6/26/2007 – Daily News Record
Turk Had Hoped To Be In Minor Leagues The Turks’ Robert Taylor is hitting .419 in eight games. Written By Dustin Dopirak Daily News Record HARRISONBURG — Before his college season started, Robert Taylor had visions of the summer – and they didn’t include the Shenandoah Valley. If the Arkansas-Little Rock utility player’s dreams had been realized, he’d be in some sun-baked town in Florida or Arizona getting paid to play for a rookie-league team instead of spending his summer in Harrisonburg with the NCAA still moderating his income. It is partially by his own choice that he’s here now instead of playing professional ball, and he’s making the most of it, hitting .419 for the first-place Turks (13-4) with one home run and four RBIs in his first eight games in the Valley League. But if you’d asked him in January, or even the beginning of June… "The Valley League definitely wasn’t in the picture," he said Monday from Turks manager Bob Wease’s home, where Taylor is staying for the summer. "No one contacted me from any summer leagues, because they all thought I was going to be drafted." And after his second year at Laredo (Texas) Community College, in 2006, there was plenty of reason to believe that. The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder hit .414 with 12 home runs and 62 RBIs as a sophomore, earning recognition as a National Junior College Athletic Association honorable mention All-American. After the ’06 season, he was taken in the 36th round of the draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he decided to go to Division I Arkansas Little-Rock for another year of seasoning, and – he hoped – a fatter bonus check. Taylor had heard from scouts that a good year there would give him a chance to be taken in the top 15 rounds, and he was hoping whoever drafted him would pay for his final year of school. But once the season started, the thought of a 20-plus round jump didn’t help him at the plate. Each at-bat felt more important to him than it was, and it showed. "Robert’s been a natural hitter his whole life," Arkansas Little-Rock coach Jim Lawler said. "But a whole bunch of clubs came in to see him early and it was his first year in Division I. Guys in that situation, if they get off to a good start it’s a piece of cake, but if they struggle they’ve got that monkey on their back. Guys that are supposed to be power hitters then think they have to hit home runs. Robert definitely was one of those guys." His statistics weren’t awful. He hit a respectable .297 with seven home runs — good for second on the team — and a club-best 39 RBIs, but the Trojans slouched to a 21-31 record and by season’s end, Taylor didn’t have nearly as many Major League suitors. "I kind of knew I had a chance to get drafted, so I just put too much pressure on myself to put up numbers," he said. "Hitting is hard enough as it is, so putting more pressure on yourself doesn’t help." Still, several teams continued to show interest, and the Florida Marlins had Taylor on their list as a catcher when the draft came around on June 7-8. They took another catcher in the third round, Jameson Smith of Fresno Community College, which meant Taylor became a luxury pick and therefore had less bargaining leverage. Taylor said a Marlins scout asked him if he would be willing to sign a deal that would give him a bonus of less than $30,000 and would not pay for him to finish school. Though he said the Marlins would have drafted him in the top 17 rounds if he would have agreed, he decided against it. It meant another year in the college game, but Taylor said he doesn’t regret it. "If you sign for nothing and they’re not going to pay for your school afterward, you’re stuck," Taylor said. "If they cut you in a year, then you have to go back and pay for your own school, because you’re not on a baseball scholarship anymore. … If you sign after you get your education and they cut you, then you just go get a real job." Instead of doing that this summer, however, he asked Lawler to find him somewhere to play. Lawler has long had a connection with Wease, funneling numerous players to Harrisonburg from Texas A&M, where he was an assistant for 21 years. Lawler had already sent two Little Rock pitchers, left-handers David Klumpp and Ashur Tolliver, to the Turks, and Wease was fine with taking on one more. He called Taylor on June 14, after the player had spent a week at home in Ingram, Texas, to ask when he could join the team. "I asked him if he could get me a flight that night," Taylor said. It took him another day. The next day, he went 4-for-5 in a 4-2 win over New Market, helping the Turks start a six-game winning streak. He’s used the draft snub to drive him, compiling 13 hits in his first eight games. "It’s a slap in the face whenever you see guys that go in the draft when you don’t believe they have the same talent as you," he said. "It gives you a reason to come out to the ballpark and reprove yourself." Said Wease: "He’s just an amazing hitter. He’s going to have a heck of a summer for us." Even if he was expecting to do it elsewhere.