By William Bowman
DALMATIA -- After waiting two days for a phone call, Travis Smink did not have to wait long on the third and final day of Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft.
But on the biggest day of his life, Smink was home alone when he was selected in the 31st round by the Houston Astros on Thursday morning, the 941st player taken overall. Smink quickly got on the phone and called his parents, who were both at work, and told them the news that he found a new summer job every boy dreams of: Left-handed pitcher.
"It's always been a fun game for me," said Smink, a 6-foot-2 lefty who went 8-4 at Virginia Military Institute this spring. "It was a hobby for me in high school and in college, and now it's going to be my career. I'm going to get paid to do something I love."
Smink, a 2005 Line Mountain grad who earned a psychology degree from VMI last month, was surprised it was the Astros who called. Throughout the spring, Smink said teams like the Red Sox, Mets, Rangers and Blue Jays showed the most interest.
While he heard a lot of different opinions about what round he be selected, the 22-year-old said the who and when of the situation were things he did not worry about.
That said, when the phone rang this morning, it was a relief.
"I talked to (the Astros) once in the fall and then a scout called me this morning to clarify some things," he said. "I was relieved. Late in the day (Wednesday) was a little stressful just waiting."
The stress was a year in the making after he turned down an offer to go in the 16th round last spring, opting instead to finish school and earn his degree. He has done that -- earning Big South honors this year -- and now will begin his baseball career with his degree already under his belt.
A redshirt junior, Smink went 8-4 this spring for the Keydets and leaves with 17 career wins and nine saves, both ranking in the top five all-time at VMI. One of two freshmen All-Americans ever at VMI -- the other is fellow Line Mountain grad Kelly Sweppenhiser -- Smink is the 21st player ever drafted from VMI.
After saving seven games as a junior, Smink returned to the rotation this year, although he expects the Astros will bring him out of the bullpen wherever he is assigned.
The next step for Smink is signing a contract and getting assigned to one of the Astros' minor league affiliates. Smink expects a deal to get done in the next day or so, and then to be on the move quickly.
He could stay relatively close to home. The Astros have a team in the New York-Penn League -- which kicks off next weekend -- in Troy, N.Y., which would give Smink a chance to play in Williamsport. They also have a rookie league team in Greeneville, Tenn., and two Class A squads, one in Lexington, Kent., and another in Lancaster, Calif.
Nearly half -- 25 -- of the 51 players the Astros selected this year are pitchers. Of those selected, only six where left-handed, including Smink.
"It's just been overwhelming," Smink said. "It's exciting. This is what I wanted to do ever since I thought it could be an option. I have a degree in hand and now I get to go play some ball."