ST. LOUIS -- When Eric Carter reported to Louisiana to begin serving a two-year mission through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints following his freshman year at Salt Lake Community College, the only connection to baseball he could carry was a ball and his glove. And even those
ST. LOUIS -- When Eric Carter reported to Louisiana to begin serving a two-year mission through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints following his freshman year at Salt Lake Community College, the only connection to baseball he could carry was a ball and his glove. And even those were sparingly used.
Allotted 30 minutes each morning for exercise, Carter typically filled that window by running. Every once in a while -- when he could find a throwing partner -- he would play catch. It was hardly the sort of repetition a college pitcher needed to stay sharp.
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It's been about three years since that service trip wrapped up, and on Saturday, while Carter was driving through Louisiana -- a place he was first introduced to while stationed there on his mission trip and then returned to in order to further his college career -- he learned that his time away from the sport hadn't kept him from another dream. The Cardinals selected him out of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette with their 26th-round Draft pick.
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"I knew it would be a rough road back," Carter said, "but I had a firm belief that if God wanted me to play professional baseball, he would help me get there."
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That road back began with the 2013 season, his last at SLCC. There he eased back into baseball shape. He threw as hard as he could in his first preseason performance, only to find the radar gun reach only as high as 85-87 mph.
But the arm strength came back with time and repetition. He transferred to Lafayette before the 2015 season, and by the time he made his final appearance with the Ragin' Cajuns this month, his fastball was touching 95 mph. He added a cutter to his repertoire this season, which gave him an effective fourth pitch.
"He didn't look like he was very rusty at all," said head coach Tony Robichaux, who began coaching Carter a year into his comeback. "The big difference I saw in him was the maturity in him as a man. Most kids in college are chasing a lot of things that they can't catch. He's above his age in his maturity. I think that gave him a huge edge."
Robichaux went on to describe Carter as the team's "utility knife," as he was used as a spot starter, long reliever, setup man and fill-in closer as needed.
As for the Cardinals, they weren't scared away by Carter's age -- he'll be 24 next month -- or the time he missed.
"I think the job of our scouts is to find value everywhere and never assume that every single player has to fit into a certain box," scouting director Randy Flores said. "We're really looking forward to his future."
Carter was one of two Lafayette players nabbed by the Cardinals on Day 3 of the 2016 Draft. Six rounds ahead of Carter, the Cardinals selected Stefan Trosclair, a versatile infielder who overcame a labrum injury to put together a solid two final college seasons.
Carter and Trosclair, golfing buddies, look forward to making the professional climb together.
"I couldn't be more excited," Trosclair said. "Hopefully, we get to do this together and work our way up and end up in the big leagues together. I wouldn't want to be around anyone else."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast.