Toole's new "9 in 9" book serves as an inspiration to all
There are more than two million Little League baseball players in the United States. Of that two million, 25,000 will play at the collegiate level and 1,500 will be drafted.
The odds of breaking into professional ball are slim. The odds of becoming a professional ballplayer and a published author are even slimmer. Somehow, Justin Toole has managed both before the age of 30.
Toole, 27, has been part of the Cleveland Indians organization since 2009 when he signed as a minor league free agent. The Iowa native has since climbed up and down through the farm system as one of the organization’s core utility players. Though he doesn’t have a set position, he’s managed to capitalize on his versatility.
On August 25, 2012, Toole played all nine positions in a professional baseball game. He went 1-for-4 for the high-A Carolina MudCats and ended the evening on the pitcher’s mound.
The game provided an inimitable memory for those in attendance, but for Toole it also provided a source of inspiration. Toole’s first book, “9 in 9” was released in October to recall the night he played all nine positions and to remind readers to never stop dreaming.
Toole said he’d always wanted to write a book to tell his story, but hadn’t really planned to do so until he realized he could create a unique angle.
“I wasn’t sure what I could use to separate myself from other professional athletes,” Toole said. “There’s so many athletes out there that want to tell their story and I didn’t just want to be another athlete that told their story like everyone else.”
With a little help from a sport psychologist friend, Toole concocted the groundwork for “9 in 9.” The nine-position game became more than a bullet on Toole’s baseball resume as it became the framework for his book.
“It was kind of a blessing for that to happen,” he said. “I wasn’t planning on doing that or using that in that way but when the idea came about, it seemed like the perfect way to do so.”
Toole’s story has certainly seemed to make an impact. The book has already sold hundreds of copies -- and the number of online versions sold has yet to be counted. Toole said he’ll find out the numbers from online sales around February, when he’ll also start working on another set of numbers: his baseball stats.
Toole’s biggest goal is to maintain consistency through the 2014 season. Last year, he saw three different levels of baseball and posted a collective .253 batting average. Finding consistency can be tough for someone who may fall asleep in North Carolina and find himself suiting up in Akron the next day, but Toole saw the constant movement as a chance to make a statement.
“Spring training went really well, then I got to Carolina,” he recalled. “I didn’t do very well to start off, kind of struggled early on. I got the opportunity to go up to Akron and I think I took advantage of the opportunity really well.”
Toole hit .211 through 43 games in Carolina and saw an improved .310 through 34 games with Akron. He said moving around among the varying levels can be difficult, but his attitude is what keeps his nerves in check.
“I’ve reached the point where I’m comfortable with being uncomfortable,” he said.
With spring training inching closer, Toole will look to continue the success he found with the Akron Aeros (now RubberDucks) last year by putting the necessary work in and maintaining his eminent optimism.
“My goal is always to take advantage of the opportunities I’m presented with,” he noted. “With baseball, you think you have an idea of what’s going to go on. Sometimes you’re right, sometimes you’re completely off. You just go into it with a positive attitude and whatever happens, happens.”
Toole has also seized the opportunity to inspire others. “9 in 9” provides nine separate messages, one for each inning and position he played on August 25, 2012, but there’s an overall message that Toole wants readers to absorb.
“The biggest overall message was just to follow your dreams,” he explained. “I wasn’t the most talented kid but I was able to have success, not necessarily because I was stubborn, but because I just kind of had a dream. I didn’t let people’s negative or personal opinions affect what I wanted to do.”
Toole puts an emphasis on the theory that hard work beats talent, a message he feels more children need to hear.
“Everyone hears about the kids that are blessed from the beginning and the superstars and phenomenal athletes where everything came easy,” he explained. “I think that discourages a lot of kids from following their dreams and I don’t think a lot of kids realize how hard it is when you get up to professional baseball, professional sports or college sports. Everyone’s just like everyone else. You work really hard and you have to battle to get to where you are.”
Four years after inking a contract with the Indians organization, Toole is still chasing his dream. His versatility may have carried him on the diamond, but his positive outlook and relentless work ethic have supported him beyond the ball field.
Stephanie is a crime and general assignment reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio. She’s an alumna of Cleveland State University with a degree in Journalism and Promotional Communication. You can follow her on Twitter @7thInningSteph.