What It Takes

Carlos Rodon on Holly Springs, baseball, and the MLB draft

Age: 21
Can't live without: Sleep!
Major: Sports Management
Biggest influence: My dad
Favorite Foods: Chicken Parmesan & steak
Awards include: 2013 USA Baseball Player of the Year and 2012 ACC Pitcher of the Year
Notable pitches: Fastball 94 mph & slider 86 mph
Favorite MLB players: Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout, Felix Hernandez

Looking out from the dugout, the field of green seems softly rounded under a blue sky. The field crew is bustling, the opposing team is stretching, and a sea of red seats awaits the call to, “Play ball!”

Baseball is the world of Carlos Rodon, a left-handed pitching machine who starred on the mound at Holly Springs High, part of a state championship-winning team.

Drafted by the major leagues in the 16th round upon his 2011 graduation, Rodon offered a “No, thanks” and headed to college at N.C. State.

He’s made a name for himself here too, setting a team record for strikeouts (184), and leading the Wolfpack’s second-ever College World Series run in 2013.

His efforts have also earned Rodon time on the mound as part of USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team.

It’s no wonder, then, that the ball scouts are still here: As of press time, Rodon is Major League Baseball’s No. 1 draft prospect. The draft takes place June 5-7.

So will Rodon get the pro nod again?

And this time, will he go?

Serious and focused, Rodon spent a dugout chat sharing the path that’s led to this impending decision.  

“We have goals, and I want to reach them,” says pitching standout Carlos Rodon of his Wolfpack teammates, including fellow draft prospect Trea Turner, No. 8.

Nancy Pardue: What do you remember about the first time you pitched a baseball?
Carlos Rodon: Whew! I threw the ball really hard, and I hit people. I was 8, or maybe 9.

When did you realize you had true pitching potential?
I didn’t pitch much until high school. At the end of my sophomore year at Holly Springs I committed to State, and that’s when I thought, ‘I guess I have some talent.’

What do you carry with you from Holly Springs High?
My head coach was Rod Whitesell; I learned a lot from him, like how to control emotions. He made me better.  

We’ve heard you have a “beast mode.” What’s that about?
(Laughs.) I guess for any player, when you step across those lines it’s a different zone. No more Mr. Nice Guy — we’ll whip your butt and take no prisoners.

You like to win; how does that apply to your life overall?
It’s just being competitive at anything you do, whether it’s athletics, academics or something else. For younger kids, I’d say play everything like a game to win, and you’ll do well.

Once you’re described as the “best,” how do you keep evolving?
I’m definitely not the best. The pros, the guys you see on TV winning the World Series, are the best, and that’s what I’m striving for. They’re who I look up to, who I want to be.

How do you balance your goals with others’ expectations?
Fans expect a perfect game every time. But my teammates are the most important thing. We have goals, and I want to reach them, like getting back to the College World Series.

And if you don’t, how will that impact your MLB decision?
My goal is to go back to Omaha. So yes, there’s a possibility of me playing a senior year at State.

How do you handle the teamwork aspect of winning and losing?
The only thing I can do is throw strikes. If they hit the ball or field it, so be it; I can’t control that. If I do my job, and throw in the strike zone, that’s all you can ask for.

You enjoy stepping up to the plate too; as a draftee, would you favor a National League team, where pitchers routinely bat, over American League, where they don’t?
Nah. I just have fun with hitting; every time I run a base, I’m a little kid again.

So are you more ready for the MLB draft than you were in 2011?
I’m sure I thought I was grown then and ready to do it. The reality is that I wasn’t. The pros play baseball every day, and that’s beautiful, but those are tough days, in the minors.

I know what to expect now. I get more publicity than I did in high school, but I’ve tried to play for my team and overlook the guys in the stands with radar guns.

We play 60 or so games in regular college season, and there are days you fail and days you succeed. You learn from the opportunities, and they make you better. I’ve learned a lot here, and I’m ready for what it takes to play ball for a living.

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