Vol. LXI, No. 25
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
(Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)ARMED FOR SUCCESS: Princeton University baseball star Sal Iacono prepares to wing the ball to first in a game this spring. Iacono, who graduated from Princeton earlier this month, was chosen in the 26th round of the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft by the Houston Astros. Last week, the Staten Island, N.Y. native signed a contract to play with the organization's Tri-City Valley Cats affiliate in the Class A New York-Penn League. This spring, Iacono produced one of the finest seasons in Princeton baseball history as he hit .413, leading the Tigers in batting average, hits (62), doubles (12), RBIs (35), and slugging percentage (.607).
Establishing himself as one of the top schoolboy baseball players on Staten Island, Sal Iacono naturally harbored dreams of someday becoming a pro player.
During his high school career at Tottenville High, Iacono seemed to be on the path to that goal, batting over .500 as a sophomore, junior, and senior, hitting a walk-off homer at Shea Stadium to win the city championship as a sophomore.
In 2004, Iacono joined the Princeton University baseball team as he took the next step up the baseball ladder. The 5'9, 190-pound catcher-third baseman, though, didn't set the world on fire in his first three years with the Tigers, compiling a .259 career batting average with nine homers and 66 RBIs.
But heartened by a solid summer and hardened by hours of extra batting practice, Iacono produced one of the finest seasons in Princeton baseball history this spring as he hit .413, leading the Tigers in batting average, hits (62), doubles (12), RBIs (35), and slugging percentage (.607). His batting average was the third-highest single-season average in Princeton baseball history. Iacono hit .453 in Ivy League play, winning the Blair Bat Award as the league's batting champion.
Iacano's break-out campaign made his pro dreams a reality earlier this month as he was chosen in the 26th round of the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft by the Houston Astros.
Last week, Iacono inked a contract with the club and will be starting his pro career this week with the Tri-City Valley Cats of the Class A New York-Penn League.
While Iacono couldn't break loose early in his Princeton career, he never lost faith in his ability. "I struggled early on but I felt I was capable of having that big year," said Iacono. "I had a pretty good summer; I felt confident about my hitting. I thought I could hit well enough to get a shot at pro baseball."
Putting his nose to the grindstone helped Iacano produce that dream season. "It was practicing with the team and then taking extra batting practice," said Iacono, who set a program record when he put together a 20-game hitting streak and ended up being named as a first-team All-Ivy selection.
"My father was coming down to throw me BP and I was going home on Friday nights to take BP. As the year was going on, I was happy to see my hard work pay off."
After the Tigers wrapped up their season in May with a 25-24 season and a second place finish in the league's Gehrig Division, Iacono had a sense that he was going to get a chance to continue his baseball career.
"I was feeling pretty good about the Astros," said Iacono. "Their scouts had been following me. They called me a week before the draft to say they were interested."
Despite his confidence, Iacono acknowledged that he was feeling some jitters during the draft process. "It was a matter of waiting; it was nerve-wracking," said Iacono. "The first round was on TV and the rest was on MLB.com. I had gone to bed and my brother (Rob) was watching the computer. I heard him get excited so I knew something was up."
Princeton head coach Scott Bradley was excited to hear that Iacono has been selected in the draft. "We're thrilled for Sal," said Bradley. "He absolutely put together as a good a season offensively as any player we've had in terms of consistency."
In Bradley's view, Iacono has given the Princeton program a lot more than offensive numbers. "He is one of the best kids in terms of character that we have ever had," added Bradley, a nine-year major leaguer himself who had stops with the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, Seattle Mariners, and Cincinnati Reds.
"I know his versatility was a plus, being able to catch, play third, and also a little second. He is a hard worker and he deserves this chance."
Iacono will rely on Bradley's advice as he heads into the world of pro ball. "Coach gave me a call after the draft," said Iacono. "He had talked with me before the draft; I think I'm going to be calling him a lot."
Bradley's emphasis on developing a business-like approach in his players should help Iacono as he tries to succeed at the next level.
"The good thing about coach is he lets you determine how hard you will work," said Iacono, who said he has been positively influenced by other Princeton teammates who are currently in pro ball. "You become independent and that's huge at the next level. They aren't on you everyday, you're on your own."
Iacono's versatility should help make him more valuable to Tri-City." I think they will want me to play third base, catch, and maybe even some second," said Iacono. "As long as I get a chance to hit, I don't care where I play."
And Iacono plans to utilize the mindset that led to his success at Princeton. "I'm going to work as hard as I possibly can to get as much playing time as possible," said Iacono. "I'm just going to work my butt off."
Iacono has certainly proven that hard work can make dreams come true.
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