At the flip of a switch, everything just seemed to click for Nick Plummer.
Now 25 years old, the 2015 St. Louis Cardinals first-round draft pick out of Birmingham Brother Rice finally has found his groove at the plate, last month earning a promotion to Triple-A Memphis. He’s hitting .292 with a .951 OPS in his first 16 games there.
At Double-A Springfield, Plummer had 34 extra-base hits in 90 games to go along with a .283 batting average. He showed some pop, too, by slugging 13 home runs from the left side, though he doesn’t consider himself to be a home run hitter.
“I pride myself on being a line-drive hitter,” Plummer said, “I try to hit all the gaps.”
On July 7, he found more than just the gaps.
Plummer hit three home runs that night, the third a walk-off to secure a victory. It was his first career multi-homer game.
“That was the most locked-in I have felt in a very long time,” Plummer said. “I wasn’t even looking to hit a walk-off homer; I just wanted to put a good swing on the ball.”
Plummer credited some family support for part of his red-hot summer. His mother, Ann, was in attendance the night of that game, and from that point on, he continued to dominate in every game that she attended.
“Whenever she’s in town,” Plummer said, “you know something good is bound to happen.”
Nearly one month to the day he hit three home runs, Plummer made history.
His double on a 2-2 count in the ninth inning set a Springfield record of 33 consecutive games of reaching base, breaking St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Tommy Edman’s record. Of course, his mom was in attendance to witness the record-breaking hit.
“To be able to match that record goes to show how consistently good I’ve been this year,” he said. “And that’s something I’ve been looking to achieve my whole career.”
His success along with his promotion to Triple A came as no surprise to his former Double-A Springfield manager, Jose Leger.
“His work ethic is what got him to where he is now,” Leger said. “He’s got a really good make-up, and there’s a reason why he was drafted in the first round.”
The Lathrup Village native was the highest-drafted Michigan high school position player since Derek Jeter in 1992 when the Cardinals selected him No. 23 overall in 2015.
That draft featured players such as Alex Bregman, Walker Buehler and Andrew Benintendi, who eventually found themselves playing in a World Series. Plummer, meanwhile, found himself in uncharted territory.
After getting his feet wet in the Florida Gulf Coast League, Plummer broke his hamate bone during spring training in 2016 that required two surgeries and forced him to miss the remainder of the season.
“That was probably one of the hardest setbacks I’ve had so far in my career,” Plummer said. “Once I was able to rehab and get back to playing, I didn’t have the success that I wanted to have for the next two seasons.”
He felt like he wasn’t playing up to the hype of a first-round draft pick who came straight out of high school. At 18 years old, he wanted to become a superstar, hoping to play in the minor leagues for a year or two and then make his way to the majors. The numbers he consistently put up didn’t align with his aspirations.
In his first three seasons of Class-A ball, his batting average sat below the Mendoza line.
He was sent to a hitting camp in October 2019, where he would meet a future teammate, David Vinsky. An outfielder out of Northwood University, Vinsky was drafted in the 15th round by St. Louis earlier that summer. Vinsky and Plummer spent that offseason working alongside one another in several hitting camps, and Plummer was finally feeling like things were going to go his way.
“He kept talking about how he was due for a big season,” Vinsky said. “And after spending all that time with him in camp, I saw his potential for a breakout firsthand.”
But neither of them knew the unfortunate reality that soon would hit them.
The 2020 minor-league season was wiped out by the pandemic, as Plummer and Vinsky were sent home before a pitch was even thrown. For Vinsky, he would have to wait a year to experience his first season in the minors. For Plummer, his high hopes for a breakout year were put on hold.
Plummer wasn’t going to let the pandemic bring him down.
“What kept me going was that I knew I wasn’t alone in this,” he said. “There are hundreds of other players who are in this position, trying to better themselves and help their team.”
Vinsky and Plummer spent the entire summer with each other, linking up with some of the local baseball talent in the area to play simulated games.
It was evident to Leger that Plummer was putting in the work.
“He would text me every day and say he was going to the gym or that he was going to hit,” Leger said. “He reported down to Florida two months before spring training started, making sure his body was in good shape.”
The start of the 2021 season gave Plummer a newfound appreciation for the game.
“Every time I take the field this year I really appreciate it after having all of 2020 off,” Plummer said. “I don’t take any game, any day, and any play for granted anymore, and I’ve realized just how fragile this game can be.”
His work ethic and happy-go-lucky personality left a lasting impact in the locker room, and the trials and tribulations of his past turned to wise words for former teammates.
“I’ve learned so much from him, especially because he had been through so much in the minor leagues,” Vinsky said. “He’s a great ballplayer, but first and foremost he’s a great person who’s willing to help anybody.”
For Plummer, it has been about having fun and enjoying the game. It helped slow the game down and take some weight off his shoulders. He was lucky enough to have a tight-knit support system which helped him get through the rough patches earlier in his career.
“At the base of my family and confidence in myself, my faith has been at the forefront in my ability to persevere throughout my career,” Plummer said.
Brandon Rothenberg is a freelance writer.