Skip Navigation

‘Feels like just yesterday’: World Series winner visits alma mater Lancaster Catholic

  • By John Walk/LNP | LancasterOnline
Travis Jankowski talks to the members of softball team during the Q & A after the clinic at Lancaster Catholic high school in Manheim Township on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024.

 Andy Blackburn / LNP | LancasterOnline

Travis Jankowski talks to the members of softball team during the Q & A after the clinic at Lancaster Catholic high school in Manheim Township on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024.

Travis Jankowski recently signed a one-year, $1.7 million contract to return to the Texas Rangers. He’ll receive his World Series ring when the Rangers open the 2024 season March 28.

But he hasn’t forgotten his roots. It’s part of the reason why the Lancaster Catholic High School alum was back at his alma mater recently, instructing and speaking to students there 15 years since he was in their shoes.

His professional baseball career has played a role in keeping him humble.

It took Jankowski, 32, until his eighth year in Major League Baseball, on his sixth ball club, to have the best season of his career, helping the Rangers win the World Series last fall. He joined an elite club by becoming just the fourth Lancaster Countian to win the World Series (the others: Don Wert with the 1968 Detroit Tigers, Bruce Sutter and Tom Herr with the 1982 St. Louis Cardinals).

Rangers’ Travis Jankowski, a Lancaster Catholic grad, records his 300th MLB hit

The secret to Jankowski’s success last season can be found at the plate. More specifically, Jankowski caught something when watching recordings of himself in the batter’s box.

“I kept noticing my lips were moving when I was in the batter’s box,” Jankowski said. “At first, I was like, ‘What was I saying up there?’”

The answer to that question is a facet of his game Jankowski will carry into the 2024 campaign, which begins when he and other Rangers position players report to their first spring training practice Monday; pitchers and catchers started practicing Feb. 14. Jankowski will likely begin the year not as a starter but as one of the team’s top options off the bench.

‘Time flies’

Travis Jankowski hits the softball with a bat during the clinic at Lancaster Catholic high school in Manheim Township on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024.

Andy Blackburn / LNP | LancasterOnline

Travis Jankowski hits the softball with a bat during the clinic at Lancaster Catholic high school in Manheim Township on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024.

Lancaster Catholic softball players have a game they like to play when they’re practicing indoors. A coach will stand on one end of the gymnasium and hit a ground ball to a rotating group of two or three players on the other end of the gym. If the ball gets past the players and hits the wall, that group is eliminated. The last remaining fielding group wins.

Some players explained the setup of the game to Jankowski during his visit Feb. 4. He would be the one hitting grounders. Before the game began, Jankowski took a practice swing. He drilled a laser across the floor that went careening off the wall, a warning to scale back the power of his swing to avoid seriously injuring those fielding his next grounders.

It brought back memories for Jankowski, who graduated from Lancaster Catholic in 2009.

“It feels like just yesterday I was in this gym,” Jankowski said. “Time flies.”

An all-state player in high school, Jankowski followed his lone NCAA Division I athletic scholarship to Stony Brook University in New York, where he went on to play in the College World Series. During college, he tweaked his swing and batting stance to add more power to his bat. The results led him to become a first-round draft pick (44th overall) of the San Diego Padres in 2012. It took him less than three years to reach the majors, making his big league debut with San Diego near the end of the 2015 campaign.

Then the sport, which had mostly come easy for him, got hard.

He struggled at the plate in his first full season, got hurt and was sent back to the minor leagues in 2017, began 2018 in the minors, got hurt again in 2019 and was demoted to the minors before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds, with whom he appeared in just 16 games in a strange, pandemic-impacted 2020 season.

He begged for a job with the Phillies in 2021.

“They gave me a shot,” he recalled. “I started the season at Triple-A (in the minor leagues). An injury happened to a Phillies player and I was called up.”

He was in a New York Mets uniform the next year.

“And I broke my knuckle diving for a ball,” he said. “Then returned (from injury), was traded (to the Seattle Mariners) and eventually designated for the minors.”

Last season started with Jankowski in spring training with the Texas Rangers. The 6-foot, 2-inch, 190-pound left-handed hitter began ice cold at the plate, leading manager Bruce Bochy to call Jankowski into his office.

“He told me to relax,” Jankowski said. “The next thing you know I’m in the World Series.”

To alleviate the pressure he was putting on himself at the plate, Jankowski leaned into his Christian faith, and added a component to his approach when in the batter’s box.

“I was praying or singing a worship song to calm my nerves,” Jankowski said.

Jankowski shared that faith with Lancaster Catholic softball players and youth baseball players during his visit back home on the first Sunday in February.

“There are days where I’m doing well and fans say nice things,” Jankowski said. “There are days where I’m playing poorly and fans say not such nice things. Baseball is what I do. It’s not who I am.”

Who is he?

A father of four children all under the age of 5. A husband to Lampeter-Strasburg grad Lindsay (maiden Stoltzfus). And a follower of Jesus Christ. Not necessarily in that order.

“Stay in the faith,” Jankowski said to those gathered inside Lancaster Catholic.

Jankowski, known for his speed on the basepaths and prowess in the outfield, logged a career-best batting average (.263) last season. He also had the second-best on-base percentage of his career (.357) and played in the third-most single-season games of his career (107).

When speaking to the group of Lancaster Catholic softball players, Jankowski summed up his career path by making this point: “Quitting for me is never an option.”

He didn’t sit idle, either, in the World Series last fall when he didn’t see action in the first two games and entered as a defensive replacement in Game Three.

“I was a bench player but I kept putting in the work to stay ready,” Jankowski said.

Then something magical happened in Game Four.

‘Only constant is your faith’

Due to an injury to a Texas outfielder in Game Three, Jankowski was inserted into the starting lineup, batting ninth and playing right field in Game Four.

Before the game, on the seat in front of the locker of each player was a small sign provided by Stand Up To Cancer, a nonprofit that raises money for cancer research.

Each sign left a blank spot for a player to write the name of someone they know who has been impacted by cancer.

Jankowski knew right away which name to write: Ryan Smith.

A former Lampeter-Strasburg and East Stroudsburg University basketball standout, Smith died March 22, 2021, 19 months after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Smith was only 21.

“I never knew Ryan personally,” Jankowski said. “But my brother-in-law played with Ryan at L-S. My in-laws know the Smith family well. What happened to Ryan makes you question why it happened. But the thing I constantly heard about Ryan is how he handled it all. He was never, ‘Why me?’ He took it very well. He used it as a platform for his faith to live this out and show people that even though you are going through a tough time you can still have faith … Ryan is an idol to me.”

All the players, standing on the field in front of the dugout, held up their Stand Up To Cancer signs for a moment before the start of Game Four. Smith’s parents, watching from home, got goosebumps when the camera panned to Jankowski.

“It was so cool just to see that,” Craig Smith said. “It was so emotional.”

While Ryan Smith was more known for basketball, he did play baseball through middle school.

“He could hit the ball a long way,” Craig Smith recalled.

Jankowski, perhaps channeling Ryan Smith’s spirit, then had a breakout performance on baseball’s biggest stage. He had two hits in four plate appearances, one of those hits responsible for scoring two Rangers teammates. He also caught four flyballs in the outfield in the 11-7 Rangers win over the Diamondbacks.

When an offensive player strolls to the plate for each at-bat, his name is introduced to the crowd, with the introduction followed by a song of the player’s choice blasted over the loudspeakers. This tune is referred to as the player’s walk-up song.

Jankowski’s walk-up song last season was Morgan Wallen’s “In The Bible.”

Just another step deeper in faith for Jankowski on the ballfield.

“I read my Bible every morning,” Jankowski said. “There are ups and downs. The only constant is your faith. It’s not what other people say about you, it’s what Jesus says about you.”

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Up Next
Climate & Energy

Rep. Smucker joins state and local officials to oppose $2.5 billion hydroelectric project