle was a pickup, a bright yellow 1999 Chevrolet shortbed. Pickups are plentiful in this town 37 miles north of Clinton. Here, agriculture and oil and gas play big roles in the local economy.
Taloga, the county seat for Dewey County, has a convenience store, a bank, a grain elevator, a few churches and more. And the senior center isn't just for seniors. It's a popular lunch spot in the community. Plus, Taloga Public Schools this year experienced an enrollment increase in younger students.
"Everybody here in Taloga is like family," Tammy said. "Everybody watches after each other's kids.
"We wouldn't have wanted to raise our children anywhere but in a small town.”
Pride is easily found in Taloga, Tammy said. For example, Jordy turned 27 on Aug. 27 this year so a friend put a note in the Taloga Times Advocate. They urged other friends to gather in front of the Mercers' house for a birthday video. What does that say to Jordy about his hometown?
"It speaks volumes;' Jordy said. "I wouldn't expect anything less because Taloga is such a great community. When I first heard the story I thought there might be 10 or 15 people but 40 or 45 people showed up, all wearing Pirates gear and holding Pirates signs.
"It blew my mind, it really did. It was something really special.”
In his hometown, Jordy played not only fall and spring baseball, and basketball in between, but also showed Poland China hogs. He had the breed champion barrow at the Tulsa State Fair during the same time of year as the fall baseball playoffs.
Then and now
Coby Nelson, now superintendent of Vici Public Schools, was Mercer's baseball coach through school. He laughed when asked about the first time he coached Mercer.
"Well, the first time I really coached him was probably when he was 8 years old on a 10 -under team," Nelson said. "But I was actually the coach-pitcher for his team when he was about 5.”
Nelson also coached Mercer from seventh grade through his senior year. The teams Mercer played with in high school probably had n to 15 players. They went to several fall and spring state tournaments. They won the 2004 spring state championship and finished as runners-up that fall.
"What really personified Jordy was his leadership;' Nelson said. "Just because they were a freshman on the team, didn't mean they were any less a part of that team. He treated everyone like his best friend.”
The 2004 state title added to previous success including state championships in fall 1996, spring 1997 and fall 1997. A few years after Mercer graduated, the numbers of students got to the point where Taloga didn't have enough players for its own team. They joined with another small school program for a baseball team for a while.

`Where he comes from'
After Jordy was drafted by the Pirates in June 2008 out of Oklahoma State University, the Mercers sold their seismic drilling company.
Traveling in an RV, they attended all Jordy's games while he was at OSU. But with the business sold, they decided to devote a little more time to wheat and cattle — and of course going to games.
During baseball season, the Mercers usually come home to plant wheat, harvest wheat and work the ground. A hired hand takes over while they're gone.
However, there was a time baseball delayed harvest.
Rick was harvesting hard red winter wheat late last May when Tammy drove up. Jordy had been called up to the major leagues.
"I got off the combine and we hopped a plane out of Oklahoma City early the next morning," Rick said. They watched a few games, including May 30, 2012, when Jordy got his first major league hit.
"I'm sitting there seeing what had been his dream since he was a T-ball player," Tammy said. "You know you think about all those nights the lights were on over here at the high school field and seeing him play, and now you see him playing under the lights on a major league field. As a parent, you are beyond proud and feel very blessed."
But beyond proud extends beyond the field.
"He's such a good person, that's the core of what I think has made him," Rick said. "A scout asked me one time, 'Well what's he going to be? Is he going to be a shortstop or a pitcher?' I said, 'That'll have to be for you to decide. I can tell you, you'll find better pitchers and better players, but you'll never find a better person. You can take that to the bank.’
"Jordy really believes in his roots and where he comes from.”

2 comments (Add your own)

1. Kathy Landoll wrote:
Bryan,

Beautifully done piece, as usual. Thanks for presenting the inside story of our kids efforts. Congrats on the award, well deserved.

Mon, November 25, 2013 @ 8:52 PM

2. Naina wrote:
First play catch everyday with a panetrr. Then once you start catching easily get a tennis ball and throw it against a wall works your fielding. For batting have someone soft toss to you. which is someone tossing from the side of you. Also hit off a tee it helps you swing level. Just keep doing this to improve a balanced swing and help your fielding. After a while you can start having someone throw you pop flys and hit you ground balls. It helped me and Im a junior in high school and one 1st team all district and all city.

Thu, January 30, 2014 @ 4:05 PM

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