After completing a stellar freshman baseball season at San Diego Jewish Academy, Michael Fagan was concerned enough that pitching for the tiny upstart program would be an obstacle to his future in the sport, he seriously considered transferring to Point Loma of San Diego, his district's public school, where he figured he'd get more exposure.
Fagan never did leave. And now he believes that what he once viewed as a hindrance to his development was a blessing in disguise.
"I'd been going to the academy since I was in third grade and all my friends were there," Fagan said of his decision to stay at SDJA. "The academy was where I really wanted to be."
The baseball stuff worked out pretty well too.
Fagan, a left-handed pitching sensation who just completed his record-setting Lions career last month, parlayed his experience at SDJA to an opportunity to play at Princeton, where he received an academic scholarship, and has put himself on the radar of professional scouts who this season flocked to Lions games in droves.
SDJA coach Glenn Doshay said Fagan stands a good chance of being selected in the June 7-10 MLB amateur draft.
Not bad for a scrawny and undersized kid who'd been used exclusively as a situational reliever as he rose through the ranks from Little League to Pony, and eventually to playing travel ball, and who by his own admission, wasn't exactly brimming with confidence when his prep career began.
"I was always the littlest kid out there," Fagan said. "I never really thought I'd be an impact player until the summer until freshman year."
It was after his freshman year that Fagan started turning heads. As a sophomore, he set the San Diego County single season strikeout record with 181 (the old record was 170), highlighted by a stunning performance against Midway Baptist of San Diego when he struck out 21 batters in a seven-inning game.
By his junior year, he had already broken the county's career strikeout record (376), a mark he would go on to obliterate, finishing with 495.
Fagan acknowledges that playing at the Div. V level evokes questions about whether his numbers are legit, the same scenario former SDJA softball pitching standout Ali Adelman faced when she played for the Lions. Adelman now plays Div. I ball at University of Connecticut.
"If anything, the numbers show a focus and concentration every day to get the job done and get our school some recognition," he said.
And if even scouts questioned the numbers, they were almost impossible to ignore.
"Stats do draw a little bit of attention," Fagan said. "In that sense, it helped me a lot that way."
Fagan in four years at SDJA has experienced a five-inch growth spurt (he's now 5-foot-11) and has added considerable velocity to a fastball Doshay says he can throw consistently over 90 mph.
Fagan's calling card is his ability to command four pitches (a fastball, curveball, straight change and split-finger fastball), Doshay said. Fagan said he's also developing a slider.
"He's always been able to throw all his pitches for strikes," Doshay said. "Even in his sophomore and junior years he could hit his spots with any pitch in any count.
"That kind of command is rare for that young of a pitcher."
Fagan also has tremendous aptitude, an asset that helps him in on the mound as it does in the classroom, where he holds a 4.45 GPA.
Fagan' sister, Melissa, a SDJA freshman who's also an academic standout, is an avid horseback rider who competes in equestrian events.
"It scares the crap out me when she does those jumps because they look pretty high; but she loves doing it," Fagan said.
As much as his stunning individual accomplishments, Fagan counts dog-piling after winning Citrus League West titles his sophomore and senior years among his career highlights, and says he'll miss the camaraderie that is unique to playing at small schools such as SDJA.
He says teammates that along with him forged a nucleus of four-year starters, including shortstop Jorge Adler and second baseman Sean Callahan contributed to his success.
"It's helped me a lot," Fagan said of his decision to stay at SDJA. "I got to play varsity all four years, I got to hit and I was the captain senior year.
"I don't know if all that would've happened if I'd gone to a bigger school, but it certainly didn't hurt that I went to the academy."