They don't have a Major League Baseball team in Iowa, so the Cincinnati Reds are about as close as Jeremy Hellickson could get when he was growing up in Des Moines.
Now nearing his 30th birthday, the Phillies starting pitcher is getting his second straight Opening Day start, ironically enough in Cincinnati.
"My mom, dad, grandparents, girlfriend and my nephew will be there this year," Hellickson said.
"They are all driving down to support me. It's probably a [seven or eight hour drive]."
Hellicksonseems to be a calming veteran force atop the Phillies rotation, helping to lead and mentor young hurlers like Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez and Jared Eickhoff.
"[Hellickson] was a model of consistency last year," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said, explaining why he gave the nod to the 29-year-old former AL Rookie of the Year."When he has his changeup and breaking ball working, he's a solid major league pitcher. He's a good example of when velocity doesn't necessarily equal success."
Throughout a solid spring, Hellickson was taking his foot off the pedal a bit and finding control. Just like he was in 2016 when he led the Phillies staff with 189 innings pitched, a 12-10 record and 3.71 ERA.
After a surprising decision to accept the Phillies' qualifying offer, Hellicksonreturns to start on Opening Day for a team that had him the subject of trade rumors for nearly all of last season. It didn't seem to affect his play — and if he's the subject of more June and July rumors, he's ready for it.
"I am kind of used to it by now," he said."I don't really think about that stuff. Right now, it's just about getting ready for [Monday against the Reds] and hopefully we start a little better than we did last year."
As for his decision to return to Philly?
"I love it here, I wanted to be back," he said prior to his start Monday."It was a pretty easy decision when it came down to it."
Hellickson will turn 30 shortly after making his Opening Day start and even though in baseball years he is an aging veteran, he still is shooting to improve and have a long career in the majors.
"My goal is every year to stay healthy and be as consistent as I can," he said. "I've set a 200 inning goal since I was a rookie — if you make every start and get to 200 innings, you'll probably look back and like how your year went. I haven't gotten there yet but it's a goal."