Sat, June 7: A minor inconvenience

Sat, June 7: A minor inconvenience

   Brian McClure and Josh Klimek look around their Midwest League clubhouses. Not everything they see is pretty.

   Pitchers playing through injuries. Outfielders fighting off slumps. Everybody making $1,000 a month, tip money for major leaguers.

   This is the life McClure and Klimek have picked. They dream of playing in the major leagues. But they''re a long way away at Class A Clinton and Beloit, respectively.

   They were both also smart enough to have a backup plan.

   Five years ago, pro baseball first called McClure and Klimek. The question was simple: Want your pay now or later?

   For Klimek, the choice was easy. Picked in the 45th round by the Chicago White Sox, Klimek quickly ruled out signing and honored his University of Illinois baseball scholarship.

   Then-Illini recruit McClure faced a tougher decision. Expected to be drafted early, McClure lasted until Toronto''s pick in the 16th round.

   "I definitely wanted to go to school," McClure said. "I also realized my chances of making it to the big leagues aren''t good. Nobody''s chances are real good. I put down a money figure that if they got to it, I felt like I needed to sign. They never got to it."

   But the Blue Jays got close. Though they didn''t meet his demands, McClure said the Blue Jays offered him a six-figure signing bonus.

   "I was almost hoping that they didn''t get to that figure," McClure said.

   "I wasn''t telling them ''I''m worth this amount of money.'' For me to pass up the whole college experience, I felt like they needed to give me this amount of money."

   What would he have passed up?

   His UI degree in speech communications.

   The chance to meet his future wife, former Illini volleyball player Kelly Scherr. They''re getting married Jan. 10.

   Four fun-filled years in Champaign-Urbana.

   What did he lose by not turning pro?

   Not much.

   "I hoped that eventually I''d have the chance that I do now," McClure said. "If I didn''t, then it wasn''t meant to be."

   And, thanks to four years at Illinois, McClure is better prepared for his pro shot.

   "I think it''s a big advantage," McClure said. "We have quite a few younger guys on our team. I see some of the problems they have. Being the first time away from home.

   "Myself and some of the other college guys, we''ve been through some things. We''ve been away from home. We''ve dealt with the ups and downs of college baseball. A lot of playing is being able to handle the things that go on, the slumps and everything."

   Each year at this time, high school players are given the choice between college and pro baseball. UI recruit Jason Anderson of Danville was drafted in the sixth round of Tuesday''s draft by the Kansas City Royals. The school routinely loses players to the minor leagues.

   If he was their father, Illinois coach Itch Jones would send most of the draftees to college. He points to the successful transition McClure and Klimek have made to the minor leagues.

   The baseball rules allow an early exit for college players. Many times they''re drafted after their junior seasons and given a choice to return to school.

   "I don''t think you lose a thing going to college the first three years," Jones said. "When you go to college, you''re getting an education, you''re getting an opportunity to move away from home for the first time."

   Tom Le Vasseur, McClure''s manager at Clinton, notices the difference between the college players and those fresh out of high school.

   "It seems to settle their nerves quite a bit," Le Vasseur said. "They''ve been in the big games. The experience speaks for itself."

   Of course, that experience can work against the former college players. Both McClure and Klimek are 23, and their career clocks are ticking.

   The teams aren''t as patient with the older players. If you start at 18 and have only advanced to Class A by age 20, it''s no big deal. But when you''re 23 and you struggle, the end might be near.

   "We do definitely have a shorter timeline," McClure said. "Maybe that puts a little more pressure on a college player. If you''re going to make it, you''re going to have to deal with the pressure."

   McClure eases the pressure on himself by thinking about all he has going for him. If he fails at baseball, finding a job shouldn''t be a problem.

   "There''s other things I can do," McClure said. "I don''t feel quite as much pressure. I go through an 0 for 10 slump, and I don''t feel it''s the end of the world."

   McClure and Klimek have seen the panicked looks of players unprepared for life after baseball.

   "You look at the guys who get released when they''re 20, 21," Klimek said. "Going to college isn''t the thing they''re going to want to do the next four years."

   Some of the players hold on even longer, retiring from the minors at 24 or 25.

   "How many can go back and be a college freshman then?" McClure said. "If you go out of high school, you''re taking a huge risk."

Categories (3):Baseball, Illini Sports, Sports