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2017 April 15 - 04:34 pm

Headed for Home

Many MLB Stars Launched Careers at Community College

Later this month, when the National Football League conducts its annual draft, the top pick by the Cleveland Browns will immediately become the face of his franchise and instantly earn millions of dollars.

On June 12, when the Minnesota Twins makes the first pick in Major League Baseball’s draft, whoever is selected first will likely be unknown even to ardent fans. He’ll likely be sent to the minor leagues where he could labor for years before making it to the big leagues.

Part of this dichotomy is due to the fact that MLB teams routinely select high school and international players. Relatively few MLB players attend college. Moreover, because media attention commanded is just a fraction of that afforded college football or basketball, few MLB players are ever associated with a college.

Still, plenty of MLB players starred at the college level, and many of those attended and played at a community college before starting their professional careers. Miami Dade College, a hotbed of baseball talent, has sent more than 35 players to the big leagues. Five-time World Series champion Andy Pettitte went to San Jacinto College. Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper was MLB’s overall first pick in 2010 after a monster year at the College of Southern Nevada.

In recognition of community college athletes everywhere and in honor of the start of the 2017 MLB season, CCWeek has compiled the top nine examples (one for each slot in the lineup) of major league stars, past and present, who played at a community or junior college.

1. Jackie Robinson, Pasadena Junior College (Calif.)

Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson is known best for becoming the first African-American to play in MLB. He broke the color barrier that had relegated African-Americans to the Negro Leagues since the 1880s when he started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. In addition to making history, he was an excellent player. He had a stellar 10-year career and was named the National League’s Most Valuable player in 1949. After graduating from John Muir High School in Pasadena, he enrolled in PJC, where he played basketball, football, baseball, ran track and won numerous accolades. He graduated in 1939 and enrolled at UCLA, where he became the school's first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football, and track. He died in 1972 at age 53.

2. Albert Pujols, Metropolitan Community College (Mo.)

Before becoming a star and a likely first-ballot Hall of Famer, Pujols, a native of the Dominican Republic, moved to the U.S. with his family in 1996. After starring at Fort Osage High School in Independence, Missouri, he played at single year at MCC-Maple Woods in 1999. He was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1999 in the 13th round of the draft and played for the Cardinals until 2012, when he signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. At MCC, he earned notice for turning an unassisted triple play and hitting a grand slam in his first game. He hit .461 for the year, with 22 home runs and 80 RBIs. At the start of the 2017 season, he had 591 home runs and a lifetime batting average of .308. He is a three-time Most Valuable Player.

3. Bryce Harper, College of Southern Nevada

Harper is best known for being named the National League’s MVP in 2015 and for his energetic, intense style of play. But he made history at the College of Southern Nevada before embarking on his career with the Washington Nationals. He attended Las Vegas High School, but after his sophomore year, he earned his GED in October 2009, making him eligible for the June 2010 amateur draft, allowing him to start his professional baseball career early. For the 2010 college season, Harper, then 17, enrolled at CSN, which competed in the Scenic West Athletic Conference. In 66 games, he hit 31 home runs, 98 RBIs, and batted .443 with a .987 slugging percentage. He won the 2010 Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s top college baseball player. He was the first overall pick in the 2010 MLB draft and made his major league debut in 2012.

4. Mike Piazza, Miami Dade College (Fla.)

It’s a long way from Miami to Cooperstown, N.Y., but that’s the path traveled by Mike Piazza, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame late last year. He was honored for a 16-year career during which he totaled 427 home runs for the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets. But his baseball path went through Miami-Dade, where he played a single year in 1988 and batted .364. He failed to attract much attention from major league scouts and was famously drafted in the 62nd round, the 1,390th player selected, by the Los Angeles Dodgers. But after giving up his first base position to become a catcher, he blossomed. He was named NL Rookie of the Year after appearing in 149 games, hitting .318, slugging 35 home runs, and driving in 112 runs.

5. Roger Clemens, San Jacinto College (Texas)

Clemens was one of the most dominant pitchers in major league history, racking up 352 wins, 4,672 strikeouts and a lifetime ERA of 3.12. He pitched for 24 seasons for four teams. He was named an All-Star 11 times and won seven Cy Young Awards. He was the first pitcher in major league history to strike out 20 batters in a game. He began his college career pitching for San Jacinto College North in 1981, where he was 9–2. He then attended the University of Texas at Austin, compiling a 25–7 record in two seasons, and was on the mound when the Longhorns won the 1983 College World Series. Clemens was alleged to have used anabolic steroids during his late career, mainly based on testimony given by his former trainer Brian McNamee. A charge he firmly denied. In 2010, he was indicted on six felony counts involving perjury and false statements. In 2012, he was found not guilty on all six counts..

6. Curt Schilling, Yavapai College (Ariz.)

Schilling is considered one of the great postseason pitchers of all time, having won a World Series game with three different franchises. But he did not even make his high school team until his senior year, according to ESPN. He enrolled at what was then Yavapai Junior College in Arizona and in his only season with the team, in 1985, the squad went to the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series. In 1986, Schilling was selected in the second round of the January Draft by the Boston Red Sox. He was traded to the Baltimore Orioles, but returned to the Red Sox in 2004. That was the year that his 2004 Game 6 American League Championship Series performance with a sutured tendon dressed in a bloody sock was the defining image in one of baseball’s all-time playoff comebacks and a vivid symbol of ending an 86-year old World Series drought. For his career, he recorded 216 wins and 3,116 strikeouts.

7. Kirby Puckett, Triton College (Ill.)

With his round body and infectious smile, Puckett became a symbol of the joy of playing the game during a career that ended prematurely because of eye disease. Raised in South Chicago, he was a high school standout, but attracted little attention from scouts. He eventually landed a scholarship from Bradley University, but played there just one year. After the death of his father, he transferred to Triton Junior College to be closer to his mother. He had a spectacular season, hitting .472 with 16 home runs in 69 games. He led Triton to the national finals and was named the Region IV Junior College Player of the Year. He signed with the Minnesota Twins and made his major league debut in 1984. In 1987, the Twins won their first World Series and won it again in 1991. He was forced to retire in 1996 after being diagnosed with glaucoma. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001. Puckett died in 2006 at age 46 after suffering a stroke.

8. Don Sutton, Gulf Coast Community College (Fla.)

Don Sutton, one of MLS’s most consistent pitchers, got his start in a small town in Florida's Panhandle, according to the Florida High School Athletic Association. Sutton was a pitcher for Tate High School in Cantonment, Fla., and helped the baseball team to the 1962 state championship by hurling a 13- inning, two-hit game in the final as a junior. In his senior season, he led Tate to a state runner-up finish. Sutton attended Gulf Coast Community College in Panama City for just one year, and was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers as a freshman. In that one year, he set a local strikeout record that was still standing 20 years later, and was named to the All-State and All- America teams. Over his 23- year career with the Dodgers, Astros, Brewers, Athletics and Angels, he won 324 games and struck out 3,574 batters, pitched in four World Series and was a four-time All-Star. Sutton retired in 1988. He ranks fifth on baseball’s all-time strikeout list with 3,574 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1998.

9. Jorge Posada, Calhoun Community College (Ala.)

It was in 2015 that the New York Yankees announced they would retire the number of former catcher Posada, who played on four World Series championship teams. But his number had been retired by Calhoun Community College eight years earlier, the same year he was inducted into the Alabama Community College Hall of Fame. Drafted by the Yankees out of high school in Puerto Rico, Posada played shortstop and third base at Calhoun in 1990 and 1991. In 1990, he was voted the team’s best hitter. The next year he was named co-captain at Calhoun and selected to the all-conference team. He left Calhoun with his associate degree, and joined the Yankees’ organization in 1990, according to The Decatur Daily. The Yankees converted him to catcher and he played his first big league game in 1995. He retired in 2011.

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