Q & A With West Tenn Diamond Jaxx Righthander Mark Prior

April 18, 2002

By Kevin Winter
SportsTicker Staff Writer

BOSTON (Ticker) - One of the more difficult decisions facing virtually any young and talented baseball player is whether to go to college and hope that you remain a hot prospect while polishing your skills.

Mark Prior was drafted originally out of high school by the New York Yankees in the 1998 draft. But, he declined a contract offer from the Bronx Bombers for a reported $1.25 million andopted to go the college route, first at Vanderbilt University and then the University of Southern California.

After a junior season with the Trojans described as one of the best-ever at the collegiate level (15-1, 1.69 ERA, Pac-10 record 202 strikeouts, 18 walks), Prior re-entered the draft last June, was selected by the Chicago Cubs with the second-overall pick and was handed a $10.5 million, four-year, big league contract.

A native of Bonita, California, Prior spent the majority of spring training with the big league club before joining Class AA West Tenn to open the season.

Prior opened his first professional season 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA, 18 strikeouts and just four walks in 10 innings en route to taking home the Southern League's inaugural Pitcher of the Weekaward.

The 21-year-old phenom, whom many have described as the best college pitcher of all time, took some time to discuss the beginning of his professional career and the lack of pressurethat he feels this season.

Q & A with Mark Prior

Q: Has it kind of been a whirlwind couple of months for you?

A: It really has. Not having a place that you call home anymore is kind of different. You're in spring training for seven weeks, and I was really at home down there when I was with thebig league team...Being there for six weeks, getting into a routine. I'm a big routine guy. That's what I'm most comfortable with. Then, I got sent down in the last week of camp, and I had to get used to a different team. All of a sudden, you're on a plane to Tennessee, being here for a week and getting kind of thrown off the rotation that I had been on. Then, I had to head to New York for two days (to attend an awards banquet). I came back and got on a bus. The last 2-3 weeks have definitely been hectic.

Q: Where you surprised that you started this season at Class AA?

A: No. No. Not at all. I'm happy to be down here. It gives me a chance to get my feet wet and to get comfortable and get used to everything that goes on in pro ball, as far as travelingand road games, being at home, facing hitters and five-man rotations. I think everyone wanted me to be mad. But, honestly, I'm not. I understand what the Cubs are doing, and I totally agree with it.

Q: During spring training, what were some of the discussions that you had with the organization about your future?

A: I really didn't have any. It was mostly about what was going on in the present, working with me day-to-day and getting me ready for professional baseball in general. It was nothing like, 'We're going to put you two weeks here, another week there and hopefully by then you're doing well and we'll bring you up.' I never had a conversation like that with them.

Q: They're just letting you go out there and let your arm do all the talking?

A: That's basically it, and I'd rather it be that way than have the pressure of being on some timetable, and someone's forced to stick with it, either they are or I am. That puts a lot ofpressure on both sides. I was happy that I got a chance to work with (Cubs pitching coach) Larry (Rothschild) all spring. He's a great pitching coach, and hopefully I get a chance to work with him again soon. I have no pressures of being there (Chicago) the next day, two days, a week or three months from now. I'm enjoying my time down here and enjoying the fact that I'm just playing baseball for a living now.

Q: Being a high and prominent draft pick, you don't feel any pressure?

A: Honestly, the only pressure that I feel is from myself. I set pretty high standards for myself as far as what I can do and what I should do. I expect to go out every game and pitchat least seven innings and give our team a chance to win every game. That's more pressure than anybody can put on anybody else.

Q: Is it more comfortable knowing that it's you putting the pressure on yourself and nobody else?

A: I think it is. Obviously, I've had the hype since five or six starts last year at USC. Everybody's saying this, this and this and that, and that's fine. People can write what they say.But, for every me or someone like me, there's 20 or 30 somebodies like me that are going to come along, and people are going to say the same stuff about them. The biggest thing that I had to understand when I went into spring training was that I was just another guy, and you have to go out and do your job. There is no dominating your age class anymore. There is no age bracket or age limit in professional baseball. You just have to step up and perform.

Q: Coming out of high school, you were drafted by the New York Yankees and chose to go to college instead. Was that a tough decision?

A: No. Honestly, it wasn't. Looking back on it, it turned out great for me. There were some times when it was tough going through the process, but once I looked at it and kind of took a step back from it, I said, 'Hey, if you took the money away from you and you just looked at where you want to be for the next three years of your life, where do you want to be? Do you want to be on a bus traveling around or do you want to be in college, getting an education and playing college baseball? Looking at that, those two scenarios, I think it was a no brainer: go to college and get an education. At 17 years old, I don't think I was ready to handle some of the off-field things that go along with professional baseball. You get thrown out in the world, and you have to fend for yourself. I didn't want to live my life that way. I felt like I needed three years of discipline set by college coaches and the education that I wanted to get. When you go to college, you're on your own, but there's still support from the team, and the coaches are basically turned into your parents in some respect. Now I have the self-discipline and the self-motivation to go out and do what I've got to do to be successful and win games for our ballclub.

Q: Could you ever have imagined that someday you'd be calling Wrigley Field your home?

A: I never did. After June 5 of last year, I don't think there's any other place that I'd rather call my home. The organization has been great to me, and in turn I'm hoping that I can produce for them at all levels and get some victories.

Q: Do you pay attention to the comparisons that people make between you and Roger Clemens or other pitchers?

A: Not too much. It's an honor, and it's humbling to be compared to somebody like that. Nolan (Ryan), Clemens, (Greg) Maddux and (Randy) Johnson are guys that I've idolized. Those four guys, I've always looked up to them with the way they go about their games. (Curt) Schilling the last few years has really turned around his career. It's an honor to be compared, but they're individuals who've done it, and hopefully I can work hard and make a name for myself later on in my career.

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