The Fast Rise of Kyle Wilson

<b>VERO BEACH, Florida</b>-- Kyle Wilson didn't really expect to be in Vero Beach at this time of his life. To tell, the truth he had pretty well made up his mind that he wasn't going to be a professional ball player until a bit later.

Wilson was something of a late bloomer at UCLA. "I hurt my shoulder as a sophomore," he recalls. "I just sort of went through the motions, then." He'd been a starter up to then but when he played summer ball in Alaska, they used him in relief and he liked that.

Back at UCLA, on a team that was to have 10 players eventually sign pro contracts, he couldn't get in a lot of innings early. But when the velocity on his fast ball was cranked up so were his appearances -- 24 games in all, although that included only 27 innings. Oh, there were command problems for he walked 24 in that time. The class of his arm shone through, though, for he struck out 40.

It was an arm that attracted the Dodgers who drafted him in the 22nd round. "I wasn't drafted as high as I thought I would be," says Kyle. "The money they offered wasn't enough so I turned them down." And went off to pitch summer ball in Santa Barbara where he promptly came down with mono, ending that.

So it was that he felt he was returning to UCLA for his senior year when late in the summer, "The area scout (Bump Meriweather) called and arranged a meeting at Dodger Stadium. We were able to get together on the money."

He signed just before the fall semester was to start, way too late for pro ball last summer. He was slated then to get his indoctrination in the Instructional League but that was wiped up by the hurricanes that hit this area. So it was that he reported this spring without any professional experience at all.

Mark Alexander.

He brings a fast ball that is regularly clocked in the 90-94 range and compliments that with a hard curve and change. He also brings the mentality necessary for his role. "I look at the scoreboard and if it looks like I might get in, I prepare myself. I like the idea of being in with the game on the line. It gets the adrenalin pumping."

Wilson, who credits his father with helping him learn that game, was a Dodger fan as a kid back home in Valencia though it's not a love that was nurtured as he grew older. Greg Maddux, in fact, is his idea of the pitcher to emulate.

He knows that command of the strike zone is the key to his continuing to prosper. That was reinforced rather painfully Tuesday night where he was called in to protect a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning. He got behind, 3-0, grooved a fat pitch that was deposited over the center field fence. Before he was done, two more singles wrapped around a stolen base had given Palm Beach a 4-3 win.

Such is the life of a closer in a demanding league. There have been more days when he's looked very much like he belongs here. And when you're about to celebrate your 22nd birthday (April 27) and in your rookie season, that has to be satisfying.