Turning Pro

The transition didn't take long. Just 72 hours after his Florida State Seminoles were eliminated from NCAA Tournament play, Aaron Cheesman was off to begin life as a farmhand in the Philadelphia Phillies' system.

After three long days of evaluation at Philadelphia's Clearwater-based spring training site, the former Sarasota High standout learned that he would spend the rest of the summer with the Phillies' Gulf Coast League affiliate.

The GCL Phils play a 54-game schedule over the next two-plus months, opening Friday afternoon against a collection of Detroit Tigers farmhands, and wrapping things up Aug. 25 opposite the GCL Braves in Lake Buena Vista.

"It's officially a job now," Cheesman said in a phone interview over the weekend. "It's an exciting step for me to take and I'm looking forward to the challenges I know it will offer me."

One of four catchers taken by the Phillies in the Major League Baseball's annual amateur draft, Cheeman was picked up in the 29th round on June 8. Along with about four dozen other prospects, he endured long days of evaluation at Philadelphia's complex that began at 7 each morning and wrapped up just after 4.

Cheesman had hoped for an assignment to the Batavia (N.Y.) Muckdogs, a member of the more advanced New York-Penn league that plays a 75-game season.

But a backlog of backstops in the lower levels of the organization prevented any of Philadelphia's 2005 catcher crop from an early advancement.

Cheesman also learned that former FSU teammate Daniel Hodges had recently been released by the organization after a pair of up-and-down seasons as a reliever for Batavia.

"There are a few familiar faces down here," Cheesman said. "Between summer leagues and college ball and camps I've been to in the past, there are a lot of guys that I know or played against."

According to Cheesman, most prospects in camp are making around $1000 a month while they audition for contracts with their play for the rest of the summer. The Phillies have yet to sign any of their 2005 picks.

<>In five years at Florida State, Cheesman hit .308 (197-for-640) and drove in 125 runs for the Seminoles. He had a banner year as a junior, hitting .347 and starting all 68 games behind the plate that season.

However, those individual accolades were never enough to get FSU into the College World Series. During Cheesman's tenure, Florida State fell to Georgia, Notre Dame, Texas, Arkansas and Florida in Super Regional play.

"It sucks – never going to Omaha," Cheesman said. "I came here thinking that we'd go two, maybe three times, but things never worked out for us."

Cheesman, the owner of an undergraduate degree in finance, is three classes away from completing a master's degree in sport management. He predicted that he would re-enroll at FSU to finish up during the fall semester or attempt to take his final coursework online.

"Either way, I'm going to finish it up," he said.

Once baseball is in the rearview mirror, a career in financial planning is the ultimate goal. Cheesman said he's eventually like to return to the Sarasota area with his wife, Lauren. The couple will celebrate their one-year anniversary in August.

"The experience I'm having and the contacts I'm making right now, I know will end up helping me down the road whatever I end up doing," he said. "I'm very fortunate to be in this position."

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