The transition to a town such as Eugene did not take its toll on Michael Ekstrom. He has known the area since he was young. The culture shock and lifestyle of the inhabitants is no surprise to the twenty year old right-hander.
"There is actually one team that would be closer to home and it could not have worked out much better for me," explains Ekstrom. "My parents can come down and watch a game if they want."
And, of course, on those rare off days Ekstrom can make the journey home to get a home cooked meal, so few and far between for so many players.
The pressure to perform with family and friends close by could be a detriment to some, but Ekstrom views it as a blessing. Being a west coast guy, the transition from college ball to the professional ranks has been made easier since he does not have to worry as much about his surroundings and can maintain his focus.
"It is definitely a good thing," Ekstrom said of playing in Eugene. "It is an easier adjustment. I played on the east coast for one summer but I like it on the west coast."
Ekstrom, a starter for Point Loma University down in the San Diego area, boasted a phenomenal record for the Sea Lions. He went 12-5 with a 1.96 ERA and in 133.1 innings allowed just 99 hits while striking out 128. His 12 wins set a new school record.
For his accomplishments on the mound, he was named as the GSAC Co-Player of the Year, Region II Player of the Year and a first-team NAIA All-American.
The Padres had a leg up on the pack considering his local roots at Point Loma. The University is a short ten minute hike from Petco Park and the Padres' offices in downtown San Diego.
Ekstrom couldn't be happier.
"I was real excited to get drafted by the Padres, especially going to Point Loma," Ekstrom said. "It was kind of cool to get picked by the hometown team."
Familiarity has surrounded Ekstrom. He got drafted by a team that was close to his college and sent to Eugene which is close to where he grew up.
That familiarity was thrown out the window when he got to Eugene and was placed in an unfamiliar role – middle relief. The toughest part about it was he got word that he would also start. Making the transition into pro ball is difficult enough, but not knowing your role could have thrown a wrench in his plans.
"Not too bad," Ekstrom characterized his role. "They told me what the plan was doing a starting slash relieving thing so I know exactly what I am doing every week. Me and another guy have gone half relievers and we flip-flop. I will start this week and he will start next week so it is pretty easy."
As it nears the middle of August, Ekstrom was right. He has handled himself well on the mound. As a reliever, pitching in five games for the Emeralds, he has not allowed a run. As a starter, also spanning five games, he has allowed four runs once in a start and has held the opposition to three or less in the other four.
Right now the challenges within the baseball world are going Ekstrom's way. Perhaps as he moves up the chain and heads to a place such as Fort Wayne he will face what other young players are getting, their first taste of a different world experience. Until then, Ekstrom is content in his role and the satisfaction that comes with being drafted by the San Diego Padres.
Denis Savage can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Padres Prospect Interview: Michael Ekstrom
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