Over the past six years, the Pomona-Pitzer baseball program has turned itself into a powerhouse. The fact that they have 177 wins, six straight seasons of 25 or more victories, three SCIAC championships, and four NCAA tournament appearances says enough, but one more statistic solidifies P-P’s place among the nation’s top Division III programs: Since 2009, three P-P players have been selected in the MLB draft.
It may come as a surprise to an outsider—three players in four years from a DIII school—but for those who know the program, making it to the professional level is a common aspiration from the very beginning for many Sagehens throughout the years. For Drew Hedman PO ’09, a professional career was always a goal.
“I always knew I wanted to play professional baseball and always thought it was a possibility,” Hedman said. “I knew after my junior year there was a good chance I could play after college, and, fortunately, I had the opportunity to do so.”
As the 2009 DIII hitter of the year, Hedman was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 50th round of the 2009 draft after hitting .489 with 24 home runs in his senior season. Although Hedman was known for his prowess at the plate, P-P head coach Frank Pericolosi had further praise for the first baseman.
“Hedman was an extremely hard worker and a great leader,” Pericolosi said. “He was also the best defensive first baseman I have seen in 14 years at the Division III level.”
Since being drafted, the Redding, Calif. native has bounced around the Red Sox minor league system, getting most of his at-bats with the Single A Salem (Va.) Red Sox, but finishing up last year with the AA Portland Sea Dogs.
James Kang PZ ’10, a well-rounded infielder out of Huntington Beach, Calif., has followed in Hedman’s footsteps. Kang had aspirations for a professional career from the beginning, and although he received interest from larger baseball programs, Kang chose Pitzer College for a top education with the knowledge that if he played well enough, he would get his chance. Toward the end of his senior season, Kang could see that this chance was not far away. Scouts started following Kang, taking interest in his abilities and recognizing his potential as a five-tool player.
“Kang did everything well,” Pericolosi said. “Field, throw, catch, run, hit for average, hit for power, and he was a closer on the mound. He was an intense competitor.”
After graduating with a degree in economics, Kang made his debut with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox. However, Kang soon found himself on the other side of the country playing for the Lowell (Mass.) Spinners. The transition presented all kinds of challenges, most notably being away from family.
“I didn’t get to see my family very much,” Kang said. “But I was fortunate enough to play with [Hedman], and we became extremely close, and, in a way, family away from family.”
Aside from traveling across the country, Kang and Hedman faced another common challenge. After putting up outstanding numbers at the Division III level, they had to prove that their skills would carry over to the pros. All rookies face this challenge, but for Division III players, it can be even steeper. Both Kang and Hedman rose to the occasion.
“I never felt out of place,” Kang said. “I always liked being the underdog and having to prove myself. In a way, it helped shape the player I was. It just took some time to realize that I belonged there just as much as the next guy.”
Hedman saw the level of competition rise, but he chose to focus more on his opportunity than on his competition. The chance to play professional baseball meant far more than any of the challenges that came with adjusting.
Kang completed the 2012 season with the Salem Red Sox and will return to Claremont to help coach the team this year before heading overseas to continue his career.
One year after the Red Sox selected Kang, the Seattle Mariners continued the P-P draft streak by signing David Colvin PZ ’11, a right-handed pitcher out of Mill Valley, Calif. While Hedman and Kang were winning games at the plate and in the field, Colvin was dominating the SCIAC on the mound. In his senior year, Colvin went 8-2 with a 2.96 earned run average (ERA).
“Colvin was a dominant starting pitcher for four years,” Pericolosi said. “He had great command, and every time he took the mound, we had a great chance of winning.”
Colvin completed the 2012 season with the Clinton (Iowa) Lumberkings, going 5-3 with a 3.15 ERA mainly in relief work.
Although they have had their share of struggles as pros, all three players have found their own ways to prove that they belong at that level. Their routes to the pros may have been slightly unorthodox, but that never slowed the former Sagehens. They chose instead to focus on the game.
“I never played just to be drafted,” Hedman said. “I played because I loved the game and had fun playing it. I think because I had this mindset, getting the chance to play professionally took care of itself.”
The Sagehens, ranked sixth in the western region, open the season today at home against Pacific University at 2 p.m.