NEW YORK - Newberry College senior pitcher Russell Haltiwanger (Simpsonville, S.C.) was selected by the Cincinnati Reds Tuesday afternoon in the second day of Major League Baseball's amateur draft.
Haltiwanger was drafted in the 29th round, and was the 872nd pick overall. He will be assigned to rookie league ball at either Sarasota, Fla., or Billings, Mont.
In three seasons with the Indians, Haltiwanger compiled a 14-11 record with 201 strikeouts in 190 2/3 innings.
The article about Haltiwanger below appeared in the Tribune on June 14.
Pitchers' professional dreams come true
By Michael Burns
TRIBUNE-TIMES SPORTS EDITOR
Tension built as time passed. Pressure mounted, but there was nothing more they could do.
They'd spent countless hours, maybe most of the free time in their lives, playing baseball. Each imagined standing on the mound to pitch in the major leagues, but long, tall odds were stacked against them.
Millions of children play the game around the world. A select few are ever paid to play as professionals.
Brett Harker was told he may have the chance to realize his dream, that he would be selected in the major league draft June 7, but he began to have doubts.
"The thing was I had all my family in town, my girlfriend and a couple of teammates, just watching it online," Harker said. "I had heard anywhere from three to seven rounds. The third had passed, and the fourth had passed. Literally, I was even saying to my family, 'I'm not going to get drafted. They're not going to call my name... I've just got a feeling.'
"I was so nervous I was biting a pillow. Then I got a phone call. It was Roy Tanner from the Phillies. He said, 'Are you listening to the draft, Brett?' I said, 'Yes, sir.' I was expecting him to say, 'We're doing our best to get you' or something like that, but he said, 'Then you know we just drafted you.'
"I said, 'What did you say?'," Harker said. "I pointed to the screen so my family would look. Sure enough it said, 'Philadelphia Phillies: Harker, Brett.' I just started crying. I walked outside so I could hear him better because everybody just started screaming. I don't even know what the guy said. I had to call him back the next day because I was crying so much I couldn't even listen. I just kept saying, 'Yes, sir' to everything he was saying."
The Phillies picked Harker, a 6-foot-3, 180-pound junior at the College of Charleston, 157th overall, in the fifth round.
Fellow 2002 Hillcrest High graduate Russell Haltiwanger was drafted in the 29th round by the Cincinnati Reds, who also drafted Laurens High grad David Wilson of Gray Court in the 17th round.
Hillcrest product Matt Campbell was drafted in the first round last year by the Kansas City Royals, and Mauldin High product David Marchbanks was drafted in the seventh round in 2003 by the Florida Marlins.
"When my older brother was hugging me I said, 'This is what I've been working for my whole life,'" said Harker. "My grandpa taught me how to play, and he died when I was about 15. Before every inning I pitch I always go to the back of the mound and say a quick prayer, and then I lift my fingers and I point up to the sky, kind of giving him credit, hoping God would let him watch down. My mom mentioned that my grandpa would be so proud. Then we all started crying again."
Across the country rings of the phone, and the absence thereof, delivered judgment on hopes and aspirations.
"It was the most nerve-wracking thing, ever, not knowing if you're going to get a call or when the call is coming," said Haltiwanger, a 6-2, 170-pound junior at Newberry College. "It's like a dream come true. It's unreal. It hasn't set in yet. It's unbelievable."
Haltiwanger's days with Harker date to more than a dozen years ago, when Simpsonville and Fountain Inn all-star teams met in youth-league play.
Haltiwanger played with Wilson on the Spartanburg Stingers in the Coastal Plain League a couple of years ago, and their teams at Newberry and Lander met in regular season play. They are two of 10 pitchers selected by the Reds on the first day of the draft.
Wilson is the first Lander University player to be drafted. He was named Lander's 2003-04 Male Athlete of the Year. The two-time All-Peach Belt Conference and All-South selection had a 27-17 record over four years. He struck out 297 batters in 323.2 innings while setting school records for wins, strikeouts and complete games.
Harker holds Charleston's record for saves in a season with 15, and he has a Southern Conference record-tying 29 career saves. He was named the Southern Conference Pitcher of the Year by the league's head coaches. He went 5-0 for coach John Pawlowski's Cougars this year with a 2.27 ERA.
He'll report to the Batavia (New York) Muckdogs for a short season that opens June 21.
"We started him his freshman year and just felt like he was a perfect candidate to be a relief pitcher for us, to be a closer for us," Pawlowski said. "A relief pitcher has to beat to a little different drum, so to speak, and that's a positive thing. He loves to be out there with the game on the line. That's what he thrives on... The success of our ballclub had a lot to do with Brett Harker's success, because the team felt very comfortable with the game if we were ahead or close in the last two or three innings. He was our guy."
Pawlowski said he expected Harker to sign with the Phillies and not return for his senior year of college. Players' professional options are usually considered best after their junior years. Campbell and Marchbanks, like Haltiwanger plans, also left college as juniors.
"There's a right time for people to go off and play," Pawlowski said. "He (Harker) is certainly a guy who's done an awful lot here at the College of Charleston. I believe he is ready for professional baseball."
Harker said his fastball was clocked at 94 miles-per-hour this year. Other than teammate Brett Gardner, an outfielder taken in the third round by the New York Yankees, he is the highest-drafted Charleston player, ever.
"My biggest thing is I throw the fastball to get ahead," Harker said. "The reason I got drafted and the reason I'm successful is because of my breaking ball. All of the scouting reports and everything say it's a big league breaking ball... They call it power curve ball because it's got the big break of a curve ball but it's got the velocity of a slider."
Haltiwanger was clocked at 92 mph this year. He compiled a 14-11 record with 201 strikeouts in 190 2/3 innings in three years at Newberry.
"I throw fastball, curve, change," Haltiwanger said. "I rely on my fastball, basically, and then when I need a pitch I toss them a curve, just try to change speeds, keep it off the hitter's eye."
Wilson, too, has hit 92 mph, but the left-hander is better known for his curve. He left for the Reds' short-season team in Billings, Mont., over the weekend.
"When David was in grade school everybody thought he was too little to play," said his father, Ronnie, a coach and teacher of 35 years for whom Gray Court-Owings Junior High's gymnasium was named last fall. "It was always, 'You're too little to pitch.' After a while they saw that he could pitch. When he went to college it was the same thing. They want to get people who are 6-4 and weight 210 to throw the ball."
Yet, everywhere David Wilson went he excelled, despite reaching just 6 feet, 165 pounds. He's developed a change-up since the days of his showdowns with Hillcrest and Mauldin.
"To me it just shows that if you've got a little determination and a little drive you can make things happen, even if you aren't the most physically gifted prototype pitcher," Ronnie Wilson said. "Maybe the same thing will happen here (in the pros). Who knows?"