San Diego natives transferring in is becoming a good habit at Troy.
Mark Prior was better at San Diego's University High than Barry Zito. Zito played there ahead of him, was a freshman All-American at U.C.-Santa Barbara, transferred to U.S.C., and was Oakland's top draft choice last year. Prior was 10-5 with a 0.93 earned run average as a senior, earning All-American and All-State honors, while slugging 15 home runs at the plate. The Yankees made the San Diego County Player of the Year their first round draft choice, but Mark declined to become an instant millionaire in favor of college.
Mark will not admit that his father Jerry playing football at Vanderbilt influenced his decision to play for the Commodores. After a Freshman All-American season, he pitched in front of 10,000 fans--a moment he lists as his greatest thrill--for the USA National Team. Prior transferred to Southern Cal, and is a 2000 pre-season All-American. Mark "established himself in the Southeastern Conference " says coach Mike Gillespie. "He is a superlative athlete."
"I learned how to lead playing for Coach Serrano at Uni High," says the mature Prior. "I watched Zito when I was a sophomore, and we had <U.S.C.'s> Seth Davidson, but we didn't win the C.I.F. <San Diego Section>. The talent level down there is great, with guys like Eric Munson and Eric Chavez." Both those players were first round picks.
"I developed physically and mentally as a baseball player when I decided not to play basketball my senior year" he continues. "That gave me a chance to train year round, and work on my hitting. I got stronger, my overall body strength, my abs and back. I was around 200, 205, now I weigh in at 220 pounds. As a senior I threw about 86-89 miles per hour. Now I clock in over 90, right around 90-93."
A supplemental "sandwich" pick by the Yankees (forty-third overall), Prior had to be pretty determined to get a college education in order to turn down George Steinbrenner's money.
"I was focused on the college experience," he explains. "My Dad played football at Vanderbilt. I was recruited by Stanford, S.C., Miami, Tulane--I'm not a big fan of Stanford. Vanderbilt fit me as a person, it was my choice. I loved the Vandy community, don't get me wrong. It just didn't work out from the baseball and coaching point of view. I just outgrew the baseball program at Vanderbilt. It was a tough situation, I just had a different opinion about how a program should be run.
"I like Coach Savage and Coach Gillespie. Gillespie offers discipline and organization, and I just needed to be in a situation where guys' get pushed and challenged more. I felt my physical and mental skills were the same at the end of the year at Vanderbilt as they had been at the beginning."
What is his take on Gillespie, who is notorious for his tight reign handling pitchers in game situations?
"What I know, from talking to Barry, is that he wants perfection, and he wants it right away," says Prior. "He's carried on the S.C. tradition, and I think he'll help me. I also worked with some alumni, like Tom House, who helped me to understand that I have to prove myself every time I pitch. I know the expectations for me are great."
What about the fear factor? Does that push Mark to constantly be on his toes?
"That's very true," is his answer. "I got asked `what are you thinking?' about turning down the money. At Vandy I felt pressure to throw a perfect game every time out in the S.E.C., to prove I am what they say I am."
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism