Trevor Clifton never had somebody like himself to look up to growing up in a small town.
The former Heritage High School pitcher turned Minor League prospect credits his father and Heritage baseball coach Robbie Bennett for getting him to where he is now.
Family and coaches will always be around to support those with dreams, but Clifton wants to be around as an example that those dreams are obtainable.
That is why the right-handed pitcher returns home to leave his mark on the community, doing so this past weekend by hosting a baseball camp at Heritage.
“It’s fun to have a camp like this,” Clifton told The Daily Times. “I’m just trying to give back and have the kids learn as much as possible. I’ve been coached by some of the greatest coaches I could ask for ... and I’m just trying to help them get some of that coaching from me.”
Clifton has been a fixture in the community ever since he was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 12th round of the MLB Draft out of high school.
Last summer, he made a surprise appearance at the Blount Community Church’s “Who’s on first?” baseball camp. He also makes time to talk with Heritage’s baseball team during fall workouts.
“He loves to give back and he does a good job of it,” Bennett said. “He’s a big part of our program and this community.
“We’re proud of him, and everybody around here supports him and follows him. When he comes around, you can see smiles on our kids’ faces. They like listening to what he has to say because they want to be like him.”
That makes sense.
Midway through his high school career, Clifton’s stuff vaulted him to being one of the most highly-touted pitching prospects in the country.
He was one of 17 high school prospects named to the 16-under junior national team, where he played in the IBAF World Youth Championships in Lagos de Moreno, Mexico before his junior year.
As a junior, he posted a 2.30 ERA to put him not only on the collegiate radar, but MLB draft boards. He signed to play at Kentucky, but his signature with the Cubs after he was drafted expedited his career.
Success of that magnitude is extremely rare in Blount County, but through dedication and hard work, Clifton believes it is possible to replicate.
“They’re in the same position I was five years ago, so they have the same opportunity,” Clifton said.
Clifton has had a successful minor league career, winning the Cubs’ 2016 Minor League Pitcher of the Year award and posting a 7-7 record with a 3.43 ERA between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa last season.
He finished the 2018 season ranked as Chicago’s 17th-best prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com and will likely start the 2019 season at Triple-A Iowa — one level away from the Major Leagues.
“I just need to stay focused on and off the field,” Clifton said. “Hopefully I get there, but until that time comes, I’m still a minor leaguer like everyone else, so I’m going to work my hardest to get to that next level.”
When that time comes, it will be a big moment for Clifton and the community he grew up in.
Blount County will have another small-town role model to call its own.
“I hope it means that other kids will see that you have a chance in a small town like this,” Clifton said. “Maybe it opens the doors for other opportunities for other people in terms of scouts and stuff. Maybe they won’t overlook this part of town.”