SPORTS

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September 14, 2006

Baseball odyssey ends for Yeksigian

Blown off course: Yeksigian’s pro baseball odyssey ends—for now

In the movie Field of Dreams, baseball-player-turned-doctor Archibald “Moonlight” Graham embodies the frailty of childhood aspirations, coming face-to-face with his dreams only to see them “brush past…like a stranger in a crowd.” More than talent or will, sometimes luck alone can determine our lot in life. A victim of unfortunate circumstance, one Maroon ace may never know how far his talent could have taken him in the world of professional baseball.

Putting an end to a sparkling career that saw him toss the first no-hitter in program history and compile a 19–6 career mark, some poor timing cost right-hander Dan Yeksigian (A.B. 2006) a chance to test his potential on a bigger stage. After he went undrafted in this June’s Major League Baseball (MLB) amateur draft, the Cincinnati Reds handed the Downers Grove, IL native a standard minor league deal, but the club rescinded the contract after coming to terms with other young players who had been given the same offer.

Yeksigian’s flirtation with pro ball started last fall, when he caught the eyes of scouts from both the Reds and the Boston Red Sox. After attending Cincinnati’s local tryout camp and pitching several bullpen and scrimmage sessions, Tyler Wilt, the scout in charge of the Chicago area who has been with the Reds since early 2005, took note of Yeksigian’s mental and physical resolve.

“Coach Baldea had been in contact with several teams trying to get someone to come out and look at me,” Yeksigian said. “He deserves the credit for my invitation to the Reds camp.”

His optimism riding high after his private workouts for scouts, the Chicago ace went unselected in the 50-round Major League Baseball amateur draft, but was contacted shortly thereafter by officials from the National League club. The hurler took two days to decide whether or not to accept, weighing his options in the job market and deliberating with his family.

“I had received my offer at the beginning of November, so when the talks of the draft began, I had mixed feelings,” Yeksigian said. “I had been mentally preparing to move to New York; I had already picked out an apartment and roommates, which made me hesitant to throw out the sure thing for a risky gamble.”

By the time he made up his mind that it was time to step back on the rubber and pursue his dreams, the Reds had already filled the position. Grateful that he had already made it so far, Yeksigian humbly accepted his fate of the moment.

“There was no reason for me not to pursue the opportunity,” Yeksigian said. “I never truly expected to receive the call; I didn’t want to get my hopes up.”

During his tenure in Hyde Park, Yeksigian posted a 4.38 ERA, with three shutouts and 191 strikeouts while pitching in both starting and relief roles. He finished his sparkling career ranked fourth in innings pitched with 191.1 and sixth in starts made with 27. In addition to having mastered four pitches, including a devastating breaking ball, his poise and composure on the mound stood out as his greatest assets. Yeksigian’s time with the Maroons has undoubtedly placed him near the top of a distinguished list of names in Chicago baseball history. In time, he’ll likely join 1930s star southpaw and major leaguer Roy Henshaw and others in the Maroon Athletics Hall of Fame.

“He had great stuff,” Wilt said. “I know Dan is an incredible person. He’s extremely bright and competitive, and I think he would have advanced had he joined us.”

Wilt and the Reds scouting office had envisioned starting Yeksigian off with a small contract in one of their rookie leagues and seeing how he progressed from there. While they viewed him as a fringe draft pick, they did take the steps to register him for the nationwide MLB draft on June 5. Thrusted into a pool of young stars from around the country, all hoping for a chance to spearhead their careers with a Major League franchise, Yeksigian ultimately fell short and was not drafted.

“The time leading up to the draft was incredibly exciting,” Yeksigian said. “I realized that a lifelong dream was closer than ever to coming true. However, after speaking with several teams, I understood that there was little interest in drafting me. I was extremely grateful for the class, honesty, and professionalism with which the scouts handled the situation. They never gave false hopes or said what I wanted to hear. They let me know exactly where I stood in relation to other prospects.”

Despite choosing to take chances on high schoolers who were unlikely to sign rather than use a pick on him, the Reds were confident in Yeksigian’s ability to go far. Holding true to their original promise, the club offered him a standard contract: five years at $1,050 a month and a $1,000 signing bonus. Accepting an invitation to play professionally may be a no-brainer to many ballplayers, but it was a tough decision for a standout student with unlimited potential in the real world. Like many of his Chicago classmates, Yeksigian had an equally promising future ahead of him in the business world. His excellence in the classroom and prestigious economics degree earned him a position at Credit Suisse, an investment bank with offices in New York City.

“I was caught off guard and needed to discuss my options with the company that I was to work for,” Yeksigian said. “[They] were very supportive. The goal was to pursue baseball for one year, retire if it wasn’t working out, and hopefully re-interview with my company and begin working next July.”

In the end, Yeksigian was beaten to the punch, likely ending any possibility of him pitching professionally in the future. In no ways did he keep his head down, though. With apologies to Langston Hughes, not all dreams deferred fester like a sore. Off to a solid start in his banking career, he has also found an opportunity to relive times of old, joining a competitive league in the Big Apple and pitching for a squad made up of former Maroon ballplayers.

“It is great to have the opportunity to continue playing the sport,” Yeksigian said. “I don’t plan on abandoning the dream to play professionally. Someday, I will return to a tryout and give it another whirl.”