SITKA, Alaska - Sitka southpaw Matt Way was drafted in the fifth round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Philadelphia Phillies.
After local fans agonized as teams passed on Way in the first few rounds Tuesday night, the former Washington State ace was taken in the early going Wednesday with the 167th pick overall.
Way, who is still in Pullman, Wash., finishing up classes, was not immediately available to comment, but his father Jim Way said the young pitcher was excited about joining the Phillies organization.
Jim hails from northern New Jersey and as such has an innate disdain for all things Philadelphia. A big New York Rangers fan, Jim grew up hating the Philadelphia Flyers. But his perspective suddenly changed this morning, when the news came in that his son Matt had been drafted by the Phillies.
"It's like being a Red Sox fan and having your kid go to the Yankees," Jim joked. "I'm not really a big Philly guy, but I am now."
He added: "I'll put on a Phillies hat. I like their team. They look like a good, hardworking bunch of guys. Philly is a blue-collar kind of town, they love their sports there."
The Phillies, in fact, won the 2008 World Series and are back in 2009 with a fierce lineup that features Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez.
Philadelphia's top-pitcher is Cole Hamels, a young lefty. The Philadelphia rotation also features 46-year-old Jamie Moyer, a lefty and former Mariner, who, despite his age, continues to get batters out with an assortment of junk pitches.
A pre-draft report on mlb.com said, without being specific, that the Phillies were targeting lefty arms in the 2009 draft.
And it was known that Philadelphia was interested in Way. The Phillies recently called the Sitka police to inquire about Way's background, and Tim Kissner, a graduate of Juneau-Douglas High whose brother coached the Crimson Bears this year, is the top scout in the northwest for Philadelphia.
Jim said Kissner saw Matt pitch a few times this season and convinced Phillies' officials to snatch up the Sitka product.
"He really tapped into him late in the year," Way said of Kissner. "They've had their eye on him for a while."
It's not clear where Matt will report, but the Phillies have minor league teams in Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
One way or another, Way, a 2005 Sitka High grad who led the Wolves to their first state baseball title, is headed east to begin his career as a professional baseball player.
Ed Conway, the Sitka High coach, said Way would likely be sent to Clearwater, Fla.,, site of the Phillies' spring training complex. He said Way would be evaluated by team officials, then sent to a minor league team depending on the organization's assessment of the Sitkan's skills.
"If he needs work, they'll keep him in Florida," Conway said. "I think he's far enough along where they'll send him to A-ball."
Conway called Way "the hardest worker we had," and said the Phillies should count themselves lucky to have him in their farm system.
"I think they got a steal getting Matt in the fifth round - it's a great deal for them," Conway said.
Way moved out of the bullpen and into WSU's starting rotation during his junior season in 2008. He spent last summer pitching in the prestigious Cape Cod League, and came back in 2009 as the Cougars' ace.
Drafted in the 36th round last year by the San Francisco Giants, Way rocketed up the draft charts after a season that saw him strike out 124 batters, good enough to break Aaron Sele's WSU single season record.
Way finished the year 8-4 with a 2.43 ERA. In 107.1 innings of work, he allowed just 29 earned runs, and opposing batters hit a paltry .216 against him.
Way took the ball each Friday night for WSU, facing the best pitchers in the Pacific-10 conference. In his final collegiate outing, he stifled the Arkansas Razorbacks for six innings and left the game with a 3-1 lead. WSU lost 10-3.
At least 10 players, including Curt Schilling, who were born in Alaska have appeared in the major leagues, although only three actually played high school baseball here.
Charles Bingham, a former Juneau Empire sportswriter, said only one Alaskan has ever been drafted higher than Way. Brian Montalbo, of Dimond High, was drafted out of high school by the Atlanta Braves with the 130th pick overall in 2000.
Bingham said he could recall only two other Alaskans who were taken in the first 10 rounds: Trajan Langdon, of East High, was drafted in 1994 by San Diego in the sixth round, and Chad Bentz, a Juneau-Douglas product, was taken in the seventh round of the 2001 draft by the Montreal Expos.
Bentz appeared in his first major league game with the now-defunct Expos in 2004.
There are no guarantees that Way will reach the big leagues. The road to "the show" can be a long slog, and the careers of thousands of talented players have ended in the minor leagues.
But Way took an important step Wednesday, with his selection by the Phillies.
And count Conway and Jim Way among those who expect to see Matt pitch in the majors.
"He'll work hard and move up fast," Jim said.
And Conway added that he would start saving Alaska airlines miles so he could be on hand when Matt gets called up.
"We're just kind of waiting," Conway said.
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