BRYAN-COLLEGE STATION, Texas — A relief pitcher for the Brazos Valley Bombers always knew his life would revolve around baseball. What he didn’t know was how much the sport would give back to him in return.
A life that has been a “rollercoaster of ups and downs” has culminated in Johnny Cheatwood finding himself at the top of the collegiate baseball world. He’s stepped onto the mound in different uniforms across six states, overcome personal struggles and family hardships and even dropped baseball altogether for a time.
Today, Cheatwood credits baseball – and the ability to consistently throw strikes – for his success and personal growth.
“The main thing that helped me through everything was baseball,” Cheatwood said. “I knew that baseball would be there for me no matter where I ended up.”
First stepping up to the plate when he was just four years old, Cheatwood joined a tee ball team while his family lived in Chino, CA. After “falling in love with that little white ball,” he said he knew the sport was his passion. Cheatwood’s father Jerry said he had the same realization soon after.
“When John was about seven, I watched him throw a ball from first base to third base,” Jerry said. “He hit the kid in the chest and knocked him down; he had a cannon for an arm. Later, he told me he was going to take [Anaheim Angels Manager] Mike Scioscia’s job from him. That’s when I knew baseball was going to be a huge part of Johnny’s life.”
Once high school hit, Cheatwood said everything changed, and his father’s new job forced the family to relocate to Indiana.
Cheatwood used his love for baseball as a way to bond with his new classmates in the new state, even after being forced away from the home in which he spent his entire childhood. Dan Drullinger, a former pitching coach for the Bombers, said this openness and determination to build relationships was on par with Cheatwood’s character today.
“There’s no ‘shy’ in John Cheatwood’s vocabulary,” Drullinger said. “He’s never met a stranger. You can always feel his presence when he’s around because he just has that awesome high energy.”
Cheatwood soon decided he wanted to take his game to the next level. The pitcher signed on to play for Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, and quickly packed his bags to go play ball in yet another state.
Cheatwood, a self-proclaimed “big family man,” had his world shattered when his father suffered a stroke back in Indiana. Not long after, Cheatwood decided he needed to move back home to take care of his dad.
“When it happened, I knew I had to do whatever I could to help my family,” Cheatwood said. “I had to reevaluate my life and step away from baseball.”
Over the next year, Cheatwood worked four jobs at once, bouncing between construction, lumber work, overnight retail restock and food delivery, trying to make what extra money he could to support the family. Drullinger said this compassion is something Cheatwood shows to everyone in the pitcher’s life on a daily basis.
“‘Selfless’ is the best term I have to describe Johnny,” Drullinger said. “He’s an uber talented guy, but what makes him special is that he’s just a good guy on top of that talent. He legitimately, genuinely wants the people around him to be happy and successful.”
The hard work paid off, and Cheatwood’s father made a full recovery. For Cheatwood, this meant he could go back to pursuing his biggest passion in life — baseball. The right-hander joined the pitching squad at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, IL, for a year before receiving a scholarship offer from Marshall University in Huntington, WV.
“I’m so thankful that I was given the opportunity to keep playing,” Cheatwood said. “Now I’m just trying to make the most of it and create something special while still enjoying the sport.”
Most recently, Cheatwood made the commitment to travel south to join the Brazos Valley Bombers in Bryan, TX. Although Texas was the sixth state in which he played baseball within the last decade, Cheatwood said he actually felt most at home in the Lone Star State.
“Stuff just automatically clicked,” Cheatwood said. “I found my place and I love it. Even though I’m originally from the city in California, I’m definitely a country boy at heart. This is me.”
On top of loving the state of Texas as a whole, Cheatwood said he holds a special place in his heart for the Bryan-College Station community.
“I went and saw the Bonfire memorial on literally the first day I moved down here,” Cheatwood said. “I’m getting chills just talking about it. The Brazos Valley is a special place — the people are so welcoming and loving. What more could you ask for?”
Drullinger said others around him quickly agreed. Even though Cheatwood was new to the team, the coach said there was never a moment where the pitcher felt lost or out of place.
“Johnny is a Bomber, through and through,” Drullinger said. “He’s always playing with his teammates in mind, and the squad is incredibly lucky to have him. He definitely belongs with the team.”
With his place cemented on the roster, Cheatwood is able to focus on gripping the laces and pursuing his passion. Jerry said it is a privilege to watch his son step up to pitch.
“My favorite thing about watching Johnny follow what he loves is the fact that he’s always trying to get better at the game,” Jerry said. “He’ll always be a student of the game. John loves giving back to baseball.”
Ready for the upcoming season with the Bombers, Cheatwood said he is thankful to have found his place on the team.
“I’m just ready to get back and play in the ballpark,” Cheatwood said. “It’s going to be one hell of a season. The environment is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever played, and there’s nowhere I’d rather be spending my final summer as a student. Let’s do this.”
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