A week after Mike Papi and his University of Virginia teammates lost to Vanderbilt in the College World Series championship game, Papi and his parents watched Indians batting practice, leaning on the railing in front of the home dugout at Progressive Field.
It didn’t take long before Papi, 21, realized just how much his life was about to change.
Not even halfway through the Indians’ session, Papi, a left-handed hitter, was pulled aside and asked to call into a local television sports show for a live interview via cell phone. As soon as that was over, two reporters approached, looking to talk to Papi.
So much for a final quiet day of anonymity. The next morning, the native of Tunkhannock, Pa., was on his way to nearby Mahoning Valley to begin his professional career with the Scrappers — the Tribe’s short-season team.
“I’m looking forward to playing,” said Papi, the Indians’ third pick (38th overall) that came in the competitive balance round of June’s draft.
“It’s been about a week or so since we were out in Omaha and I’m ready to start up again. I’m really looking forward to it.”
The thrill of being drafted last month subsided pretty quickly for Papi, a first baseman/outfielder, who had a more pressing goal to accomplish before turning pro. A University of Virginia junior, Papi and his teammates were just wrapping up Super Regional play before going on to a great run in the College World Series.
The second game of the CWS in Omaha pitted the Cavaliers against the University of Mississippi. With the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth, Papi came to the plate with two outs and a runner at second base.
Despite his reputation as one of the best bats in college ball, the Rebels pitched to Papi.
The strategy ended up being a mistake. Papi, who led the Atlantic Coast Conference with a .381 batting average the previous season, drove a game-winning double to right-center field to give the Cavaliers a 2-1 victory.
Papi’s third and final season of college ball came to a close with him hitting .307 with 11 doubles, 11 home runs and 55 RBI as Virginia advanced all the way to the CWS championship round before losing to Vanderbilt two games to one in the championship series.
Once the sting of defeat began to ease, Papi was able to enjoy all that he’d accomplished. He was the first player from Virginia to lead the Atlantic Coast Conference in home runs since 1978, en route to earning All-America and All-ACC honors.
Finally, it was time to think about the incredible opportunity in front of him that would help shape his future for years to come as Papi and the Indians began contract negotiations.
It didn’t take long before an agreement was reached July 3, with MLB.com’s Jim Callis reporting that the Indians gave Papi a $1.25 million signing bonus.
Although a hefty amount of money, it was still under MLB’s suggested slot value of $1,495,400.
“The [Indians] definitely respected us and our run during the College World Series,” Papi said. “They let us go play and not have to worry about all this professional stuff until our season was done.”
Not once did Papi allow the excitement about the good possibility of playing professionally interfere with the task ahead.
“Our coaching staff did a great job of focusing us on the game at hand, showing us the importance of taking it one day at a time and not having that anxiousness of wanting to go professional,” Papi said. “I think that’s one of the reasons we were so successful.”
Such maturity and competitiveness, coupled with a lean 6-foot-2, 190-pound frame, made Papi an easy selection in the draft round that follows the first round and helps clubs make up for losing veteran players to other teams via free agency.
“[Papi] has an advanced feel to hit,” said Brad Grant, the Indians’ director of amateur scouting. “He’s extremely patient at the plate and doesn’t expand the strike zone. He has a natural ability to hit the ball and the ability to move around the field. He can play left, he can play right and he can play first. He brings you a lot of versatility in terms of defense and there’s power that can develop.”
In his professional debut with the Scrappers, Papi went 1-for-5 with an RBI and run scored that helped Mahoning Valley snap an eight-game losing streak with a 9-3 win over the Lowell Spinners.
He played only one more game there — collecting two hits and three RBI in nine at-bats combined — before being promoted to low Class-A Lake County, where Papi’s professional career continues during the second half of the minor-league season.
By Stephanie Storm - Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)
©2014 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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