May 30, 2002
When Villanova junior pitcher Brian Slocum gets a phone call from one of Major League Baseball's 30 teams on June 4 telling him he has just been drafted in the 2002 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, it will not be the first call of that kind he has received. This time, however, it will be the phone call that begins his career in professional baseball.
Three years ago at the end of his senior season at Iona Prep, Slocum's father, John, arrived at baseball practice to tell his son that he was just drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 14th round of the 1999 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. He would pass on the pros at that particular time, but it was the first step towards a dream come true for Slocum.
Baseball came naturally to Slocum from an early age, but it was actually basketball that peeked his interests more as a youngster growing up in Eastchester, N.Y.
"I probably first picked up a baseball when I was about nine year old," said Slocum. "My father got me started. He was my coach in little league. Basketball was actually my favorite sport growing up though. I liked basketball more up until my senior year in high school. I gave it up then when I realized I had something going with baseball. Actually, I had a couple of division III offers for basketball, but I felt I had more of a future in baseball."
Everything came together for Slocum and his tremendous baseball talents during his senior season. Iona Prep head baseball coach Robert Caputo realized the potential his hard-throwing right-hander had, and did everything he could to help maximize that potential.
"Skills wise, I would have to say at the beginning of my season senior year was when I really realized that baseball could take me places," said Slocum. "I was always a hard thrower, but it all fell into place my senior year. My high school coach (Robert Caputo) really helped me a lot. He is the one that taught me all the little drills to do and he let me know what I had going for me, and what I had to do to improve on my skills."
Slocum's skills were admired by college coaches and professional scouts alike. Both groups were represented well at Iona Prep baseball games from early stage. At first, they came in small numbers. As Slocum continued to show just how talented he was, the groups continued to grow.
"At first, the coaches and scouts started coming in little groups. Then all of a sudden there were two-dozen scouts there. That was a whole new world," said Slocum. "I kept the same frame of mind - that I just had to stay out there and pitch my game. And hopefully if they like you, they like you. I signed with Villanova right before my senior season began. Scouts really didn't show up in large numbers until midway though my senior year when I was hitting 91 on the radar gun. It was then I realized that professional baseball was a definite option. In high school though, I always had my heart set on going to college."
Slocum was 11-1 as a senior at Iona Prep, posting a microscopic 0.87 earned run average. The honors rolled in by the truckload, as Slocum's accolades included New York Archdiocesan Most Valuable Player, West Chester County Player of the Year, All-League, All-District, All-City, All-County and All-American. He was named as one of the top 12 high school pitchers in the nation in 1999. Slocum pitched in big-time environments throughout his senior campaign, taking the mound at both Shea Stadium and Yankee Stadium.
"I think Shea stadium was the best game I pitched in during high school because it was for the N.Y. City Championship," said Slocum. "We had about 2,000 people there at Shea Stadium for that game. Anytime you are in a major league stadium and standing there on the mound looking at all those seats around you, it is an exciting feeling. The next week, I played at an All-star game in Yankee Stadium. Being a Yankee fan my whole life, that is something you just dream of. Warming up down there in the bullpen and then going to the mound - it was great."
Then came June of 1999 when he had to make the decision of a lifetime.
"I was actually at high school baseball practice when my dad came and told me I got drafted," said Slocum. "I was shocked. It was a weird feeling. I just looked forward to seeing what would happen. I was leaning toward college from the beginning. When we sat down and started negotiations, I realized college was best decision."
Once he made the decision to go to college, Slocum knew that Villanova University was the right choice for him. Villanova was the most attractive choice because it offered a good education along with baseball in a high profile conference like the Big East. Once Slocum talked with Wildcat head coach George Bennett and realized he would be given the opportunity to make an impact right away, he knew Villanova was the right choice to make that next step.
"I was going to college pretty much at the time my sister and brother were in college, so I had to look for a college that would give me the best offer," said Slocum. "Villanova was a good school and was in a big time conference. I knew that if I went there and did well, that I would get the exposure. I didn't feel any pressure when I got to Villanova. I was just happy to be going to a place that I knew I could start at right away."
Slocum arrived on the Main Line as one of the most highly touted high school players to ever sign with the Villanova baseball program. Despite the high expectations, he took everything in stride and made a rather smooth transition to the college game.
"There were obviously some major differences between high school and college baseball," said Slocum. "Your whole mentality as a pitcher has to change. You can't just blow fastballs past hitters anymore. My first career start was against Eastern Michigan. I wanted to show the guys and coaches that I would be the pitcher they thought they were getting."
In his first career start on Feb. 26, 2000, against Eastern Michigan in Homestead, Fla., Slocum allowed just two runs on five hits in six innings. He struck out five batters and walked only one to pick up his first win as a Wildcat. Slocum had no trouble showing both his team and the opposition just what he was made of.
Slocum lived up to the billing throughout his freshman season, finishing the year 4-4 with a 2.62 ERA. He started 11 games in 2000 and wracked up four complete games. He accumulated 75.2 innings of work and allowed just 36 runs (22 earned) on 62 hits, striking out 51 and walking 45. Slocum's earned run average placed him among the national leaders in that category.
A number of honors followed the season for Slocum. He earned third team Freshmen All-America honors from Baseball America, and received Louisville Slugger Freshmen All-America honorable mention from Collegiate Baseball. Slocum was also named to the Big East Conference All-Rookie Team, ending the year fourth in the conference in ERA.
"In college, nothing is guaranteed," said Slocum. "In high school, I knew I was going to go out and throw a complete game shutout. In college, you can go in with that same mentality, but at some point someone is going to hit one hard off you. I had to turn myself from a thrower into a pitcher. I was glad for all that stuff that I got - all the honors. But I am never really satisfied after I pitch. I always look at the things I did wrong. It is always nice to receive those honors though."
Slocum rode his freshman season success through the summer months in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.
"After my freshman year, I was invited to the Cape but I decided to play in the NECBL for the Danbury Westerners," said Slocum. " That was pretty much my first time away from home in a situation much different from the college atmosphere. It was 24-7 baseball. I woke up early to go to work. I worked doing construction, and painting. Then after work, I would go right to the baseball field for the game. My family was only 45 minutes away from there and could see me every time I threw."
For the first time in his career, Slocum hit hard times as a sophomore in 2001. He had three solid starts, before injury struck on March 18 at home against Seton Hall.
"Last season in my first Big East start of the year, I was warming up in the pen prior to the Seton Hall game. I felt a pain in my arm and got scared because it was something I had never felt before," said Slocum. "I was fine in my first start of the season against Niagara in Florida. Then I threw at FAU on only three or four days rest. My arm felt good, but I was just throwing on adrenalin. Then when we came back north, we came back to really cold weather. When I was warming up before the Seton Hall game, I was fine long tossing. But then when I was throwing in the bullpen, I couldn't get my arm up. And I had never had that feeling in my arm. I was glad when I found out that it was just tendonitis."
Tendonitis shut Slocum down for the remainder of the season. He was ready to go for the final weekend of the season, but since the Wildcats were already eliminated from a potential conference tournament berth, the Villanova coaching staff felt no need to take a chance with Slocum's arm.
Taking an invitation to play in the Cape Cod League during the summer of 2001, Slocum bounced back to form. He was putting up outstanding numbers for the Cotuit Kettleers, before another setback cut his summer short. Slocum aggravated the same injury that ended his 2001 Villanova season, and chose to come back home and rest his arm rather than take any chances.
"The Cape Cod League was great. The good thing about the Cape is that all the really good college players go there," said Slocum. "I showed up there and met a bunch of guys I had only heard of from big time schools. I was exposed to a lot of things. Great crowds. Tons of scouts. People looked at you like celebrities up there. It was just frustrating that I had to leave early."
Slocum was healthy and confident heading into Villanova's fall baseball season. His fastball was hitting the mid-90's and scouts were wooing the now draft eligible junior.
"I was confident, very confident," said Slocum. "I went the entire winter and fall without any problems on the mound. I was throwing the ball like I used to without any pain. Coming into the season, I had very high expectations for the team and myself."
The Wildcats entered the 2002 season with a new head coach in Joe Godri and its ace pitcher back in the fold.
"When we started the season, I was really happy with how I came out of gates," said Slocum. "I was throwing the ball well."
Slocum began the season against the 5th ranked Tulane Green Wave in New Orleans. He allowed three earned runs, striking our four in five innings of work. After another solid start against Navy in the Service Academy Classic, Slocum took to the hill to face Duquesne at the Homestead Challenge in Florida. He struck out a career-high 12 batters against Duquesne, and did not give up an earned run in seven innings. Slocum wrapped up the Homestead Challenge with 17 strikeouts in 10 innings, and was named to the All-Tournament Team.
As the team headed north, Slocum continued his success taking a 2-1 record and a 2.77 ERA into his first home Big East start of the year on April 6 against Virginia Tech. In the top of the fourth inning versus the Hokies, he felt his arm tighten up and was forced to leave the game with the `Cats trailing 1-0.
"When I got hurt against Virginia Tech, I couldn't even speak when I left the field," said Slocum. "The worst thoughts were going through my head. I guess my arm had just gotten accustomed to the nice weather. We played Virginia Tech in very cold conditions. In my first start back from that injury, I felt fine right away. When you do something and scouts here about it 15 minutes later, that is a great sign because that means people know me. All pitchers have injuries. Good pitchers have to rebound from that stuff."
Slocum struggled in his first start back against Boston College at Veterans Stadium on April 20. One week later, he rebounded by leading Villanova to an 8-2 win at Pittsburgh. Slocum fanned seven Panthers in seven and two-thirds innings of work.
On May 17 in South Orange, N.J., Slocum stepped to the mound for his final start of 2002 season and for probably his final time as a Wildcat.
"My mentality has always been to go out and pitch my game," said Slocum. "Just go out there, pitch my game and no matter what my team has to come out on top. I think in my last couple starts there was some change in my mentality. In my last couple starts, I just went out there thinking pure domination."
Slocum took the mound against the Pirates with a dominant look in his eye and from pitch number one showed the Seton Hall batters how long a day it would be for them. He threw the first complete game shutout of his career against the Pirates, striking out seven and allowing only five hits and two walks. Villanova scored the game's first run in the seventh inning and Slocum shut down Seton Hall the rest of the way as the Wildcats took a 1-0 victory.
"The Seton Hall game was great," remarked Slocum. "That was the first time, at least in college, that I went in there thinking about throwing a complete game. I couldn't have asked to go out any other way."
With a huge contingent of scouts in attendance at Seton Hall, Slocum used his whole repertoire of pitches to keep Pirate hitters off-balance.
"I still see myself as fastball pitcher," said Slocum. "I use that to get ahead off batters and strike batters out. I use my slider as my out pitch to righties, and my changeup as my out pitch to lefties. But my fastball spotted in the right place is really my best pitch."
With June 4 quickly approaching, Slocum is ready to find out where his next destination will be. His stock is on the rise, with Baseball America ranking him as the number one prospect in the state of Pennsylvania and the 40th best player nationally in a list of all high school and college draft eligible players. Baseball America also notes that he has the chance to sneak into the first round of the draft - a spot no other Villanova baseball player before him has ever seen. (Former Wildcats Mike Neill and Gary Scott were both drafted in the second round.)
"This is the most exciting time in my life," said Slocum. "It really didn't set in until I came home from the Seton Hall game. The next big event in baseball was usually my next start. Now my next big event in baseball is the mlb draft. I just can't wait until June 4th. I am going to be here, hopefully waiting for a phone call. I don't care where I go or when. I am in no role right now to be picky. This is my dream."