In the stands at Jerry Frerichs Field, sitting a few rows in front of Tim and Kelli Povich, a Nebraska coach had his head down. Cade Povich was on the mound, in the midst of a stellar outing in a state high school tournament, but the soft-throwing left-hander didn’t attract the attention of the coach.

He was there, in late July 2018, to watch a pitcher on the other team, a Nebraska commit who was bigger and threw harder than Povich.

Tall and skinny, with stirrup socks that only accentuated his still-narrow legs, Povich threw a complete-game, five-hit shutout on that field in Omaha, Nebraska. He left the mound in the sixth inning with a fist pump after hurling one of his fastballs — a pitch that was rapidly improving — past a batter to strand two runners in scoring position.

By that point, Povich had shot up in height compared to his sophomore year, when his father joked Povich was “maybe” 5 feet, 7 inches tall, but only “if he had his cleats on.” Now he stood above 6 feet; he was headed to South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, Arizona, a month or so after that game against Gretna High School.

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“Cade was outstanding,” Jason Shockey, Povich’s high school coach at Bellevue West, remembered. Povich struck out seven batters that day without walking one.

Anyone watching could’ve seen the projectability coaches often spoke of when discussing Povich, the athletic build and frame that was due to add more muscle — and with it, increase his fastball velocity. Anyone watching closely, that is.

“He didn’t look up one time to watch Cade,” Tim Povich said of the Nebraska staffer present. “And I shared that with Cade after the game.”

It wasn’t anything Cade Povich hadn’t experienced throughout his life. When he was 13, wearing eye black, stirrup socks and a flat-brimmed cap, he fiddled with the baseball to find the grips for a curveball or change-up rather than blowing a pitch by hitters. He was the small kid, the late bloomer, the soon-to-be outgrown and left-behind pitcher.

When he earned his first varsity pitching appearance as a sophomore, he still threw in the low 70s.

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He was overlooked, from grade school to high school to college. It followed him as a minor leaguer and only now has it waned in intensity, after Povich stood on the mound and threw six shutout innings during his Camden Yards debut for the Orioles last week.

But those comments are what brought Povich here.

They prodded him out of bed in the morning for 6 a.m. workouts in high school, even though he is the furthest thing from a morning person. They brought him back to Nebraska as a transfer only a year after that summer 2018 game. And they’re why he’s a highly regarded pitching prospect for Baltimore who experienced the reward from a journey of proving doubters wrong.

Cade Povich at age 10, left, versus Povich at age 18. (Courtesy of the Povich family.)

“When he was a little kid, it was, ‘Yeah, he can throw strikes as a 10-year-old and throws all the big games for his team, but when they get to 12 and the field gets bigger, he’s not going to make it.’” Tim Povich said. “But then he made it as a 12-year-old. And then as a 14-year-old: ‘Hey, when the bases are bigger, and the fields are bigger, teams are just going to crush him.’ Well, he proved that wrong. Then it was same thing going into high school: ‘He’s physically not there. Kids are gonna pass him up, blah, blah, blah.’ He proved them wrong. Same thing in junior college, same thing at Nebraska. Same thing when he got drafted. And it’s just been, every step he’s taken, it’s the same people saying the same things. And I think Cade’s aware of it. He’s used it for motivation.”

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Cade Povich is no longer the unheralded lefty of his youth, but it will always be part of his story.

‘He bet on himself’

It was sweltering, in the way only Phoenix can be on a late September day — a dry heat that seemed to loosen Cade Povich’s arm as much as it left him panting. He was a senior in high school and, along with his mom, had made the trip to South Mountain Community College to make the most of an opportunity.

There were few other schools that had serious interest in Povich. He could command the baseball, throwing three or four pitches consistently for strikes, but his fastball velocity still hadn’t formed yet.

“His senior year, the joke was, ‘You hit 80 and I’ll buy you a new car,’” Tim Povich said. “And luckily, he never held me to that.”

Maybe it was the heat. Maybe it was the adrenaline. “Maybe the good Lord just gave him a couple extra miles an hour?” Tim Povich wondered. “I don’t know.”

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Whatever the cause, the radar gun lit up for Cade Povich in a way it never had before. As Kelli Povich watched him, she texted her husband that their son was throwing in the mid-80s. The step forward in velocity came at the perfect time.

“We were pretty excited,” Cade Povich said. “We were like, ‘Holy crap. I may actually not be the slowest thrower anymore.’”

Povich committed to the junior college shortly thereafter. He didn’t have many other options, and South Mountain would give him a chance to start games. Once there, Povich put himself on the map by combining his command with a newfound velocity.

As he grew up, Povich made up for the lack of life on his fastball by painting the corners with pinpoint control. His change-up and curveball were — and are — his out pitches. But beginning in his junior year at Bellevue West, Shockey began to see Povich reach a new level.

He lifted in the mornings and again in the afternoon. He began a throwing program to perfect his mechanics. He slowly but surely gained velocity, and the efforts reached another level at South Mountain, where Povich posted a 1.58 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in 79 2/3 innings in his first and only season there.

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“Cade can flat-out pitch,” Shockey said. “Once he had that velocity jump, he still was able to keep his pitchability, which is a big, big deal in my opinion. It’s something that’s helped him out tremendously. He’s always been able to pitch. It’s just a matter of continuing to gain velocity.”

The fall and spring seasons at South Mountain attracted the notice of teams around the country — finally putting Povich in the spotlight that passed him by at Bellevue West. Povich said he pitched with a “chip on my shoulder” his entire senior year of high school, and when he arrived in Arizona, he had the chance to prove all his doubters wrong.

“I was a late bloomer, and I knew that,” he said. “I think part of it was just being patient.”

He believed. And that mentality struck a chord with a Texas A&M assistant coach, a one-time Nebraska shortstop who was preparing to return to the Cornhuskers. A year earlier, a Nebraska staffer didn’t notice Povich. A year later, the local pitcher was in the Cornhuskers’ sights.

“When he went to South Mountain, he bet on himself,” said Will Bolt, who was hired as head coach in June 2019. “Went down there, bet on himself, got bigger, stronger. And I was following his numbers that whole entire year.”

A phone call at the College World Series

Povich and his parents sat in the stands at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha to watch the College World Series, as is a Father’s Day tradition for the family each year. Povich had recently returned from his freshman year at South Mountain.

Cade Povich with his father Tim, left, and mother Kelli, right, at South Mountain Community College. (Courtesy of the Povich family)

His phone rang. It was an unknown number. Cade Povich was going to ignore it before Tim Povich saw the Texas area code.

“You better get the heck out of here and answer that,” he told his son.

Tim Povich knew Bolt was coming from Texas. He also heard through the grapevine that Nebraska was interested in his son. That wasn’t a phone call Cade Povich would have wanted to miss.

In the concourse, Cade Povich said hello to Bolt’s recruiting coordinator, who hoped to set him up for a visit to nearby Lincoln.

“It was the need for a starting pitcher,” Bolt said. “It was knowing it was a Nebraska kid who had bled red growing up. And just his numbers, they were just ridiculous, especially for a kid who by all accounts was a late bloomer and didn’t have wipe-out stuff.”

Povich became the first call Bolt’s staff made upon taking over the Cornhuskers program, because they believed that Povich could take additional strides forward with the resources available at Nebraska.

When Povich called Shockey to tell his former coach he was headed for a visit at Nebraska, Shockey joked that Povich’s next destination was already decided. They were a Cornhusker family at heart.

Still, at lunch two days later, Tim Povich laid out his son’s options. There was interest from SEC and Big 12 schools, and South Mountain would have loved to have the southpaw return for a second year. Cade Povich had his eyes on those top-25 programs too, until he walked onto campus in Lincoln.

“I could see my little kid self in the stands there, dreaming of throwing at Haymarket one day,” Povich said, referring to Nebraska’s ballpark. “Coach Bolt and everyone’s plan there, I was like, ‘This is where I want to be.’”

Hitting the 90s

Tell Povich what he must do, and he’ll go do it. He’s a man who thrives on instruction, and it carried him through Nebraska and the minor leagues and now to the Orioles.

“If baseball is involved, Cade will show up early and he’ll be the hardest worker, for sure,” said Kelli Povich, his mom. “I mean, his coaches have said that. Now, if I want him to be somewhere at a certain time, I’m lucky if he’s not 15 minutes late. If baseball’s involved, his head’s on, focused, and it’s all about that. But that’s his passion. That’s what he loves.”

During his time with the Cornhuskers, Povich asked Bolt multiple times, “What do I need to do to get drafted?”

Bolt’s honesty kept Povich focused, he said, noting how Bolt told him to be patient, to keep growing, to gain weight and to throw harder. “And just continue to bet on myself,” Povich recalled.

When Povich arrived at each new level, he was forced into a rapid adjustment period. At Nebraska, his 5.06 ERA in four starts of 2020 displays it best, especially when held next to the 2.05 ERA he held in seven games that summer.

Cade Povich, center, after he pitched for Nebraska in the regional championship against Arkansas in 2021. He’s joined by his father Tim, left, and mother Kelli, right. (Courtesy of the Povich family)

The coronavirus pandemic ended Povich’s first season at Nebraska after three weeks, but the concentrated time to train — plus a summer playing in the Coastal Plain League — helped Povich arrive for his junior year in even better shape. Another year older, his fastball sat in the low-90s. With the increased velocity, Povich recorded a 3.11 ERA in 81 innings, planting himself in firm footing for the draft.

By that point, Povich was more of a known commodity. But he still found ways to add a chip to his shoulder, to drive himself forward with a fuel that comes from external doubt.

“I thought I was a top pitcher in the Big Ten. I thought I had a chance to be Pitcher of the Year,” Povich said. “Kind of a mindset of wanting to be the best. … Even though others’ numbers were probably better, and they were probably overall better, I always thought, ‘That should be me.’ That drove me to work a little extra harder.”

He might’ve been a third-round draft pick for the Minnesota Twins but he was never a top-100 prospect. He was considered expendable and traded away, and with the Orioles he didn’t hold the cache of the organization’s minor league pitching stars Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall. Those fireball-throwing prospects drew eyes; Povich hopes to find a way in the majors with finesse.

The adjustments he made for Norfolk earlier this season were pronounced and served as another example of the way Povich quickly adapts. In his first phone call with Drew French, the newly hired pitching coach, Povich was instructed to reduce his walks. Povich’s in-zone rate was good, even “on the elite side,” French said, but the majors offer little room for error.

Like the feedback from Bolt years earlier, Povich set out in Triple-A Norfolk to check any box asked of him. In 2023, Povich averaged 5.8 walks per nine innings in Triple-A. That lowered to 3.3 walks per nine innings during his 11 games at that level this year. His ERA dipped with it, dropping from 5.36 in 2023 to 3.18 for the Tides in 2024.

Still, Povich didn’t force Baltimore’s hand into calling him up. It took a series of pitching injuries to bring Povich to the Orioles — a move made out of necessity.

But that suits Povich fine. By this point in his life, he’s used to making the most of what opportunities come his way, because they were never handed to Povich.

Last week, when Povich made his Camden Yards debut in front of his family, he already built on the struggles from his debut in Toronto. The six runs the Blue Jays scored against Povich gave way to an eye-opening performance that announced Povich to the fanbase.

In that showing, Povich twirled six scoreless innings with no walks. His parents and fiancée stood and cheered at each turn. They savored that moment and remembered all those that led here — remembered the once-undersized boy with big league dreams.

“It could be a different story if he didn’t have this motivation behind him,” Kelli Povich said. “But he’s awesome. And he’s always believed this is where he’s going to be. Always.”