Allen the Ace

EVERETT, Wash.- It seems that in the game of baseball, pitchers, moreso than any other players, suffer from a bi-polar relationship with their fans. On any given night when a pitcher climbs the hill, he could emerge as his team's white knight or, just as easily, the black sheep. The only thing keeping a pitcher from permanently digressing into the latter is the desire to improve upon each performance, no matter how impressive or abysmal. AquaSox starter Nick Allen has that desire in spades.

Allen, a 22-year-old Villanova University graduate, unassumingly snuck into the Mariners organization this past June as the 623rd overall pick of the 2005 draft. That he was not picked up earlier was somewhat curious. Allen had more than proven himself, starting all four years for the Wildcats, and firmly establishing himself as the staff ace in 2005, his senior year. In 15 appearances, Allen was 6-6 with a 2.72 ERA, striking out 68 while walking only 22. He led the team in wins (6) and innings pitched (92.2) and had the best ERA of anyone in the starting rotation.

"It was a little frustrating [going so late in the draft] because I thought I'd go earlier—teams had said that," Allen said. "But it doesn't really matter. I was a senior, so whenever I went was fine."

Frustration, after all, is a part of baseball—especially for those living in the Northwest. The young right-hander knows just as well, having grown up a Phillies fan and suffering the heartbreak of the 1993 World Series, Philadelphia's last to date.

"I'm a big Phillies fan," Allen says, adding sarcastically, "up until the day Joe Carter hit that home run."

Greater than his passion for just the Phillies is Allen's passion for the game of baseball, which was ingrained into him during his youth in Green Lane, Pennsylvania, a place Allen describes as "a big baseball town." After his years on the little league diamond, Allen excelled on the mound at Boyertown Area High School. He boasted a career record of 16-4 with a 0.75 ERA, lettered twice, and was named Berks County Pitcher of the Year as a senior as well as picking up various other accolades along the way. He credits much of his success to his coaches.

"All through high school and since I started playing baseball, I've had good coaches," Allen says.

That trend didn't stop at Boyertown: Allen tips his cap to Villanova pitching coach Rick Clagett and head coach Joe Godri when listing his biggest influences. Such praise must seem flattering to the two when considering Allen's numbers with the AquaSox so far this year. Through his last start on July 24th, Allen is 4-1 with a 4.19 ERA. He has once again emerged as the No. 1 starter and continues to log more innings than anyone else on his team (38.2).

Recently, however, Allen has been plagued by opposing hitters who, in his last two starts, have dealt him a no-decision and his first loss of the year. Allen hasn't let that waive his confidence in himself, however. Despite throwing only 1 2/3 innings last Sunday and giving up six runs off eight hits, Allen's head is focused squarely on his next start and the work he has to put to in day-to-day to become a better pitcher.

"Except for [my last start] I feel like I've done a really good job of keeping us in games, throwing strikes, keeping games quick and keeping fielders in the game and all that," said Allen. "I've been pleased with myself, but not satisfied, so I'm out there working as hard as I can every day to get better and work towards the next level."

Allen added that his under-the-radar status as a result of being picked so late in the draft isn't affecting his work ethic at all.

"I put pressure on myself and I don't think about where I was drafted or where other people went, I just think that I have to go out there and do my job," he said. "I don't think it really affects anything."

If Allen can continue to put pressure on himself and dominate as the No. 1 man in Everett's rotation, he may find himself at one of the M's higher affiliates by season's end. It's a move that Allen hopes is inevitable, though he seems to be relishing his time with Seattle's Northwest League affiliate.

"If I get a chance to move up, that'd be great," said Allen, "but I've made some good friends here and I'm having a good time so whatever happens, happens."

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