Lucedale native and former George County High standout Justin Steele will spend his 28th birthday like none other he has experienced so far in his lifetime.
Steele turned the chapter to his 28th year Tuesday morning when he awoke in his hotel room in Seattle in preparation for the 2023 Major League Baseball All-Star Game which is set for Tuesday night at T-Mobile Park. Steele, who has established himself this season as the ace of the Chicago Cubs’ pitching staff, was selected as a member of The National League team which faces the rival American League squad in the 93rd edition of the Midsummer Classic, and the second at this particular venue.
In addition to it being his birthday and his first All-Star Game selection, Tuesday is also the birthday of his young son Beau, who turns one.
“Truly a special day, and something we’ll never forget.” Steele said, at a press conference Monday.
Steele was considered one of the front-runners to start the game for the NL, and rightfully so as he has compiled a 9-2 record with a 2.56 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 16 starts. But Philadelphia Phillies manager Rob Thomson, who guides the NL team also, decided to go with Zac Gallen of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Gallen is tied for the major league lead in wins with 11, is in the top 10 in strikeouts (125) and has a 3.04 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 19 starts.
“If I get in there to pitch,” Steele added. “I’ll just go out there and do my job. It’s something I can’t really put into words. It’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of hours put into this to be in this position now, getting my first All-Star Game in the big leagues. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Steele was hoping to follow in the footsteps of yet another Chicago Cubs with deep ties to George County in Claude Passeau Sr. Passeau, for whom the baseball field at GCHS is named for, was a five-time all-star and also the last Cubs pitcher to start the MLB ASG which came in the 1940’s.
On the field that bares Passeau’s name, in 2014, the 6-foot-2 hard-throwing left-hander Steele went 5-1 with a minuscule 0.98 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 43 innings pitched as a senior at George County earning Class 5A Player of the Year honors in the process as well as chosen by coaches from around the state. Among his accomplishments were no-hitters against region rivals Pascagoula and East Central. The southpaw also hit for a team-best .418 with two home runs and 20 RBIs as a senior.
Even though he signed with Southern Miss, Steele was selected in the fifth round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player by the Cubs soon after his senior season in high school with the 139th overall pick.
Steele went 7-3 with a 1.94 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 61.1 innings pitched as a junior in 2013.
Steele comes from an athletic family. His father, Ben, played football at Alabama in the mid-1980s before a back injury ended his career. His older brother, Jordan, pitched at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
Justin’s head coach at George County, Brandon Davis, is still at the helm of the Rebels currently.
“He deserves every accolade and honor that he gets,” Davis said. “It’s one of the highest honors any graduate of George County High School has ever achieved. He has made an entire county and region proud. I mean less than 10 years ago he was pitching for us in Lucedale, and now look at where he is.”
Just celebrating his birthday, along with that of his son, on one of the biggest world-wide stages in professional sports.