From a young age, Jason Armstrong ’04 set his destination for a professional baseball roster, but he couldn’t imagine the journey he would take to get there.
“Nobody grows up dreaming of D3 baseball, yet it is because of D3 baseball and Trinity University that I had an opportunity to get drafted and play professionally,” Armstrong says.
It doesn’t take him long to think of his earliest memory of the sport.
“I was probably five years old when I was drafted to the Yankees in my Tee Ball league, which was a big deal,” Armstrong recalled fondly. “During one of the earlier practices in the season, Hall of Famer Willie Mays made a special guest appearance and did some hitting instruction for us, so, little did we know at the time, we were getting pointers from one of the greatest baseball players of all time.”
Sports were a staple in the Armstrong family. Encouraged by his parents, Bill and Miki, he and his older sister were outside all the time playing any sport that was offered, and they attended several professional sporting events in and around the Bay Area.
As he got older, Armstrong narrowed his focus to football and baseball, both of which he played in high school. He had talent but physically couldn’t keep up with the other high school players who were bigger, faster, and stronger. He spent his first couple of years on the bench, but he finally hit a growth spurt between his junior and senior years. During that time, Armstrong met Tim Scannell, Trinity University’s head baseball coach, at Stanford University’s high school prospect baseball camp, and they hit it off right away.
“I think he saw something that a lot of other coaches didn’t see. He could see beyond the tiny string bean I was at the time and was convinced that the size and strength would eventually come,” Armstrong says. “That definitely made me feel good and made me consider Trinity right from the get-go without knowing anything else about the school other than the fact that there’s this incredible baseball coach who is a motivator.”
“When I first saw Jason, I could tell he was exceptionally talented—a Division 1-caliber player. He just needed time to develop,” Scannell says. “What I did not know at the time was that Jason, as good an athlete as he was, is by far a much better person! He’s incredibly smart with a great sense of humor and a huge heart!”
Armstrong still had hopes of playing for a Division 1 or a West Coast college, but he had zero offers as his time in high school was coming to an end.
“It took a mentor of mine, Craig Schoof, to help me realize the reality of my situation and that my ego shouldn’t get in the way of an opportunity to play,” Armstrong says.
Armstrong seized the opportunity in front of him, reuniting with Scannell at Trinity.
“Without social media, Trinity was a hidden gem. Certainly, nobody in my circle in Northern California had ever heard of it, but I think Tim’s approach is to introduce the players to the campus and the people to show them what Trinity is all about,” Armstrong says. “I was completely blown away. The athletic facilities were incredible, but I think what stood out most were the people. Trinity is just such a warm place that I immediately felt right at home.”
Going from high school to college baseball, Armstrong learned he had to play harder than he ever thought possible, and Scannell, his teammates, and the Trinity community created an environment where Armstrong could learn from any mistakes he made and feel supported and cared for.
“The majority of learning and growth comes from failure. I think it’s easy to become complacent in success, but it hurts the most when you fail, when you strike out, when you make an error. Those are the things that stick with you,” Armstrong says. “The beautiful thing about Trinity is it’s okay to make those mistakes. Whether it was baseball or a class I was struggling with, I felt like anyone within the community could help me get back on track. At the end of four years, I never felt afraid to fail, which is very liberating.”
Armstrong was a First Team American Baseball Coaches Association All-American and Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) Player of the Year in 2004, which remains one of the greatest individual seasons in Trinity history. He was the runner-up for the National Player of the Year that season, leading the Tigers to the SCAC Championship and their second-ever trip to the NCAA Playoffs. Armstrong hit safely in a Trinity-record 42 consecutive games during the year, and his 90 hits that season is a Tiger record that still stands today. Armstrong established eight school records during his career and remains Trinity's record-holder with 281 career hits.
The SCAC Championship victory carried extra weight for Armstrong and the Tigers. Just before Armstrong’s senior year, teammate Chris Ashmos passed away.
“He was going to be a junior, and I was a senior. We were very close,” Armstrong says. “The team really rallied behind Ashmos’ family, and we universally made the commitment that we are going to win a championship for him and advance to a regional. Being able to do that is something that I certainly will never forget.”
Fresh off the successes of his senior year, Armstrong entered the Major League Baseball Draft. On pins and needles from the start, the process was excruciating, but when his name was called in the 25th round by the Toronto Blue Jays, it was an overwhelming moment. Surrounded by Scannell, his Trinity teammates, and his parents who had flown in, Armstrong couldn’t help but feel grateful for the people who supported him and put him in the position to continue his dream of playing baseball.
Once he entered the minor leagues, it was sink or swim for Armstrong, but he was determined to prove himself. Early on in his minor league career, he was surprised with the opportunity to face Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson, who ranks second behind fellow Hall of Fame member Nolan Ryan in career strikeouts, in a spring training Triple-A game. Even though he struck out and lined out, Armstrong had a smile on his face the entire time.
As he continued playing, Armstrong experienced some ups and downs as a reserve infielder, but he caught a break when the starting second baseman of the Lansing Lugnuts missed the team’s 4:30 a.m. bus. Armstrong started in his place and went three for five with five runs batted in that game. He started the next 119 games and ended up leading the team in hits, runs batted in, and runs scored, was named to the Midwest League All-Star Game, was awarded Most Valuable Player of the Lugnuts, and was honored with a spot on the Blue Jays’ Top 30 Prospects List.
“The transformational moment of my baseball career was really just because somebody missed a bus, I got an opportunity, and I was ready to take advantage of that opportunity,” Armstrong says.
Armstrong ultimately retired because of two season-ending shoulder injuries, but he still loved the game. Scannell asked Armstrong to come back to Trinity to coach for the 2009 season, which catapulted him into his own college baseball coaching career. Armstrong went on to spend four years at the University of California, Davis, and three years at San Jose State. It was everything he hoped for, but he decided to step away from college baseball after having his first child to prioritize his family.
Today, Armstrong is back home in the Bay Area, serving as assistant principal of Athletics at Sacred Heart Schools. Last year, he was inducted into Trinity’s Athletic Hall of Fame with his parents, wife, son, and other family and friends in attendance.
“That was truly memorable. Probably the highlight of my athletic career between that and getting drafted,” Armstrong says. “Trinity will always have a special place in my heart because, without it, I wouldn’t have experienced the same success I ended up having. It was Trinity and this community that molded the person that I would ultimately become.”
Armstrong still keeps up with Trinity’s baseball coaching staff, and he is entering his first year on Trinity’s Board of Visitors this fall.
“I’m really excited to take advantage of the opportunity to get in the weeds of the day-to-day operation of what makes Trinity so special and, under President Vanessa Beasley’s expertise, really trying to execute the vision of where she sees this university going,” Armstrong says.