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Hawkeye baseball players choose playing for Iowa over signing with MLB team

BY TOMMY REINKING | MARCH 13, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Pittsburgh Pirates, the Colorado Rockies, and the Arizona Diamondbacks have all drafted Iowa starting pitcher Matt Dermody — in 2009, 2011, and 2012, respectively. Dermody has had three chances to achieve every ballplayers’ dream of signing with a Major League Baseball team.

He turned them down every time to pitch for the Hawkeyes.

“It’s a good feeling and an honor to be in the draft and be a candidate,” the nativeof Norwalk, Iowa, said. “I’ve had to weigh the pros and cons between college and pro baseball, and I think college has been the right choice for me.”

Each June, the MLB holds what’s known as the first-year player draft. According to MLB rules, high-school players who have graduated from high school but have not yet attended college, college players who have finished their junior or senior year or are 21 years old, or any junior-college players, are eligible to be drafted.

The Hawkeyes currently have six players on the roster who have been selected in the draft, but elected to enroll and play at, or remain, at Iowa. The Chicago Cubs selected catcher Dan Sheppard in 2009. Outfielder Taylor Zeutenhorst was picked by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010.

In 2011, starting pitcher Sasha Kuebel was selected by the Oakland Athletics, and pitcher Nick Hibbing was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Freshman outfielder Blake Hickman was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2012.

The person most affected by the draft on the Hawkeyes isn’t any player, however, but head coach Jack Dahm.

“Every year, we deal with the draft,” the 10th-year coach said. “It plays a huge part in our recruiting. We’ve got to be careful not to go out there and recruit kids that could potentially be high draft picks who never show up on campus. It has a huge influence on so many phases in our program.”

None of the current Hawkeyes were selected highly. The highest pick on the team was Hickman, who was picked in the 20th round, 614th overall. Hibbing was drafted lowest on the team in the 42nd round, 1,262nd overall.

Reasons for choosing college ball over professional baseball vary from taking time to hone skills to trying to move up in the draft in later years to sign a larger signing bonus.

“It’s a special feeling when it happens,” Kuebel said. “But I turned them down and came to college.

College was going to give me the best opportunity to get a little better in preparation for next year’s draft. It’s nice, but you try not to think about it so much.”

Dahm said he tries his hardest to not lose players in the draft, and 90 percent of players he coaches do remain at Iowa for all four years. The reason he wants players to stay is not for immediate success for the team, though, but to give the players a chance at a life after baseball.

“The No. 1 thing for these guys is getting a degree,” he said. “That’s something that no one can take away from you. You could sign for $50,000 after your junior year, but if you get your college degree as a senior, you’re going to have that opportunity to get a job as soon as you’re done.”

Despite the numerous opportunities he’s had to sign one of those contracts with an MLB team, and with the inevitability of going through the process for a fourth time, Dermody is doing his best to avoid looking too far ahead.

“Right now, I’m trying not to think about it,” he said. “I’m trying to focus on one game at a time and get wins.”


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