Former Carmel Valley student Michael Fagan pitching his way into pro ball
By Gideon Rubin
Whether he realized it or not, with the simple stroke of a pen, Michael Fagan in June turned a tiny academics-first San Diego high school campus into a field of dreams.
The former San Diego Jewish Academy left-handed pitching sensation became the school’s first professional athlete when he signed a deal with the Oakland A’s, just days after the team of “Moneyball” selected Fagan in the ninth round of this year’s amateur draft on June 6.
Fagan was originally drafted by the San Diego Padres in the ninth round of the 2010 draft his senior year, but elected to honor a commitment to Princeton. He was the 282nd overall pick in this year’s draft.
He’s playing for the Class-A Vermont Lake Monsters in the short season New York-Penn League.
“If you’re good enough, they’ll find you no matter where you are,” Fagan said, summing up his improbable journey from small-school obscurity to the professional ranks.
“If I went to a giant public school, it would still be exciting playing professional baseball with a great organization,” he said, “but I guess coming out of San Diego Jewish Academy and kind of having the odds stacked against me makes it all the more exciting on top of that.”
What makes Fagan’s story even more amazing is that as recently as a few months ago, he was sure he’d be trading in his spot on the mound for a seat in a cubicle in New York’s finance circuit.
He had just accepted a consulting position at IBM a few weeks before his name surfaced on the draft board.
“Coming into this season, I had absolutely no intention of playing pro ball,” Fagan said.
“I was pretty much satisfied (with my baseball career). I wanted to have a good senior year, but then I was ready to start my life.”
Fagan had a very good senior year.
And somewhere along the way, during a year in which the 22-year-old went 4-2 with a 2.33 ERA, scouts took notice.
Fagan’s previous three years were mostly forgettable from a baseball standpoint.
“I got into kind of a downward spiral my first three years, where I couldn’t throw strikes,” he said.
Fagan was a combined 3-10 with a 10.04 ERA over his first three years at Princeton.
But despite the numbers, he did show flashes of brilliance early in his collegiate career. As a freshman, he pitched three innings of no-hit ball against a then-defending NCAA champion LSU team that was ranked at the time.
“Always had the stuff,” he insists. “Always had the good fastball; always had the wipeout slider ... .”
But by his own admission, he lacked the command, confidence and consistency to harness his electric stuff.
That changed this year, with a renewed focus on the game’s mental aspects.
Fagan said he developed a more structured routine on and away from baseball, and learned not to let failure weigh too heavily on him, among the key factors in his evolution.
His new approach paid big dividends.
“Once you see that first strike thrown, it just snowballed,” Fagan said. “There was no more worry of ‘I’m going to walk the bases loaded and then walk in a run,’ and then it just got to be easier and easier.”
His challenges, however, are getting tougher and tougher.
On any given night, he faces hitters who excelled in some of the nation’s toughest collegiate conferences. He’s already pitched to A.J. Reed, Baseball America’s NCAA Player of the Year out of Kentucky, who now plays for the Houston Astros Tri-City affiliate in the New York-Penn League.
If this sounds like a familiar Fagan storyline, that’s because it is.
“Going from the Jewish Academy, I always thought I was pretty good and that I could hold my own in competitive baseball outside of high school, but it was kind of a test to play against the big schools,” he said.
“Now here in pro ball, the jump is similar coming from Princeton, which is an Ivy League school with somewhat weaker competition.”
Fagan believes his SDJA experience prepared him for the challenge. He credits Lions coach Glenn Doshay with a pivotal role in his baseball development, and the school’s teachers for instilling the drive to succeed academically.
“The education was fantastic,” he said. “I don’t know if I’d have gone to an Ivy League school without having gone to the Jewish Academy.”
Fagan remains an active member of a tight-knit SDJA community. He is still in contact with Doshay and Athletic Director Mike Quigley, among others.
Fagan’s entry into the ranks of professional athletics has the campus abuzz, Quigley said. “It’s a big deal when anybody in any sport or profession reaches that level.”
Fagan’s emergence from a school that will never match the sports reputations of neighboring campuses at Torrey Pines and Cathedral Catholic, among others, also shows that almost anything is possible for an athlete who’s determined to succeed.
“I think it kind of validates the (SDJA) program to some extent, in the sense that it shows you can go to a faith-based community school and reach your potential, whatever that is,” said Quigley.
“The excellence associated with it is what matters.”