Lamar University catcher Michael Ambort was kind enough to take time for a SCS.com exclusive interview a short time ago. The junior was an all-state performer on the diamond in high school and opted to attend college even after being selected in the 2003 MLB Draft. He tied for the team lead in homeruns his freshman season and then set the school record for round-trippers last spring on his way to earning Southland Conference honors as that league's Hitter of the Year. Heading into the 2006 season, Ambort has been named to multiple Preseason All-American teams while also being named to the Brooks Wallace Award Watch List. The Cardinals are looking to make their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance and will open the season in the UTPA Classic against Gonzaga on February 3. (photo courtesy lamarcardinals.com)
MICHAEL AMBORT, LAMAR UNIVERSITY
SCS.com: You were a standout player at Southside High School in Rockville Centre, New York and were named all-state your sophomore, junior, and senior seasons. What other schools did you consider and receive interest from, and why did you ultimately opt to travel a long way from home, to Beaumont, Texas, to attend Lamar?
Ambort: "I was looked at by Stetson, Old Dominion, Western Kentucky, and a couple more. I picked Lamar because I thought it was the best place for me to go at the time."
SCS.com: After hitting over .450 both your junior and senior seasons in high school, you were chosen in the 41st round of the 2003 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Montreal Expos. Just when you thought you had chosen a college and knew where your life was headed, you had a new decision to make. Talk about the pros and cons you considered when deciding between professional and college baseball, and explain why you chose to bypass the MLB for the time being.
Ambort: "At the time that everything happened, my family and I both decided that college was the best place for me so I could further my education along with getting better at the game of baseball."
SCS.com: You stepped in and made a huge impact in your freshman season in 2004, starting 54 games and tying for the team lead in homeruns. Behind the plate, you committed just five errors all season, resulting in a .989 fielding percentage. When the conference tournament rolled around, you led your squad to the title and were eventually named to the All-Tournament team. Talk about the adjustment between high school and college, both on and off the field, and also talk about how you were able to make such a huge impact in your first season on campus.
Ambort: "The big change between high school and college is the speed of the game. Everything is just a little faster. When I showed up at Lamar, the coaches and players took me in and got me adjusted to the college lifestyle."
SCS.com: As a sophomore last season, you led the team in batting average (.338) and set a new school record by pounding 18 homeruns in 2005. You earned both preseason and postseason all-conference honors and were named the Southland Conference's Hitter of the Year. With your success, though, comes responsibility. Talk about your role as a leader on the team, in the offseason and during games, and both on and off the field.
Ambort: "I'm not the most quiet guy on the field. As a catcher you are the leader on the field; you can see just about everything that goes on. In the offseason, the team really worked hard to get in great shape so we could come back and just jump right into spring ball. We have a strong squad this year, and I am looking foward to just getting out on the field and playing."
SCS.com: Your tremendous success has not gone unnoticed on a national scale. Following last season, you were named Second Team All-America by the American Baseball Coaches Association and Third Team by Baseball America. Talk about what this national attention means to you, your team, and your school.
Ambort: "It's pretty cool to see your name up there with the big guns and the big time universities such as Texas and the Univeristy of Florida. It is an honor to have been picked for these awards, and now we just have to go out and play the game."
SCS.com: A new season is set to begin shortly, and the national attention continues to pour in. You were named preseason First Team All-America by the National College Baseball Writers Association, and you were also one of only about 120 players nationwide named to the Brooks Wallace Award Watch List; that award is given annually to the best college baseball player in America. Talk about a few things you've worked to improve on in the offseason, and tell us if you believe the high expectations put any added pressure on you.
Ambort: "This offseason was a big one. I worked hard with the team and our coaching staff so that we would be ready to go in the spring. You can't let pressure get to you because you are out playing the game you love, and it should be fun. Sometimes you have great days and sometimes you have bad days; that's just the way the game is."
SCS.com: After earning both the regular season and conference tournament titles in 2004, the Cardinals finished second in both last spring but still made the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season. With two of the team's top three hitters and the top three starting pitchers from last season all returning this spring, the expectations for Lamar baseball are sure to be high. Talk about the goals you have for 2006, both for yourself and for the team.
Ambort: "This year we have a very strong squad. Our goal this year is to make it to Omaha just like any other college team out there. We have to come together as a team and play hard baseball day in and day out."
SCS.com: Catchers are different from just about every other position player on the field. Most kids either grow up loving to catch or hating it. Talk about how you grew into a catcher good enough to play Division I baseball, and tell us what the biggest positives and negatives are to playing behind the plate. When you spend that many innings behind the plate throughout a four-month season, do you almost become friends with the umpires, or what is that relationship like?
Ambort: "As a catcher you are always in the game, and that's what I like most about it. You have big responsibilities, from calling pitches to blocking balls in the dirt and throwing our runners. It's just a great position. Through the long season, you do become friends with the umpires. Your talk about pretty much anything from nice golf courses to good resturants to go eat at after the game."
SCS.com: You were an honor roll student in high school, but one of the toughest parts of being a student-athlete has to be juggling the time it takes to do both sports and school. How difficult is it to sometimes get all the things done that you need to in one day, especially once the season rolls around?
Ambort: "Our coaches always tells us the you are a 'student-athlete' and student is always first. You have to use your time wisely and get your work done when it needs to be done."
SCS.com: Your head coach Jim Gilligan is one of the best there is. He is a graduate of Lamar himself and was inducted into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004. In 28 seasons on campus, he has led the Cardinals to ten Southland Conference regular season championships, more than any other school in the league. What makes Coach Gilligan so successful, both on the field and on the recruiting trail?
Ambort: "Coach Gilligan has been around the game for a while, so he has so much information to give out. Sometimes he might daydream about being on a golf course, but he is a great guy to have on your side."
SCS.com: In recent years, the topic of paying college athletes has come up more and more. Some people say that since the players make so much money for their school, their conference, and the NCAA, they should be paid. Others disagree, saying that paying college players is not right because that is what professional sports is for. What is your opinion on this subject?
Ambort: "As a college athlete, if you are on scholarship you are already getting paid to go to school. You are getting your books, tuition and fees, and anything else that they have. So pretty much as an athlete you are already getting paid."
SCS.com: If a young player was reading this and aspired to become a successful baseball player, what advice would you give him?
Ambort: "To start, school must come first. If you don't have good grades, you're going to have trouble getting into your dream college, and hard work pays off in the end. Make sure that you are playing the game for yourself, and make sure that the game always remains fun."
SCS.com would again like to thank Lamar's Michael Ambort for taking time to answer our questions. We would like to wish he and the Cardinals the best of luck throughout the upcoming season.