When former Cal Poly baseball relief pitcher Justin Calomeni was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the ninth round of the 2016 Major League Baseball (MLB) Draft, it was, as one would suspect, one of the most anticipated days of his life.
“It was unbelievable,” Cal Poly baseball alumnus Calomeni said. “It was a dream come true.”
While most who get drafted have similar feelings of elation as Calomeni, others are more subdued. Slater Lee, who was drafted in the 24th round to the Oakland Athletics, exhibited a more subdued reaction.
“I was just sitting at my desk in my room listening, but had no anticipation of it happening — if it happened, great. If not, then there’s more to life, but, you don’t really anticipate something like that until it happens. It kind of hits you when you get out there and there’s a big life change.” Cal Poly baseball alumnus Lee said. “I just called my parents and was like, ‘Hey, by the way I just got drafted,’ and they were like, ‘Cool, congratulations’.”
Players’ reactions to being drafted are not the only things that differ. Depending on what round a player goes in, they may face different challenges.
Spencer Howard, second round, pitcher
Cal Poly baseball alumnus Spencer Howard’s success came suddenly and unexpectedly.
“I wasn’t a top prospect the entire season or all through college. I had no idea [getting drafted] was going to happen, so I kept my same thought process through the whole thing: just keep trying to grind,” Howard said.
Howard was drafted in the second round by the Philadelphia Phillies in July 2017.
Because he wasn’t expecting to be drafted, Howard said he does not feel there are any additional pressures due to the round he was drafted in. However, he said he does believe that each person deals with their own challenges.
For Howard, it is trying to adjust to different coaching styles.
“[The challenge for me is] just coming in and trying to make a new set of coaches happy and trying to take what they say and use what you think will make you better,” Howard said.
In addition to the coaching adjustments, the rigorous schedule of playing in short-season was also a shock for Howard. The continuous travel and minimal rest time between starts is a jarring change from playing in college.
Justin Calomeni, pitcher, ninth round
Calomeni’s journey started with his childhood dream of playing professional baseball. It was always his goal, it was just a matter of achieving it.
“We all took this opportunity because when we were kids and we started playing baseball, [we wanted] to grow up to be professional baseball players,” Calomeni said. “When you finally get that opportunity, sometimes it’s hard to remember that this is what you wanted when you were little.”
Calomeni said he finds his biggest struggle is staying healthy.
“Everything started off really well at the beginning of spring training and then it all started crashing down when I hurt my shoulder,” Calomeni said. “It’s been very stressful. It’s been a lot for this last year now that I’ve had the labrum surgery … there’s nowhere else to go but up for me, so in my opinion, it’s a fresh start for me in pro ball.”
Calomeni also agrees the short-season schedule is rigorous. Finding time to work out between games and always having to be mentally prepared to enter a game as a relief pitcher has also posed challenges.
Slater Lee, pitcher, twenty-fourth round
Lee’s journey had similarities to both Calomeni’s and Howard’s. He worked towards playing baseball his entire life, but also was not sure he would be picked in the draft.
“It’s cool to see it all come to fruition because it’s been a few-year-long process. It wasn’t just, like, a one-year thing where everything worked out,” Lee said.
Lee was drafted in the 24th round by the Oakland Athletics in June 2017. He said he does not think the draft round necessarily matters as much as how much effort put towards moving upwards.
“There’s no school involved, so literally everything you do on a given day is dedicated to going to the field and preparing to for that day … but, once you get into a routine everything’s kind of the same,” Lee said. “It’s just a different environment for sure, but once you adjust to it, it’s just baseball at the end of the day and … just the realization that this is what you do and getting used to that is probably the biggest change.”
Slater attributes a lot of his success to Cal Poly head baseball coach Larry Lee.
“People have this notion that they’re almighty because they got drafted. I attribute a lot of it to Coach Lee because the way he coaches is so humble and he never gloats about anything,” Slater Lee said. “When someone tells him, ‘Congratulations, you just broke some record,’ he’s like, ‘I don’t care’. That’s how it is for a lot of the Cal Poly guys.”
What it really comes down to is the effort put in.
“In the end, the draft is the draft, but the hard work is what gets you there,” Slater Lee said.