Former Baron Sears feeling right at home with the A's


For most of his professional life, JP Sears was a bit of a nomad.

After starring at Wilson Hall and The Citadel, Sears was drafted by the Seattle Mariners and quickly traded to the New York Yankees. He lived the life of a minor leaguer, slowly working his way up from level to level.

Sears finally made it to the Yankees in 2022, but his time in pinstripes was short-lived, as he was traded to the Oakland A's at the trade deadline.

While the A's have been through their share of struggles in recent years, the move was a blessing. It allowed Sears to earn a consistent job as a Major League starter. Last season, he had a full season in the show, making 32 starts with a solid ERA of 4.54 on a team that limped to just 50 wins.

That life as a nomad may not be done for Sears, as the A's have been in a year-long battle with the City of Oakland as they prepare to move to Las Vegas. On April 5, it was announced that the A's would play in Sacramento next season as the organization works on stadium plans in Sin City. While it's been far from a typical Big League experience, Sears knows far too well that there's no point in getting too comfortable anywhere as a professional athlete.

"Big picture, moving to Sac or Vegas or whatever it is, it's felt like being in the minor leagues with the Yankees. You never know what'll happen; you just work to get better," Sears said. "The players on the team, we don't talk about it. It's so next year. We've been playing some pretty good baseball now, and the season is such a long season. If you're thinking about next year, much less a week or a month from now, then you're way ahead of yourself. I think that's kinda helped me, and I guess the other guys, block that out. It's part of coming up through baseball, it's kinda what you're forced to do."

The eventual move to Vegas was met by harsh criticism from Oakland fans. They've boycotted games to show their disdain for ownership but still show a support for the team on the field. That dynamic makes the Coliseum an interesting park for Sears to call home.

"We're in a position where we're just blessed to be playing ball every day, and having any types of fan supporting us in any way is all you really want," Sears said. "It's never fun to hear the 'Sell the team' (chants) during every game because you're more worried about winning that game. We just kinda block it out and worry about what we can focus on. That's all you can really do every day."

Sears and the A's have certainly been able to block out the noise. The A's are well on their way to surpassing last season's win total as they sit around .500. Sears won three out of his first eight starts. He's already nearing his win total (5) from last season, as the A's struggled to back him up with runs a year ago.

"After you go through a year like we did last year, you come into it knowing that you've been through some of the worst and the worst is behind you. It makes it kind of easier to be hungry to show up every day and just keep getting better," said the 28-year-old southpaw. "We're still early in the season, so we're just trying to take it a series at a time, try to win the first game of a series and then try to win the next day. I know that's kinda the cliché baseball answer, but that's how you have to treat a long season.

"Even when you're playing good ball, just try to keep balancing off each other and kinda making it more of a snowball thing and, before you know it, you get some momentum and some confidence."

Sears has also gained some confidence from having a steady spot in the rotation. It's a lot easier to pitch when you're not worrying about one bad inning being the reason you're headed back to Triple-A.

"I have to use that to my advantage and not as a crutch," Sears said of that stability. "It's easy to get comfortable in that position, but it's still baseball, and baseball is hard. People say Year 2 is the toughest year because you have a full year where teams have seen you. The best part about it is that I've been able to work on some pitches."

The lefty added a sinker to his arsenal this season. He felt the freedom to tinker with the pitch during training camp because of the relationships he's built in Oakland.

"I've been able to develop a sinker, which I feel like I wouldn't have been able to do if I had to make a team out of camp and really focus on my best pitches to get guys out every time I get a chance to go out there," he said.

Of course, Sears isn't the only lefty from Sumter making a name for himself in the Big Leagues. Like the rest of his hometown, he watched as former Sumter High standout Jordan Montgomery and the Texas Rangers won the 2023 World Series and loved every second of it.

"That was awesome. I haven't talked to him a crazy amount this year about signing and all that, but Jordan is a good friend, and any time someone is able to win, you're always pulling for them," Sears said. "He really carried that team a lot last year at the end of the year and had some really good starts in the postseason. I was super happy for him. He's Mr. Consistent, and that's kinda what you want to be a starter. That's what I'm working to do as well."

Sears also stays in touch with his Sumter roots. He grew up as neighbors to the Kinney family and still keeps in touch with their youngest, Clark, who helped lead the Barons to 21 wins this season. His connection with the next generation of athletes continues to give him a spark to improve.

"Any time that you're able to hang out with people younger than you, it brings a light to me, and you feel refreshed in baseball knowing that there are kids that are good friends of yours that are also looking up to you," Sears said. "Clark and some of his friends are so smart, I feel like that generation is so much more advanced than we were at that age. Any time I can go back there, I definitely will. I spend a lot of time in Charleston, and I definitely want to come back to Wilson Hall and Sumter more because they have a lot of good things going on there, and there are so many great family friends there."

Now that he's in the middle of his third season in the Majors, it would be easy to take his position for granted. While life as a Big Leaguer has become his new normal, Sears is just focused on making the most of his opportunity.

"It's an interesting job. I'm often reminded, whenever I see a kid at the ballpark and they're shocked you're talking to them, that you have such a big impact on people's lives every day," Sears said. "It definitely is something that feels like a norm, but I don't ever look at it as a norm where I'm going to be comfortable where I am and just let the day go by. I look back at the end of the season and reflect more than I do weekly or monthly. Day to day, you just focus on what you need to do that day to get better, and you can spend some time after to reflect.

"Last year was such a fun year, and I feel like I learned so much, even though I was able to play in the Big Leagues in 2022. Doing it every day for a whole year, I don't take it for granted either."