"He took me around, got me in some camps and some traveling teams, he really got me noticed. I wasn't really getting looked at, and he deserves a lot of the credit."
Ekstrom did get noticed, and went to Oregon State University to play baseball. He stayed there for two years before moving to Point Loma, where he proceeded to dominate, setting a school record with 12 wins his senior season and garnered nearly as many awards (he won the GSAC Co-Player of the Year, Region II Player of the Year and was a first-team NAIA All-American) as hits allowed (a stellar 99 hits in 133.1 innings, and 128 strikeouts to boot).
While some players coming out of smaller schools find the jump to the Minors a big one, Ekstrom hardly noticed.
"It wasn't too bad, in fact, in some ways it was easier to focus in the minors, because you can completely concentrate on baseball. I think playing at OSU for two years helped, because I played against guys from Stanford and Cal and Arizona State, so that helped too. It was actually a bigger change for me going from OSU to Point Loma than going from Point Loma to the pros. The biggest difference is just the grind, playing everyday, that takes some time to get used to, and by the end of the season you are just worn down."
Starting at Short Season Eugene Ekstrom was used first as a reliever and then starter, roles he's equally familiar with.
"I really only started for one year [his senior season at Point Loma] so I can do either, but I think I'd rather be a starter. I just want to pitch, so whatever role is going to get me to the mound is the role I'll play, but I'd probably rather start."
Ekstrom features a low 90s fastball, a slider and a changeup, the latter a pitch he's been working on. At 6'2", 215lbs he's put almost 20 pounds of muscle on his frame since college, but is still not necessarily an intimidating looking guy on the mound. Lifting was a priority for him early on, but this offseason he's backed away from that a little.
"They give you an offseason workout manual, and I've been following that pretty closely. I'm up around 9:00am everyday, I hit the gym, do my work there, get a lot of running in, and then I'll have lunch and head out to the park and workout with the team [he's working out with Point Loma's coaches and players] about 2:00pm. I'm there until 5:00pm, or whenever it gets dark. After that I just head home and I'm trying to relax and stay loose."
For Ekstrom it doesn't matter that he fell to the 12th round, what matters is making pitches. When asked if he was tired, and that contributed to his struggles after being promoted to Lo-A Fort Wayne, he makes sure not to duck the question.
"I guess you could say I was tired, but really I just wasn't making pitches. Being tired happens, everybody gets tired, but that's not an excuse. I know the hitters at Fort Wayne are better, but I just wasn't making pitches. I'm really glad I got to go there last year, it gave me a taste for 2005, and I think it really helped me, because I've been thinking about that stuff all offseason, and it really helps drive me."
For Ekstrom, it isn't about where you were drafted, where you went to school, or what your scouting report says, but for the Padres, it might. Take a look at the pre-draft MLB Scouting report on Ekstrom.
|COMMENT: COMPACT, EVENLY PROPORTIONED, ATHLETIC FRAME. ROUNDED SHOULDERS. FAIR UPPER BODY STRENGTH, STRONGER THAN APPEARS . TRIM WAIST. STRONG LOWER HALF. SIMILAR TO JAKE PEAVY. NO WINDUP, HIGH 3/4 DELIVERY. QUICK, LIVE ARM. HEAVY BORE & SINK ON FB. TOUGH ON RHH, TOUCHES 92, SETS 89. SHARP, LATE SLIDER FOR K'S W/ GOOD COMMAND. VERY DECEPTIVE CIRCLE CHANGEUP, APPEARS TO BACK-UP. SCRAPPER W/ MOUND PRESENCE. KNOWS HOW TO PITCH, MIXES VERY WELL & KEEPS HITTERS GUESSING & OFF BALANCE. COMMAND OF ALL PITCHES.|
Nice comparisons, but for Ekstrom, it does not matter once he hits the mound.
"I look around, I see everybody's stuff, some of these guys have better stuff than I do. I know that, but I walk out on the mound and I have to be the guy when I'm out there. It doesn't matter if they were a #1 or #2, these are guys who have holes in their swing, and my job is to find them. You have to be pretty good to make it to pro ball, it doesn't matter if you were a #1 or a 50th rounder, if I relax for even one pitch these guys can hurt me."
James Renwick can be reached at Renwick@SanDiegoSports.net