Righthander assigned to Rookie League
As of last Thursday, Storm Lake native Eric Wordekemper is being paid for the first time to play the game he loves.
Wordekemper, a former standout pitcher for Storm Lake-St. Mary's High and Division I Creighton University, signed a contract Thursday with the New York Yankees.
For the 6-foot-2 righthander, it was the end of "a long road," as he described it Sunday night, as well as another step toward fulfilling his dream of being a Major Leaguer.
Wordekemper signed the contract at the Yankees' spring training facility in Tampa. Last June, he was selected in the 46th round by the Yankees in the MLB entry draft.
He said although he had earlier hired an agent, he didn't need one to sign the contract.
"We just sat down and talked, and agreed to terms we were both comfortable with," Wordekemper said.
He was assigned to the Yankees' Rookie League affiliate in Tampa and said the club will use him initially out of the bullpen.
"Being a starter or reliever wasn't a big issue with me," Wordekemper said Sunday night from Tampa. "I just want to pitch as many innings as I can and get my feet on the ground."
He added that the Rookie League is comprised of former college players, players drafted out of U.S. high schools and a large number from Latin American countries like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
He said if he pitches well in the next few weeks, he could quickly move to a Yankees' Class A affiliate in Staten Island, N.Y.
"They send a lot of their college players there," he said. "Hopefully, I'll get called up for the last part of Staten Island's season."
Wordekemper says he hopes to advance through the Yankee system. New York has two other Class A affiliates, in Charleston, S.C. and Tampa.
The club's AA affiliate is in Trenton, N.J. with its Triple A affiliate the Columbus (Ohio) Yankees of the International League.
Wordekemper added that during the rest of this season, he's hoping to learn the ropes and pitch well when he gets the chance.
"I just want to get my feet wet for the first couple of months and feel comfortable," he added.
After he was drafted by the Yankees in June, Wordekemper spent a few weeks pitching for the Waterloo Bucks of the Northwoods League, a non-professional league made up of some of the best collegiate players in the nation.
Wordekemper logged 23- 2/3 innings with Waterloo and finished 0-2 with a 7.30 ERA.
"It could have gone better there," he said, "but I think the Yankee people just wanted to make sure I was healthy before they signed me."
At Creighton last season, Wordekemper was sidelined for seven weeks during the middle of the season with a strained elbow ligament in his pitching arm.
But he finished strong, ending the 2005 season with a 6-0 mark and a 3.12 earned run average. He helped lead Creighton to its first-ever Missouri Valley Conference title.
Wordekemper showed Yankee scouts he could win in pressure situations. In his last two starts for Creighton, Wordekemper beat Evansville in the conference tournament, then beat national power North Carolina State in an NCAA Regional Tournament in Lincoln, Neb.
During those last two starts, he threw 14 innings and struck out 12, beating Evansville 6-0 and NC State 8-3.
He was one of two pitchers to make the NCAA Lincoln Regional All-Tournament team.
During his three years at Creighton, Wordekemper was 14-8 with 176 strikeouts in 173 innings. He struck out at least ten hitters in a game three times.
After being drafted in the 46th round, Wordekemper left an option open to go back to Creighton for his senior season. But he jumped at the chance to sign with the Yankees.
"They have a first-class organization," he said. "They definitely treat you well."
Next March, Wordekemper will be at spring training in Tampa along with current Yankee players.
"I'm looking forward to that," he said, but added he most likely wouldn't be playing in any of the Yankees' spring training games.
"They might have a few Triple A or Double A players play in those games," he said. "But the rookies and single A players usually don't get that chance."
Wordekemper added that his collegiate experience and the overall maturity he's gained the past two years, on and off the field, will work to his advantage.
"I'm ready to go," he said. "I'm at full strength right now and the velocity on my fastball is where it should be," he said. "The Yankees wouldn't have signed me if they thought I was still having problems with the elbow."
He said his family couldn't get to Florida for his signing, but added that they are as excited as he is.
"We did most of the celebrating (in Storm Lake) after I was drafted," Wordekemper said. "It was pretty low-key; we just went out for dinner. I know they're happy for me, because they know this is what I've always wanted."
He added that his parents had some advice for him as well.
"They just told me to work hard at it," he said.