For junior pitcher Mike Saunders, waiting was the hardest part.
After dominating the GLIAC with a school-record 1.23 earned run average, the lowest in the conference and the second lowest in the country, the Mt. Morris native waited to hear from the major league scouts that had been attending his games to watch him pitch all season.
“I had almost three weeks after the time our season ended,” Saunders said. “I was playing catch, throwing full bullpen sessions to simulate games and keep my arm in shape so that I could go down to these camps and show teams what I could to.”
Saunders received invitations to work out for the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers on June 1 and 2, less than a week before the Major League Baseball Draft.
“I had a pretty good idea that I would be drafted, but I didn’t know when, and to whom,” Saunders said. “It was tough to just sit there listening to the draft and wait until I finally heard my name called.”
Saunders waited until the 24th round on Wednesday, when the Cincinnati Reds selected him with pick No. 742 overall. He is only the third SVSU player to be drafted, and the first since pitcher Brian Paluk was taken in the 50th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1996.
“Absolutely everyone is ecstatic,” Saunders said. “It was kind of a shocker, the amount of people that have actually contacted me and congratulated me and wished me luck. I’ve had people that I hadn’t talked to since I was in first grade calling me and congratulating me.
“It’s all pretty jaw-dropping and eye-opening, this whole journey I’m about to be on.”
In 10 starts this season, Saunders finished 7-2, striking out 72 batters in 73.1 innings pitched. Without him on the mound, the Cardinals had a record of 19-24.
“I knew that I would have to have a great season at the beginning to even have a shot (of getting drafted),” Saunders said. “And I had the best possible season I could have had.”
Even though his successful season was rewarded, Saunders still has more waiting to do. He and his family are expecting a call from the Reds to see the terms of the contract that the team will offer him. From there, the junior nursing major will have to decide whether to accept their offer or finish his degree at SVSU.
“It’s a tough decision, so I have to weigh my options. I’d have two more years of schooling if I came back to school, but only one more year of eligibility for baseball.” Saunders said. “It’s been my dream to become a professional athlete, and now I have my foot in the door.”
“I’m just going to have to consult with my family. Ultimately, it will be my decision, but right now it’s still just waiting a little bit for (the Reds) to contact me again.”
If Saunders signs, he will likely begin his career in the Reds’ minor league farm system. Cincinnati has affiliates at four levels: There are three rookie teams in located in Montana, Arizona and the Dominican Republic, two single-A teams in Dayton, Ohio and Bakersfield, Calif., a double-A team in Penascola, Fla. and a triple-A team in Louisville, Ky.
“I’m excited to not have that Division 2 title hung over my head anymore,” Saunders said. “Now that I’m in, everyone is at the same level.
Saunders said that the opportunity to represent SVSU in the big leagues is a dream of his.
“It’s great the be given that opportunity to go out and show that there are people from small schools that have the talent and ability to go out and be successful in the major leagues,” he said. “I’m just ready to go show that Saginaw Valley can represent.”