Good problem to have

Published 3:13 pm Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ballou: Isaac Ballou, the former three-sport standout at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, was selected in the 2011 Major League Baseball draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 36th round. He recently completed his sophomore year playing centerfield at Marshall.

Pittsburgh Pirates draft former Saint Ballou, and he weighs options

Isaac Ballou heard he could be selected in the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft. He tried not to get too anxious about it.

For starters, the former three-sport standout at Nansemond-Suffolk was completing his sophomore season as the centerfielder and leadoff hitter at Marshall. Generally sophomores aren’t eligible for the MLB Draft, except those who are 21 years old, such as Ballou.

He also had first-hand experience about rumors and expectations. Only a couple years ago while a Saint senior, Ballou was told some of the same things.

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“I heard I was supposed to get drafted. I heard a lot about it, but it didn’t happen. I was sort of thinking this could be the same thing, so this time around I was trying not to expect too much,” Ballou said.

Instead, on the third and final day of the draft in June, the Pittsburgh Pirates picked Ballou in the 36th round.

Being drafted wasn’t a big surprise. Pittsburgh wasn’t the club Ballou expected, though.

“I went to a workout for the Washington Nationals four days before the draft,” Ballou said.

During the draft, literally as his name was called, Ballou was playing in a Cape Cod League game. The Cape Cod League brings together top college players each summer.

Ballou had his phone in the dugout, with permission from his coach, and in the sixth inning, “I checked the phone and I had 30-something text and voice messages,” Ballou said.

“I figured I must have been drafted or else there was some emergency or someone had died,” he said.

After the good news sunk in, the Pirates made sense, said Ballou.

“They’ve been seeing me play since high school, since my junior year all the way until now, so really they know what I can do,” he said.

Ballou, a strong, speedy 6-foot-2 lefty swinger, started all 51 Marshall games last season and hit .283 with 40 runs, 32 walks, seven triples and 18 stolen bases.

The possibility to turn pro brings up two options, both promising, for Ballou. He hasn’t signed with the Pirates and has until Aug. 15 to do so or else return to Marshall for his junior year.

“We’re still negotiating with the Pirates,” Ballou said.

Signing a minor-league contract is partially about money, of course, but also about a player’s prospects on the field within a franchise, especially since having two more college seasons means two more chances to get drafted, perhaps in a higher round.

“If I can sign with the Pirates, that would be great,” Ballou said.

He also knows Pittsburgh drafted six outfielders through the first 35 rounds.

“It actually comes down to opportunity more than money. I want to go into an organization where I feel I can grow and advance as quickly as possible,” Ballou said.

The financial part of the equation is a major variable, though. Each round in the MLB Draft is slotted with a minimum salary a club must offer. For the 36th round, the slot salary is $10,000.

“We’re talking about six figures with the Pirates,” Ballou said.

“Certain teams are known for offering exactly what the slot is but most teams will offer more to the guys they think are worth it,” he said. “The Pirates usually pay over the slot amount but we’re still seeing what will happen.”

Either way, continuing toward a Marshall degree is a priority for Ballou.

“The business school is an excellent program and I’m fortunate to be in it,” he said. “I still want to be a lawyer … My first thought is still about the credits I need to finish my degree.”

For the short term, Ballou’s headed to Chicago before going either to a Pirate farm team or back to Huntington, W.Va. for his junior year. Ballou won’t be visiting the Windy City on vacation. He’ll be working with a new hitting instructor who’s taken him on.

If Ballou signs, even with a few weeks left in the minor league season, he’ll report to a team, likely the single-A State College Spikes in the New York-Penn League.

Ballou is the first Suffolk star drafted since Nansemond River’s Greg Sexton was selected by Tampa Bay in the 2007 MLB Draft. Sexton is playing with the Montgomery Biscuits, Tampa Bay‘s AA club.

In his NSA career, Ballou led the Saints to a conference tourney title and the state semifinals in his senior season. He was a four-time all-state forward and NSA’s all-time leading scorer with 2,132 points on the basketball court. On the gridiron, as a quarterback, defensive back and punt/kick returner he was all-state twice and Tidewater Conference Player of the Year as a senior.

Turning pro could bring Ballou back to Marshall in another way other than continuing toward his degree. Another of Pittsburgh’s farm teams is the West Virginia Power. The Thundering Herd plays most of its home games at the Power’s home park in Charleston.

“It’s been exciting to be drafted and hopefully I’ll be able to sign but either way, I’m still a sophomore,” Ballou said.

Whether or not Ballou joins the Pirates, he has lots of interesting answers for when he’s asked how his summer went.