University of Missouri starting pitcher Max Scherzer was kind enough to take time for a SCS.com exclusive interview a short time ago. The junior, who was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals out of high school, went 9-4 and put together a 1.86 ERA in 2005 on his way to being named the Big XII Conference Pitcher of the Year. After being selected to a number of All-America squads last summer, the righty has already been named a Preseason First Team All-American by the NCBWA. Scherzer is looking to lead the Tigers to their fourth straight NCAA Tournament berth. Missouri opens the 2006 season on February 9 against East Tennessee State in the Charleston Southern Tournament. (photo courtesy mutigers.com)
MAX SCHERZER, UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI
SCS.com: You had an oustanding career at Parkway Central High School in Chesterfield, Missouri. As a senior, you compiled an 11-8 record and 2.32 ERA while striking out 72 batters and walking just 15 all season. When it came time to decide on a college, what schools did you consider, and why did you ultimately opt to attend Missouri?
Scherzer: "Stanford, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Mizzou. Mizzou combined playing time, coaching, and academics into a package that was most suitable for me."
SCS.com: Just when you thought you had the next few years of your life figured out, the St. Louis Cardinals selected you in the 43rd round of the 2004 MLB Draft. Now you had another decision to make: college or pro baseball. Talk about some of the positives and negatives you considered when making the decision, and tell us what ultimately led you to become a Tiger and bypass pro baseball for the time being.
Scherzer: "College was the obvious choice. There just weren't enough incentives for me to give up three years of school for baseball."
SCS.com: You came in and played well your true freshman season and then really exploded as a sophomore last spring. The 2005 season saw you start 16 games and earn a 9-4 record while compiling an outstanding 1.86 ERA. In more than 106 innings of work, you struck out a school record 131 batters while walking just 41 and allowing only 59 hits all season. Talk about your increased role for the Tigers last season and what you feel is the key to your success on the mound.
Scherzer: "Confidence. It started my freshman summer. I got to pitch more and gained a lot more confidence. I had cleaned up a lot of mechanical things during that year, and it all seemed to come together that summer. When I went into the fall, I approached it very differently. I was a lot more determined to win a starting role. From there, I just seemed to improve everyday."
SCS.com: Your great performance did not go unnoticed by the national media. You were named the Big XII Conference Pitcher of the Year, and in addition to that, Baseball America named you a Second Team All-American, while the National College Baseball Writers Association named you to its Third Team All-America squad at season's end. Talk about what this national recognition means not only to you but also to your team and your school.
Scherzer: "It is very nice to have that type of recognition because it reinforces my hard work. It is also really great because it brings more and more attention to our program which allows us to continually get better."
SCS.com: The recognition continues to pour in as we near the beginning of the 2006 season. The NCBWA has chosen you as a Preseason First Team All-American, and you were also one of only about 120 players nationwide named to the Brooks Wallace Award Watch List as a candidate for national player of the year honors. Looking towards the coming season, what have you worked on improving in the offseason, and what goals have you set for yourself this season?
Scherzer: "I have worked on a two-seam fastball and better mechanics that will allow me to have better control with my off-speed pitches. As for goals, I really donít like setting goals for myself because team goals are the only ones that matter."
SCS.com: The Tigers earned their third straight NCAA Tournament berth last spring but were eliminated by Cal State-Fullerton. With yourself and fellow starter Nathan Culp, as well as top position players like Derek Chambers, Jacob Priday, and Zane Taylor all returning, expectations are sure to be high in Columbia this spring. What goals has this team set to accomplish in 2006, and how far do you think this group of Tigers can go?
Scherzer: "Our goal for this year is to make it to Omaha. It is a realistic goal because we have everything a team needs: talent, experience, and leadership. I believe that we can accomplish this goal even though nobody in our program has ever been there."
SCS.com: When the season is over, you will likely hear your name called in the MLB Draft once again. What criteria will you set when deciding whether to depart to pro baseball or return for your senior season in Columbia?
Scherzer: "The draft will take care of itself. The more I worry about that, the worse I will do on the field. So when our season is over, that is when I can really decide on what I will want to do."
SCS.com: Last summer, you had the great honor of playing for the USA National Baseball Team, one of only 22 players to represent the United States on that squad in places like Japan, Taiwan, and here in the states. That team ended the season on an 11-game winning streak, and in three starts, you finished with a 2-1 record and 2.70 ERA. In 20 innings of work, you struck out two dozen and walked only two. Talk about that experience as a whole and some of the top memories you have of representing the USA on the field in 2005.
Scherzer: "It was so amazing to play for Team USA. It was such a treat because not only did I get to play with the top players in the nation, but I also got to do it with (Tiger teammate) Hunter (Mense) and Coach Jameison. I think having them there made it so much more fun. My top memory is everyday being able to lace up my cleats and put on a USA jersey. There is nothing like wearing a jersey that represents your country."
SCS.com: Your head coach Tim Jamieson is a Columbia native and has been the Tigers' head man for nearly a dozen years. The team has won at least 30 games in eight of the last nine seasons, and he has led the squad to three consecutive NCAA appearances. What makes Coach Jamiesonn such a success, both on the field and on the recruiting trail?
Scherzer: "He realizes things in the game that are important to coaching. If you act like a man, he will treat you like a man. He is a playerís coach. He never brings you down without bringing you up."
SCS.com: You obviously place an emphasis on your education, showcased by the fact that you were a National Honor Society member, were on the honor roll all four years of high school, and graduated with a 3.9 GPA. 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?
Scherzer: "It is the toughest thing a student can do. We miss about 15 days of class. It is very very hard to prepare for tests because after a game, you have to study in a hotel about things you havenít learned yet. You really have to have good time management skills."
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?
Scherzer: "I donít believe we should. Some athletes get full scholarships which give athletes enough money to get by on. We also get access to free tutors and academic areas which other students typically donít get."
SCS.com: If a young player was reading this and aspired to become a successful baseball player, what advice would you give him?
Scherzer: "You have to try to get better everyday. Whether it is in the offseason or in-season, you can do smething everyday to get better."
SCS.com would again like to thank Missouri's Max Scherzer for taking time to answer our questions. We would like to wish he and the Tigers the best of luck throughout the upcoming season.