Winthrop right-handed pitcher Jon Wilson recently took time to answer a few questions from SCS.com. Wilson is one of the top starters in the Big South Conference and is a returning senior in Rock Hill. After being named to multiple All-America teams after the 2004 season, the State College, PA native was recently named a 2005 First Team Preseason All-American by Collegiate Baseball newspaper. The Eagles opened the 2005 season on Thursday with an 8-0 victory at home over Wake Forest.
JON WILSON, WINTHROP UNIVERSITY
SCS.com: Coming out of State College High School in Pennsylvania, what other colleges did you consider, and why did you ultimately decide to attend Winthrop?
Wilson: "Initially, I heard from all types of schools from the biggest and most well-known to the schools no one has ever heard of. I was very interested in Arizona State early on and even visited the campus for what is called 'Junior Weekend' in early February of my junior year of high school. I was able to see them play a series with Florida State, which was awesome. I also heard from schools like Tulane, Auburn, and other schools. Arizona State and these other schools became less of an option, though, as I progressed into my junior and senior years.
Some other schools I was interested in were northern and eastern schools like William & Mary, George Washington, Siena, Grinnell, and Dartmouth. It was in my senior year that I was looking at these schools, for academics as well as baseball. I was very naïve, however, to the whole recruiting process and did not make a definite decision on any school because I did not think they were interested. Also, I was holding onto my dream of playing at a southern Division-I program.
Winthrop became an option very late in my senior year. I had been talking to some other schools, without much interest on their part as it turned out, when my high school pitching coach, Brian Ishler, asked me about Winthrop. One of our former players at State College, Todd Leathers, was a junior at Winthrop at that time. My pitching coach got in contact to Coach Hudak through Todd, and as a result, I signed in June after graduation. I really liked the baseball aspect of Winthrop - they were coming off their great 2001 season - and knew very little about the rest of the school since I visited after school had been out for some time. Mainly, I saw the opportunity to pursue my dream I have had since little league, which was to play Division-I baseball in the south, and I couldn't pass that opportunity up. Looking back, I may not have made the most informed decision, but it has paid off huge dividends because I love it here."
SCS.com: After appearing in a total of only twenty-one games your first two seasons on campus, you pitched in thirty-four contests last year. You compiled a Big South-best 1.88 ERA and an 11-0 record on the mound, the second-highest win total in the conference. In 67 total innings of work, you struck on 79 batters and walked just 17. How were you able to improve your contribution to the team so much between your sophomore and junior seasons, and what was the key to your success on the hill?
Wilson: "I think the main reason for my contribution to the 2004 season is that I matured a great deal as a pitcher since I have been at Winthrop. The first season I had here I was redshirted until Easter weekend, when I came off because we had injuries to three right-handed pitchers. I think I had 14 innings that season, and it was my first taste of college hitters and what it is actually like to be in a college game. My sophomore year I had some ups and downs. Mainly, I was not throwing on a consistent basis. I would throw twice in one weekend, then not throw for two or three weeks. This was not a product of coach just not throwing me or anything like that, but more of the right situation never coming up. That is the peculiar nature of the role of a reliever, and it is a role that takes some adjusting to. For me to be at my best, I have to be throwing on a regular basis. That is hard to control as a reliever.
Aside from my getting used to the role, I also was determined to make an impact after two years of mediocrity. I worked hard in the weight room and on mechanics drills in the summer of 2003 and into the fall of my junior year at Winthrop. My summer pitching coach, Chris Beck of the Stark County Terriers in the Great Lakes League, was very helpful to me, especially with the mechanical aspects of my work. We also have a very good base at Winthrop too for developing our pitchers. Coach DiEduardo does a very good job making sure we get our work in and that we stay on task, while Coach Hudak works with us during bullpens and helps us understand the mental side of pitching, or pitching philosophy. All of these things were very helpful to me in attaining my goal of success for my junior season.
The key to my success last season, above all, was a good defense and offense behind me. There were times when I would go into a game down a run or two, and within the next few innings, we would come back. Also, there were some great defensive plays that helped me out in tough situations. (Outfielder) Tommy Lentz saved a couple games for us and saved a couple missiles I gave up from being extra base hits. Essentially, I was in the right place at the right time and had a good bit of luck."
SCS.com: Following that 2004 season, you were named Second Team All-Big South. You were also chosen to multiple All-American squads, including CollegeBaseballInsider.com's First Team. How honored were you to be compared to the best players not only in your conference but also to baseball's best throughout the entire nation?
Wilson: "I was very honored to receive the awards I did at the conclusion of last season. All of them were very much unanticipated and greatly appreciated. There are a lot of great players out there who had seasons as good as or better than mine and were not recognized, so it is really a terrific honor. As a relief pitcher though, the thought never crossed my mind. Relievers are not used to getting the glory like a starting pitcher might, or maybe a closer to a certain extent."
SCS.com: The national recognition has not stopped for you and the Eagles. Along with teammate Daniel Carte, you were named to Collegiate Baseball's 2005 Preseason First Team All-America squad. Winthrop was one of only two schools nation-wide to place two players on the First Team. What does this national exposure mean not only to you but to your team and your school?
Wilson: "I think the exposure has made us more aware as a club that we have a great team this year. Aside from Dan Carte and I, we have guys that have had a lot of success and deserve those awards just as much. I think our recognition is indicative of how the national baseball community feels about Winthrop baseball as a club. We have a very deep pitching staff complimented by a very good lineup, which I think the recognition reaffirms. Also, to see us ranked in the top twenty-five in Baseball America and 28th in Collegiate Baseball gives us a greater incentive to succeed. I think, however, that the disappointment of not making a regional last season is more of an incentive for success this year, but the recognition may help a little."
SCS.com: The 2004 season was extremely successful for the Eagles. You finished 37-23 overall and 16-8 in the conference, good enough for a tie for second place in the Big South. But after a third place finish in the Big South Tournament, the on-the-bubble Eagles were left on the outside of the NCAA Tournament. How disappointing was the ending to last season, and how has that motivated you and the team for this upcoming campaign?
Wilson: "The ending of last season was a disappointing one. I do not think there is a member of our team who did not have a bitter taste in his mouth after the last game of last year's season. It was not because we thought we should have been selected for an at-large bid, but it was because we knew we were a better team than we showed. Last season's disappointments have been used as this year's fire so far. We had guys go out and have the best summers of their lives and work harder than they did before. Personally, the thought of last season has never left my mind, and all the work I have done since then is to improve myself so that I can help the team improve in any way possible. From a team standpoint, we are in the best physical shape of any team I have been a part of at Winthrop, and we have some incredible competition between people vying for spots in the lineup. As a result, I think we have our deepest team yet. We are ready to get started and play the kind of baseball that we are capable of."
SCS.com: The expectations for Winthrop baseball are at an all-time high in 2005. The team has been nationally-ranked in the preseason by several of the country's top publications. Baseball America ranks WU 25th in the nation, while Collegiate Baseball has the Eagles placed at number 28. How much pressure do the high expectations put on you as a player, and what goals has the team set for the upcoming season?
Wilson: "As a player I see the rankings as an honor for our program, but the preseason rankings are what they are. They are just preseason rankings. I do not feel any added pressure by them though, and I do not think the rest of the team is pressing either. After last year's disappointment, we are ready to go out and play our game. Our goals as a team include a postseason berth as either the conference champion or from an at-large bid. When it comes down to selection time, we do not want any doubt that Winthrop belongs in a regional. From there, the goal is clear. We want to get to Omaha. I do not feel this is an unrealistic goal, and it is certainly a team goal that we have decided upon. I think the expectations are high, but I think they are attainable."
SCS.com: Playing at Winthrop allows you to visit some of the best ballparks in America. In the past, you have traveled to big-name schools like Clemson, LSU, Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Mississippi State. This year's schedule even has trips planned to Malibu, CA and Honolulu, HI. Among the places you have been, which two or three have been your favorite, and which trip on this year's schedule do you have circled on your calendar?
Wilson: "I enjoy going to all of the big-name places we go. The atmosphere, the travel, the tradition, and the competition are all things I like about the big trips. My favorite places to play are Clemson and Georgia Tech. I love the atmosphere at both places, and we always play well against them. I think the fact that we do come close to beating them, and yet fall short, makes me want to play there even more because I know we can have success against them. Also, they are some of the most beautiful ballparks I have ever seen. Georgia Tech's field is perfect. The grass is flat and cut like a fairway, and the mound, my particular area of interest, is always perfectly manicured. It is probably the nicest field I have ever seen.
This year I do look forward to going to Clemson and Georgia Tech - we get a three game series with Tech this year - but I think Hawaii is the trip I most look forward to. I played summer ball in Alaska this past summer with two of Hawaii's current players, and I look forward to seeing and playing against them. Also, I have never been to Hawaii, and I do not know when, if ever, that I will be able to visit Hawaii again."
SCS.com: It's nice to visit other campuses, but playing at home in front of the friendly crowd is also nice. The Winthrop Ballpark on campus is one of the conference's nicest. It was just finished in 2001 and seats nearly 2,000 fans. What is the biggest advantage to playing at home, and as a player, do you actually hear or pay attention to the crowd while you are on the field?
Wilson: "It is great playing at home. As good as the road trips are, playing at home is always the most comfortable place to be. We really have a great fan base here at Winthrop. Members of the community of Rock Hill come out and really support us. We have personal relationships with them, and we feel like a big family. There is nothing like that anywhere but at home. We also have a growing student interest. Last season was the first season where we really saw a lot of students coming out the games as a big group. They would be loud, cheer, and produce a distinctly collegiate atmosphere as well. Surprisingly enough, the students and the members of the community who come are not at odds either. I think both groups feed off of each other's enthusiasm, and that creates the ideal atmosphere for playing and winning ballgames. There truly is no place like home."
SCS.com: A former teammate of yours, pitcher Jeremy Plexico, was taken in the 19th round of the 2003 MLB Draft by the Montreal Expos. Have you had a chance to talk with Plexico or any other current pro player, and if so, what advice have they given you regarding your current college career as well as your possible future in pro baseball?
Wilson: "I talk with Jeremy on a fairly regular basis. He is at school here in the fall, and he is always stopping by the field. The advice he gives me is just to work as hard as I can because there is always someone out there working harder. I really respect Jeremy, and he has had success in his two seasons of pro ball so far. That success is indicative of his good work ethic that he has had for as long as I have known him. I looked up to him as a role model while he was a teammate of mine, and I look up to him even more now."
SCS.com: Your head coach, Joe Hudak, has led the Eagles to three NCAA appearances and a couple of conference titles over the last ten seasons. Four seasons have ended with forty-plus total victories. Coach Hudak's goal from the very beginning has been to have the team competing on a national scale, which he is obviously doing. What makes Coach Hudak such a great coach, and how is able to continually get top baseball talent to play for the Eagles?
Wilson: "Coach Hudak is a successful coach because he cares about his team. He cares about our success on the field, in the classroom, and in the community. He stresses hard work in all of these areas as well. He might seem to care too much sometimes, but he does want the team to succeed and us as individuals to succeed as well. As far as getting talented ballplayers goes, I think it is a self-perpetuating cycle. If Winthrop baseball has a successful season, more prospects will want to come here. If they come, and Winthrop succeeds again, we will continue to sign top recruits. Coach Hudak has worked very hard to build a successful and appealing program. The new stadium and our very good schedule are all products of that hard work. All of these things are what bring the recruits in."
SCS.com: What is your favorite memory from your baseball career, whether it be little league, high school, or college?
Wilson: "My favorite baseball memory has to be when we swept Florida Atlantic at home last season. It may seem kind of obscure, but we went down to their tournament at the beginning of last season and were beaten badly. We lost two of the games we played down there by ten or more runs. One of those games was to Florida Atlantic. We were looking for redemption when they came to our place later on in the season, and we did just that. We did better than we thought we could, and I think it made us realize what kind of team we could be. To me, it seemed indicative of how the team gelled last year after a slow start, and it made the loss earlier in the season sting a little less."
SCS.com: Many athletes have role models that guide their athletic and personal lives. Who is one person you look up to on the field and one person you admire off the field?
Wilson: "On the field, I look up to many people. There are so many players in the major leagues who I would wish to emulate in one way or another. The most influential player to me though is someone I played with, Jeremy Plexico. Like I said before, he was a role model to me while we played together and still is now. He never acted like he was above everyone else. He worked hard off the field, did his job on the field, and when he was done, he came into the dugout and did what he could to help the team win from there. He was not out there for accolades or recognition, but he was there to enjoy the game and to help the team win in any way he could. He led by example and did not concern himself with anything but the best thing for the team. That is what I want to be like as a player.
Off the field, my role model has always been my father. He has worked with me to develop my baseball skills as well as other life skills. He instilled in me the importance of hard work and to strive for perfection in everything I do. This is the emphasis that I base anything I work on around, whether it is school, baseball, or otherwise. Both of my parents have always supported me in everything I have done, and I know they will continue to do so."
SCS.com: What are a few things you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Wilson: "Off the field I enjoy doing a lot of things. I like reading, going out, and the normal college stuff, but I really like being outside. I used to do a lot of outdoors stuff including fishing, camping, and hiking. I have not done too much of those activities lately with the rigors of school and baseball, but it is something I enjoy doing and something I will get back into someday."
SCS.com: If a young baseball player was reading this and aspired to become successful in the sport, what advice would you give them?
Wilson: "The advice I would give someone interested in pursuing baseball, or any sport in general, is to work hard and start working hard as soon as possible. The fact that my father stressed hard work made the adjustment to college baseball so much easier. It was very different than high school, and a lot more is expected of you. It was a significant adjustment for me and is for most people, but with hard work, you can succeed."
SCS.com would again like to thank Winthrop's Jon Wilson for taking time to answer our questions. We would like to wish he and the Eagles the best of luck throughout the upcoming season.
|Copyright © 2004 SouthernCollegeSports.com. All rights reserved. This website is an unofficial and independently operated source of news and information not affiliated with any school, team, or league.|