Josh Fleming Takes Gorlok Pride to Major League Baseball World Series

Nov. 3, 2020

Josh Fleming Takes Gorlok Pride to World Series

The North American sports spotlight was fixed on former Webster University All-American pitcher Josh Fleming this fall as he became the first pitcher in Tampa Bay Rays history to begin his Major League Baseball career with five consecutive wins.

Fleming didn't stop there: After the regular season concluded he pitched in the playoffs and the World Series. Not bad for a rookie season.

Fleming is the second player from the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) to be selected in the MLB draft, but the first from both Webster and SLIAC to advance to the major leagues. In his three-year Webster career from 2015-17, he set Webster single season marks for ERA and strikeouts and allowed the second lowest batting average for opponents (.165). He was a fifth-round draft pick by the Rays in the 2017 Major League Baseball draft, and had a 22-13 record, 3.40 ERA and 214 strikeouts in 294 minor league innings.

Fleming made his major league debut when he started for the Rays on Aug. 23 in the third of a four-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays. He closed out the 2020 regular season by pitching six scoreless innings en route to leading the Rays to a 5-0 win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Tropicana Field on Sept. 27. He went 5-0 with a 2.78 ERA in seven appearances and had seven walks and 25 strikeouts in 32.1 innings of work.
The Rays, who were the American League champions, concluded the 2020 season by falling in six games in the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Fleming, who was on the Rays roster for both the ALCS and World Series, pitched three innings in Game 5 of the ALCS against the Houston Astros and pitched 2.2 innings in Game 1 of the World Series against the Dodgers.

Despite his success, Fleming remains humble, said Webster University baseball coach Bill Kurich. “He is one of the best pitchers in the nation, but he never thought he was too good for anything… he puts the team first.”

'We knew he was really special...always puts the team first'

In his three years at Webster, from 2015-17, Fleming, a Business major, set single season marks for ERA and strikeouts and allowed the second lowest batting average for opponents (.165).

Coach Kurich, who knew the Fleming family from their mutual hometown of Columbia, Illinois, recruited the left-hander hard. “He was a great pitcher in high school. We were ecstatic to get him,” Kurich recalled.

Fleming arrived at Webster as a 6-foot-1, 150 lb. freshman. “The velocity of his fastball was not where he needed to be," Kurich said. "We knew that once he packed on the pounds he would grow in strength. The jump he took from August to the first time pitching for Webster in February [2016] was astounding.”

Fleming threw 90 mph against No. 2-ranked Emory in his first game as a Gorlok, cementing his reputation as a player to be watched; but it wasn’t his hurling prowess alone that impressed his coaches and later, MLB scouts.  

“We knew he was really special,” Kurich said. “There’s a maturity about him in the way he competed that was different from everyone else. He could slow his heart rate down in the moment. He was confident in the moment.”

“It’s crazy,” Kurich recently told STL Sports Page, reflecting on Fleming's progress. “To think of where he was three or four years ago and now the kid I know is out there pitching in the World Series on national television. It’s just unbelievable.”

Fleming says the program at Webster boosted his confidence. For him, a Division III school was a perfect fit. “The coaching staff was great and so was the team,” Fleming recently told sports podcaster Jayme Bertish. “I went to a small high school. Webster’s a smaller college so it just felt, you know, kind of like home.”

He earned the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year award, then was named the 2017 Pitcher of the Year, the Central Region Pitcher of the Year and the All-Central Region First Team selection. The American Baseball Coaches Association followed with ABCA/Rawlings 2017 Central Region Pitcher of the Year recognition for Fleming, as well as being named to the Central All-Region First Team.

Charlie Meyer at had rated Fleming the fifth best player in Missouri, colleges or high school, eligible for the 2017 MLB draft.  

Kurich has come to St. Petersburg to watch No. 61 play from the VIP section of a popular sports bar near Tropicana Field and will attend his former star pitcher’s November wedding in Florida. “That feeling of pride never goes away.” 

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