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Wait is over for Hirsh, who signs with Houston

Erik Boal

Jason Hirsh knows he’ll face more than his share of challenges in an

attempt to pitch in the major leagues one day.

But after being selected by the Houston Astros in the second round

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-- with the 59th overall pick -- of the June 3 first-year baseball

player draft, the toughest obstacle for the 21-year-old hasn’t been

locating his 97 mph fastball, but rather, when the 6-foot-8,

250-pound right-hander would finally be able to throw it in a game.

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Hirsh knows that after Thursday, he won’t have to wait much

longer.

The Burbank resident -- who graduated from St. Francis High in

2000 and recently completed his junior season at Division III

California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks -- signed a

minor-league contract with the Astros shortly before 3 p.m. Thursday

and will report to one of the organization’s three single-A

affiliates, the Tri-City Valley Cats, following a mandatory physical

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examination in Houston.

“I’m just thrilled. Ever since I got drafted, I just wanted to go

out and play and that’s why the biggest emotion has just been

anticipation,” said Hirsh, who will fly to Houston on Sunday for his

physical exam and then to Albany, N.Y., eventually joining the team

in Troy.

“It’s been hard to sit here and not play while they’re out there

competing. [That’s why] I just want to get out there and start my

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career.”

Said Bill Hertz, the family’s advisor: “Jason is a terrific

athlete whose discipline, dedication and hard work have allowed him

to excel at each level.

“He has a major-league arm and major-league ability, and him being

drafted in the second round is reflective of the opinion the Astros

have of his potential. They see him on a very fast track and you’re

going to see him pitching in the big leagues someday.”

Hirsh -- who became the third member of the Golden Knights’ 2000

squad to sign in the past three weeks, joining Fernando Valenzuela

(San Diego Padres) and Errol Simonitsch (Minnesota Twins) -- would

not reveal the terms of his signing bonus, but confirmed that the

figures were reflective of a second-round draft pick.

“It’s nice to have a nice sum to fall back on, but it’s more about

playing the game,” said Hirsh, who posted a 9-1 record with a 3.68

earned-run average and 126 strikeouts in 100 1/3innings this past

season for Cal Lutheran, earning first-team All-West Region accolades

by the American Baseball Coaches Assn., in addition to first-team

All-Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference honors.

“You always dream about the big paycheck, but I’ve been working my

whole life for this, so it’s not like I’m getting something for

nothing. I’ve spent all these years to get to where I am and it’s

been amazing to have all these people on my side who are looking out

for my best interest.”

After earning Leader All-Area second-team honors at St. Francis,

Hirsh blossomed during his time at Cal Lutheran, elevating his stock

to become the Astros’ first draft pick and one of 17 pitchers

selected by the organization.

“I’ve matured a lot the past two years,” said Hirsh, who was

discovered by Astros’ scout Mel Nelson and is represented by Arn

Tellem and Joel Wolfe of SFX Entertainment, Inc.

“I went to Cal Lutheran because I wanted to play and make an

impact right away instead of going somewhere else and getting lost in

the shuffle.

"[That’s why] this just shows that you don’t have to be the guy on

the cover of Baseball America to be successful or be recognized. I

knew if I was able to succeed, scouts would find me and this proves

that you can go to a small school and still [be a high draft pick].”

Said Jason’s dad, Michael Hirsh: “It’s been a long, long road to

get [here] and I couldn’t be happier for him. What a dream.

“It’s been like a Polish birthday, it just keeps going on with one

party after another.

“But you also become educated real quick [to all that signing a

prospect entails]. But I think we’ve put together a tremendous team

of people and we couldn’t have asked for a better arrangement.”

By the time Hirsh -- a product of Toluca Little League, who also

spent a great deal of time honing his skills at Olive Park -- arrives

in Troy, he’ll be with the Valley Cats less than two months before

returning to Southern California.

Tri-City (8-7, third place in the New York-Penn League’s Stedler

Division entering Friday’s home game with the Lowell Spinners)

concludes its season Sept. 3, the same day classes begin at Cal

Lutheran.

But Hirsh is committed to finishing his final two semesters in

order to earn his degree.

“I’m going to try as hard as I can to go back to Cal Lutheran,”

Hirsh said. “Along with baseball, education is the most important

thing to me.”


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