Although major league baseball players once again are locking horns with owners in contract disputes, many area college ballplayers are satisfied to play for their tuition in the hope that one day they might get their shot at the big leagues.
That is Scott Fitzgerald's dream and if he keeps tagging the ball with the consistency he has shown this spring for American University, he may achieve his goal.
The 6-foot-2, right-handed senior first baseman had a hit in 13 straight games this season, a streak that ended Saturday against Temple in the second game of a doubleheader. He has a .408 batting average with six homers and 15 RBI and boasts an .816 slugging average.
"After my sophomore season in which I hit eight homers in 33 games, my average dropped to .275 last year. I had problems in school which found their way onto the field," sayd Fitzgerald, an all-county player his senior year at Peary High in Rockville. He learned to play the game in Japan where his father was serving a Navy tour.
Last summer, the 21-year-old Eagle cocaptain played in the Shenandoah Valley League, where the pitching was tough. He said he learned to be more aggresive at the plate and to take a full cut when he saw his pitch.
"I'm being more selective this year," explained the solid-fielding Fitzgerald. "I'm picking one pitch and causing something to happen. The past few years I haven't been considered a home run hitter and didn't think of myself as one. Now I've got a groove going which I want to maintain."
"He's had plenty of strength the whole time," according to the Eagles' coach of 16 years, Dee Frady. "Now he has the physical and emotional maturity that comes with experience and he won't get upset if he has one bad ball game."
What about Fitzgerald's chances of breaking into the big leagues? "You never know," Frady said. "yyou don't know when the scouts are here and if they see what they are looking for. Scott certainly has great potential."
At Peary, Fitzgerald never imagined he would want a baseball career. "I was on the basketball team then but I didn't think I was good enough to star in college. When American recruited me for baseball, I had no aspiration to play pro ball.
"But last summer I got good vibes from scouts during Valley League games. I really don't know what will happen in June, when I graduate," Fitzgerald said. "I have a legitimate chance of being drafted, but I know breaking into the majors won't be easy."
Of Fitzgerald's six home runs, half have been off fast balls, half off curves. He attributes his success, in part, to switching from a heavier bat to a 32-ounce "Tennessee Thumper."
"After you've hit enough out of the park, you can tell immediately from the angle the ball leaves the bat and from the height it reaches that it's gone," the AU slugger said. "After a good clean stroke the ball jumps and you run just in case the wind holds it up.
"Hitting a home run is like when you're out surfing and you catch a good ride on a wave."