Gunnar Eastman always hoped for an opportunity to pitch in college during his standout high school career at Green Bay Southwest.
The former Trojans star accomplished that feat at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee from 2011-2015, but he took things a step further in June when he flew to Florida to sign a professional contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Eastman, 23, is believed to be the first baseball player from one of the four Green Bay public schools to sign a pro contract since the schools started playing the sport in 1991.
“That really puts it in perspective,” said Eastman, who played for the Green Bay Bullfrogs of the Northwoods League in 2011 and the Lakeshore Chinooks in 2013. “When you’re playing professionally, it doesn’t feel like that, it feels like there are all sorts of guys doing it.
“But when you look at the big picture, you notice how rare it is for somebody to sign.”
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound right-hander spent the summer with the Gulf Coast Blue Jays in the Gulf Coast League. The team is a rookie level minor league affiliate of the Blue Jays.
Eastman appeared in 14 games out of the bullpen, going 1-0 with a 5.40 ERA while striking out 15 in 25 innings.
He had received a text message from a Blue Jays scout near the end of the Major League Baseball draft in June, asking him if he’d be interested in signing with the team even if he wasn’t drafted.
Eastman indeed was interested.
“I knew I had some sort of chance, probably towards the end of the draft,” Eastman said. “The last 10 rounds or so, but I knew I wasn’t for sure. To even think of signing after the draft (isn’t) that much of a possibility, but yeah, the guy asked me if I wanted to sign.”
Scouts had started to pay attention to Eastman during his junior year with the Panthers, and he did nothing but help himself with a strong senior campaign this past season.
Eastman went 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA while making a career-high 22 appearances for UWM in 2015. He struck out 18 in 22 innings and limited hitters to a .203 average.
He arrived at UWM after a breakout senior season for the Trojans in 2010 in which he went 10-1 with a 1.92 ERA and helped his team capture a share of the Fox River Classic Conference title. He earned co-player of the year honors while hitting .344 with 26 RBIs.
Eastman’s time in the GCL the past few months was pretty much what he expected.
“It’s a total grind playing a game every day, and sometimes your body doesn’t feel the best,” he said. “But I played in the Northwoods League and that gives you a taste of what pro ball is like. I had an idea of what it was like playing every day.
“As far as fitting in, everyone there is really talented. That’s why they are there. I knew I wasn’t an outcast. I knew I was just as good as any of these guys. I felt like I belonged.”
Eastman plans to be back with the Blue Jays’ organization next year and will spend the offseason in either Green Bay or Milwaukee working out.
He will resume throwing off a mound again in a few months in preparation for the biggest season of his baseball life.
“It will be like a make-or-break year for me,” Eastman said. “I have to really show them that I belong and that I have the stuff to keep going.”