Jesse Foppert, the quintessential San Francisco baseball player, is the only ballplayer to have worn both USF and Giants jerseys. He is now teaching and inspiring young San Franciscans at the Jesse Foppert Pitching Academy.
A .400 hitter his senior year at San Rafael High School, Foppert had always resisted his coaches’ pleas to become a pitcher. He just wasn’t ready to give up his turns in the batter’s box.
In 1999, two new faces appeared on the USF baseball scene: Coach Nino Giarratano and Foppert, a walk-on shortstop on a team deep at that position.
Playing the corner infield positions for the Dons his first two seasons, Foppert was a good player, a .300 hitter, but he recognized that high-velocity pitchers and good breaking balls gave him trouble.
“I made my living off soft-throwing lefties,” Foppert said.
After the 2000 season, Giarratano and Chad Konishi, the Dons’ pitching coach at the time, looked at their tall and lean infielder — he had grown 3 inches to 6-foot-6 at USF — and were convinced that Foppert’s future was on the mound.
As long as he could still take his licks at the plate, Foppert finally agreed to pitch.
That summer, Foppert pitched and DH’d in the Virginia Valley League. After going 8-4 with a 3.75 ERA his junior year at USF, he caught the eye of the Giants, who drafted the 21-year-old right-hander in the second round (74th overall) of the 2001 draft.
Two years later — three years after his conversion to pitcher — Foppert made his Giants debut after his dominance over opposing hitters skyrocketed him through the minor league system.
The 2003 season proved to be a short rookie campaign for the young hurler when an injury ended it in August. Relying on a split-finger fastball, he finished 8-9 with a 5.03 ERA on a Giants team which won 100 games that year.
“I felt like I threw the ball with a lot of ease, not a lot of stress,” Foppert said. “I don’t really know what caused the initial injury and the Tommy John.”
After Tommy John surgery in September 2003, Foppert’s next outing wasn’t until the final game of 2004, a scoreless inning in relief against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Traded to the Seattle Mariners in 2005, Foppert returned to the Giants’ organization in 2007. In 2009, his injury-plagued Giants career was complete, but not his connection to baseball in San Francisco, as his academy started up.
He counts several St. Ignatius ballplayers among his students.
“They have a number of good arms and good athletes, all hard workers, which is fun to be around,” Foppert said.
Teaching the game is new for Foppert, who this year experienced his first San Francisco spring in 10 years, rather than in Arizona or Florida, where his professional career ended in 2010 after being released by the Marlins organization.
“It feels weird not being in spring training. I definitely miss the competition and the camaraderie with my teammates,” Foppert said. “But I’m really enjoying what I’m doing now.”
Happy to be coaching and living in San Francisco with wife McKenna, Foppert has not a hint of self-pity from a promising career that was derailed because of injury.
Had his USF coaches not convinced him to change positions, he would have no professional résumé. He’s ready to return the favor and mentor a new crop of local ballplayers.
“My goal is to really help these kids, not only now but to have them create a good work ethic, not only for baseball but for life after baseball,” Foppert said.
Jesse Foppert Pitching Academy
LOCATIONS: USF and College of Marin
STUDENTS: Currently about 50, mostly pitchers, but there is room for more
METHOD: Foppert is a believer in breaking down film with his students