In most sports, an outstanding high school athlete knows the next step is college; being a professional is at best several years away. For a baseball player selected in the amateur draft, there is a sometimes difficult choice to make.
The Chicago Cubs chose Sean Cheetham out of Woodbridge High School in the fourth round. He was a two-time All-Met pitcher, going 7-3 with 100 strikeouts and a 1.04 ERA as a senior, and had received a scholarship from the University of North Carolina. But being drafted in the fourth round changed his plans. Once the Cubs guaranteed to pay for his education at North Carolina, he signed and packed his bags for Huntington, W.Va., and the Appalachian rookie league.
"I want to make the majors leagues in three, four years; if I played in college, I would have to wait for at least five years," he said. "If I had gone to North Carolina there would have been a lot of pressure to preform well. Here, every fifth day I get the ball again, whether I pitched well the time before or not."
He sees other advantages to playing pro ball immediately. "Everyone at this level was dominant in high school," he said, "so you improve a lot by playing against them." Further, the instruction in Huntington "is really good. Our pitching coach, Ray Sadecki, has been around the majors and has taught me a lot."
Doug Newstrom of W.T. Woodson had the same option as Cheetham, but chose college baseball. An All-Met selection the last two years, he had an 8-2 record with a 2.00 ERA this past season. When not pitching he played first base and hit .450 with seven homers and 25 RBI. He pitched a two-hitter against Oakton in the Northern District title game, striking out 11.
He had the talent to be selected in the first five rounds, but by the time of the draft, he had decided to attend Arizona State. He was drafted in the 53rd round by the Detroit Tigers.
"The man who drafted me knew I was going to college," Newstrom said. "He called to tell me I was drafted by the Tigers and wished me luck at Arizona State. That's all I ever heard from him."
Newstrom plans to pitch and play first base for the Sun Devils, and voices no regrets on passing on pro baseball. "Arizona State is the best school for baseball," he said, "and I will learn a lot there so I can make the majors when I graduate."
The flock of scouts that Newstrom drew took notice when Annandale's Robin Jennings held W.T. Woodson to three hits in seven innings, with an 83 mph fastball. "The adrenaline really kicked in that game," Jennings said. "At first I was really nervous at being scouted, but then you have to block it out."
He finished the year an All-Met, batting .548 with seven homers, 28 RBI and 20 stolen bases. During a streak of 20 hits in 21 at-bats, the Orioles scouted him. On draft day they picked him in the 30th round. "I was shocked," he said. "I never thought it would happen, and being picked by the Orioles was great."
As happy as he was, he decided to attend Manatee Community College in Bradenton, Fla. He selected the junior college figuring he'd get more instruction and more time to learn from mistakes. "In the minors if you mess up, that's it; at Manatee I can play myself back into the lineup," he said.
He is hoping to be drafted higher next time, but still could end up with the Orioles, who retain his rights until 10 days before next year's draft. "The Orioles say if I play well they may renegotiate," he said. "It would be great to play for the Orioles."
Andre Keene of Lanham thought that his chances of playing in the majors ended when he dropped out of the University of South Carolina in the fall of 1989. In the spring of 1989, he was All-Met selection from DuVal and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 53rd round, but he opted for college.
At South Carolina, he was hampered by ankle and hamstring injuries during fall workouts. He was getting little playing time and was failing his classes, making him ineligible for spring baseball. Fortunately for Keene, San Francisco Giants scout Mike Toomey remembered the way Keene hit in high school. Toomey invited Keene to a tryout in May at Catholic University. He was drafted by Giants in the 32nd round.
"I didn't think I would be drafted since I didn't go to college," Keene said. Although he was glad the Giants chose him, he decided to improve his skills at Essex Community College in Baltimore. "I hope to have a good year with Essex, get drafted again, and then go on to play professionally," he said.
Tony Long, undrafted out of Good Counsel High School, used his community college experience to reach the pros. After pitching well for Montgomery-Rockville at a tournament in Baltimore, he was scouted. Selected in the 22nd round by the Kansas City Royals, he now pitches for the Eugene Emeralds.
"I was elated," he said of being drafted. "I was very excited to have the chance to play major league baseball."
He is thankful for his college experience. "I feel that junior college helps the player," he said. "It gives you a chance to play against people better than you.