The East Texas Pump Jacks of the Texas Collegiate League had just finished playing a game that lasted over three hours in triple digit heat. Standing outside the home dugout, utility player Joey Armstrong wiped the sweat off his forehead laughing.
“I play college ball in Las Vegas,” Armstrong said. “This is nothing.”
Armstrong grew up in California and developed a love of baseball at an early age playing ever since he could remember with his dad and older brother.
“Growing up, I was always playing with them,” Armstrong said. “My dad was a legion coach back home so that’s what I played since I was in eighth grade all the way through high school.”
In high school, Armstrong garnered many awards including the All-Area Offensive Player of the Year award after posting a .562 batting average with 36 RBIS during his senior year at Lodi High School. Armstrong’s talent drew several college offers before he decided on the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Little did he know that a few months after signing, he would be joined by a familiar face.
“I committed before my brother Patrick. I signed and he was finishing up his last year of junior college at Sacramento City College my senior year,” Armstrong said. “He called the coach and said I don’t need a scholarship. I’ll just walk on. He ended up walking on and making it into the lineup within the first ten games of the year. I grew up playing with him so it’s really cool to play with him at UNLV.”
Armstrong said playing in Las Vegas was definitely different than playing back home.
“People aren’t really in Vegas to watch college sports but I love it. The coaches are great. The fans that we do get do a great job of backing us up so I really enjoy it,” Armstrong said. “Being in Vegas causes some distractions but it fades away and you get used to it being there after awhile.”
The Armstrong brothers put up big numbers in their first season with the Rebels with both ranking in the top five for batting averages with a combined 131 hits and 73 RBIs. Joey wanted to continue building on that momentum by finding a place where he could develop his skills further over the summer.
“One of our assistant coaches (at UNLV) knows pretty much everybody that has anything to do with college baseball so I asked him if he could hook me up with a place to play summer ball,” Armstrong said. “He said how does Texas sound? I said sign me up so it happened really fast.”
Armstrong was assigned to the East Texas Pump Jacks, a Texas Collegiate League team based in Kilgore, Texas, a city known for oil with approximately 13,000 residents. Armstrong said he felt good vibes the minute he got to Drillers Park.
“I’m loving the experience here. It’s a small town. I’m from a small town back home so I like the feeling of it,” Armstrong said. “Everybody knows everybody and it’s really cool.”
One aspect of the collegiate league process that he has enjoyed so far has been his host family.
“My host family is awesome. I’m really lucky to be with them,” Armstrong said. “One of my buddies from last year, Tyler Sullivan from Pacific, and he told my host family to try and get me which was pretty cool. They’ve become like my second family pretty much so I’m really happy.”
While Armstrong has mainly played third base this summer. However, with only one catcher on the team’s roster, he asked to put in some time behind the plate.
“Growing up, I always used to catch but then I got to high school and out catcher was a senior so I started playing in the outfield. When I went to UNLV, I played third base,” Armstrong said. “I came here (East Texas) and said if you need anybody to catch, I’m more than happy to do it for you. Our coach said okay let me talk to your UNLV coach (Tim Chambers) about it. He said he thought it would be a good idea to get some innings behind the plate.”
Although he wants to improve his defense, Armstrong said his main focus for the summer will be quality at-bats which will make all the difference after he returns to UNLV in the fall.
“I’m probably going to be here and play 60 games with probably 200 to 250 at-bats. I don’t want to take any at-bats off,” Armstrong said. “Summer ball is for you to work on stuff and it’s exactly what I want to do. Going back to UNLV with a year of summer ball and 60 games under my belt will be huge to get that experience.”