STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — As Mark Appel sat in the Stanford dugout and glanced out at sun-kissed Sunken Diamond this week, the star pitcher reminded himself just how much it meant to return for his final college season.
An unpopular choice for some, the right one for a projected high first-round draft pick once again — a year after he turned down the Pittsburgh Pirates as the eighth overall choice to go back to school and earn his degree.
When the 6-foot-5 right-hander takes the mound for the Cardinal on Friday night to face UCLA, it very well could be his final start as an amateur — and the last in his home campus ballpark.
And, after that, he'll go through the unpredictable draft process all over again.
"I guess as ready as I'll ever be," Appel said with a smile. "I think I learned last year that a lot of things are out of my control. Things will happen, either expected or unexpected, but mentally I'm at the same position knowing I've gone out there and done everything I can to give myself the best opportunities available. Whatever happens, I'll go from there and make the decision."
Already tied with two others for Stanford's career strikeouts record, one more Friday will give Appel 364 Ks and the accomplishment all to himself.
"It's been a fun four years," he said. "I still remember my first college game when I was a freshman and we were playing Rice. I was down the right-field line and I just took like 15-20 seconds and just looked around. The stands weren't full yet, and it's one of those experiences you'll always remember."
If all goes as Appel plans, he soon will be making similar memories in new major league ballparks around the country.
In last year's draft, Appel was expected to be selected as high as No. 1 but instead dropped to the Pirates. Saying it wasn't a decision about money, Appel followed his instincts to return to school. He passed on the Pirates' $3.8 million offer in the first year of new restrictions designed to slow draft spending. Appel was the only unsigned player among 31 first-round picks last year.
"It's been quite the ride," Appel said. "Nothing's certain. Man, if I end up there ... I've seen games in some pretty cool ballparks, but getting to play there, for a team, I can't even imagine what that would be like. I can only imagine it would an awe-struck feeling, just an amazing experience."
Not that he has spent any time looking back or wishing he was already pitching professionally. Appel has said along that he isn't worried about the difference in a couple of million dollars, or slowing down his career path to the big leagues.
He earned his degree in management, science and engineering in March — among his top reasons for staying put at Stanford.
"Regardless of what decision I chose, you can always look back and say you have regrets. When you make a decision like that, you have to basically say, 'Look, I'll have no regrets,'" he said. "I think if I decided to go to sign, I might have had regrets just about what could have been with my senior year. And now I know, even though our team didn't live up to our expectations."