Golden Panthers await the MLB draft

By: Sergio Bonilla / Sports Director
Tyler Townsend and Ryan Mollica have wanted to reach the professional baseball ranks since they were both just toddlers playing t-ball.

But coming out of high school, both players were overlooked by colleges as they were offered just a single Division I baseball scholarship between them.

The second baseman Mollica had to walk-on at Central Florida Community College, then transfer to FIU in his sophomore year.

“I’ve been playing with a chip on my shoulder since high school,” Mollica said. “I always look back at that, not really getting many breaks or chances.”

Nonetheless, Major League Baseball scouts would not ignore Townsend’s and Mollica’s respective careers at FIU. Tomorrow, they will both wait at their homes for the call they’ve been hoping for since those days of playing t-ball. The call to be drafted by a Major League Baseball organization.

Despite having the same aspirations, their 2009 campaigns along with their assertiveness about signing on June 9 could not be any more different.

## Making their mark

In his junior year, the 21-year-old outfielder/first baseman Townsend had one of the best seasons FIU has ever seen.

He hit .426 with 24 home runs and 77 RBI. The 77 RBI are a single season record and the batting average and home runs are good for second best in a season all-time. He was also named to the Louisville Slugger NCAA Division I All-America First Team.

“He always had a nice swing, and he’s a good kid,” Mollica said of his teammate of three years. “I thought he would develop into a good hitter, but he’s really surpassed what I thought he would be.”

After hitting .413 in 2008, Mollica’s 2009 season began slower than he would’ve liked. During his first nine games, he hit just .167. Townsend however knew the player batting before him in the lineup would snap out of it.

“He’s a great hitter, I don’t need to tell him anything,” Townsend said. “There’s nothing I can tell him that will make him better.”

Mollica was hitting well over .300 already 38 games into the season when he contracted mononucleosis, which made him miss 15 games. He didn’t let the lost time keep him too down or out of character.

“He’s more of a joking kind of guy,” Townsend said. “I know it really killed him when he couldn’t play for those two weeks. Even when he came and visited he had that personality, joking and stuff.”

Mollica came back just in time for the last three games of the regular season and finished with a .354 batting average, eight home runs and 50 RBI in just 41 games.

While Mollica jokes, Townsend remains quiet most of the time. Unless he’s on a hot hitting streak that is.

“He’s quiet, but then he could talk a little bit,” Mollica said. “Sometimes when he’s doing good, he won’t shut up. Otherwise, he’s a pretty quiet guy, low-key.”

Head coach Turtle Thomas enjoyed getting to know his two star players.

“They’re two very fine kids. They’re the type of kids that if you had a daughter, you would like guys like them to be her husband,” coach Thomas said.

## Decisions, decisions

Mollica hit a home run in his final game on May 21, and on April 28, he graduated with a degree in sports management bidding farewell to his last year of college eligibility.

With his career as a Golden Panther over, Mollica will sign with a team no matter what round he is taken. Townsend on the other hand has options.

If he is not drafted in a high enough round, he might remain a Golden Panther to break more records and increase his stock. He could be drafted in the first ten rounds, according to a scout reported on May 7.

“I’m not a 100 percent,” Townsend said. “It depends on what round, money and if everything works out.”

Yet, the preparation for the draft has been a similar endeavor for the players. Minor league agent Gavin Kahn has advised both players throughout the scouting process. Kahn was unavailable for comment, but Mollica said Kahn promotes his players to MLB organizations.

Townsend and Mollica confirmed that their hitting abilities is the asset teams are intrigued by the most.

Coach Thomas understands their hitting prowess as well.

“I mean Ryan hit .500 in 30 conference games,” head coach Thomas said. “I’ve never had a guy in 32 years of coaching do that. It’s important when you have a Tyler Townsend to have people on base.”

## Staying fit

While Townsend said he has worked out for about seven MLB teams, Mollica would not divulge a specific number.

“There’s a good amount of interest,” he said.

Listed at 6-foot and 185 pounds, the 23-year-old Mollica participated in a variety of physical activities to prepare for the draft.

“I’ve been working out in the gym, staying sharp on the field, running and hitting,” Mollica said. “I’ve also been doing free weights, pull-ups, maintaining not building.”

Townsend, who was also a pitcher in high school before he had shoulder surgery his freshman year at FIU, is now listed at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds. Heading into his freshman year, that was not the case.

“I lost 30 to 40 pounds since my freshman year. Getting in better shape made me more athletic as a hitter,” he said.

Mollica attests to Townsend’s former physical frame.

“He was pretty heavy his first year. He worked it off over the summer,” Mollica.

Still, Mollica believes Townsend is the stronger of the two.

“I don’t know if I can bench more than him. He’s a pretty big guy,” Mollica said.

## Family Affair

Both players are going to treat June 9 like a normal day. Mollica’s parents will be at work, and Townsend will stay home as if it were any other day.

Even so, their baseball lineage cannot be forgotten as they try to follow in their grandfathers’ steps.

Townsend had two long-term coaches before high school: his father and grandfather.

“My grandfather taught me everything. He played in the Cubs organization.” Townsend said. “My dad’s been my coach since t-ball. I started playing when I was two or three in t-ball. My whole family is big on sports.”

Mollica’s grandfather played for the New York Giants in the 1940s. His father played in college, and his brother is a minor league umpire.

“We’ve got a baseball family,” Mollica said. “Once I started walking I started playing Wiffleball in New York. I’ve had baseball around me since I was born.”

If the two players are selected, the tradition of sports in their families will continue and they will be closer to the MLB ranks.

But right now, they are waiting for the call from the MLB and from each other.

“If I get picked up, I’m going to call him and let him know,” Townsend said.

“I’ll talk to Tyler. He should be picked pretty high, so I will stay in contact with him. You can’t think about the draft too much because it’s pretty unpredictable,” Mollica said. “All you can do is keep yourself ready just in case you get that call.”

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