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Monday, June 15, 2009 | I’m talking on the phone Monday afternoon with Point Loma Nazarene College baseball star Kurt Steinhauer as he waits out a three-hour layover in Atlanta before catching his next flight.
The former Sea Lions outfielder’s destination is West Palm Beach, Fla., home of the New York Mets’ camp for first-year players, where he was due to land at 8:50 p.m. EDT. And that was after leaving his family’s home in Palos Verdes at 4:30 a.m. PDT to board a 6:30 a.m. flight from LAX.
Next, Steinhauer’s schedule called for him to be on the Mets’ ball fields at 7 a.m. Tuesday — a little more than 36 hours after he signed his pro contract as a 27th-round draft pick — for his first workouts.
Negotiations on Sunday took all of one hour, which was about the time it took for him to fill out the contract the scout brought over.
That’s the way it works for a 27th-round draft pick. They essentially take what’s offered if they want a shot at big-league baseball, and then they’re told to pack in a hurry. The franchise wants to start getting a return on its investment no matter how small.
His whirlwind experience isn’t quite the same that San Diego State’s Stephen Strasburg is undergoing as the first pick of the draft last week by the Washington Nationals.
The All-American pitcher and Olympic bronze medalist could end up making his big-league debut before the 2009 season is over, but he isn’t going anywhere until negotiations start moving toward an expected record deal that could range anywhere from $20 million to $50 million.
Steinhauer isn’t complaining. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder that led the Sea Lions as a senior to a national runner-up finish at the 2009 NAIA College World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, might have shown up groggy-eyed for his first workout, but he no doubt hopped quickly out of bed.
“No, I won’t be complaining,” he said. “I’m excited. This has always been my dream to have a chance to play in the big leagues.”
The funny thing about sports, though, is how opportunities sometimes arise.
If it wasn’t for a broken hand as a high school senior that cost Steinhauer a scholarship offer from West Coast Conference power Pepperdine, he wouldn’t have ended up at Point Loma.
And if he hadn’t played at Point Loma, he wouldn’t have worked with former Major League slugger Phil Plantier, a Poway High alum.
“I was really excited when I heard he was going to be coaching our team,” Steinhauer said. “I remember his name a as a kid when I played video games.”
Plantier played in the Major Leagues from 1990-97. His career started with the Boston Red Sox, but his best season was 1995 with the Padres when he hit 34 home runs with 100 RBIs.
He was Point Loma’s hitting coach in 2006 and 2007 before he took a coaching position in 2008 with Seattle Mariners’ AA club, the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx. He was promoted to manager of West Tennessee in 2009.
“He changed my whole swing and helped me mentally and physically as far as how to play the game,” Steinhauer said. “I wasn’t a home run hitter before I worked with him. He really helped my stroke.
“I hit only three home runs in all of high school and zero as a freshman (2005) before I started working with him.”
As a sophomore in 2006, Steinhauer connected for nine home runs. He missed 2007 as a redshirt season with an injury, but he continued to work with Plantier.
Maintaining his mechanics from Plantier as a junior, Steinhauer hit .344 with 11 home runs and 39 RBIs in 49 games. His senior season he led the team in average (.379), home runs (19), RBIs (52), on-base percentage (.483) and total bases (161) in 58 games.
Steinhauer, who wasn’t drafted out of high school or after his junior season in college when he was again draft eligible, gained enough attention from scouts that the Mets selected him in the middle of the three-day, 50-round draft.
The numbers from his senior year were enough to earn NAIA All-American honorable mention. He also was named to the NAIA College World Series all-tournament team after leading the Sea Lions to four wins before falling in back-to-back games to Lubbock Christian to finish as runner-up.
“The College World Series was a blast,” Steinhauer said. “It was disappointing when we came so close to the national title, but looking back, it was a great experience for us. We were playing before crowds of 4,000 to 5,000. They took us to an elementary school and we signed autographs.
“I don’t think I missed out on anything by playing NAIA ball instead of (NCAA) Division I.”
Who knows? In the crazy game of projecting a baseball prospect’s future, Steinhauer might even end up facing some guy name Strasburg and his 100 mph fastball in a big-league stadium.
At least by then Steinhauer will have caught up on his sleep.
Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions and an occasional writer for Chargers.com. You can e-mail him at email@example.com. Or send a letter to the editor.