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Royals’ minor leaguer earns degree in difficulty

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, at 10:43 p.m.

When you’ve seen Steven Tyler at his worst, how bad could it be to face a professional hitter?

Royals minor-league pitcher Sam Selman certainly didn’t expect to see the ugly side of an Aerosmith concert when he took an internship with the Nashville Predators hockey team this offseason.

The internship was needed so Selman could finish his degree at Vanderbilt. Park of that entailed working in Nashville’s finance department, where he one day shadowed the woman in charge of every last detail at an Aerosmith concert at Bridgestone Arena, where the Predators play.

“Sure enough, fights broke out, things behind the stage were an issue,” Selman said. “Steven Tyler wanted multiple dressing rooms, there was not enough stuff for the band members. It was complete, utter chaos. It was really cool to see how that works. She was so calm and able to deal with it. It was really impressive to see how they handle such a hectic environment with 17,000 screaming Aerosmith fans as well as just a crazy band and just trying to appeal to everyone. It was a pretty cool experience.”

Cool under pressure could describe Selman as well. As a senior last year at Vanderbilt, Selman lost his two starts, struggled with his command and was sent to the bullpen. But he moved back into the rotation later in the season and blossomed, finishing 9-3 with a 2.55 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 76 innings.

“The progression he made as a pitcher in our program, I’m not going to say amazing, because that would discredit him in a lot of different ways,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “It was a lot of growth in a short amount of time. … I’ve always said this: I thought he was the most valuable component of our team last year, because his growth was in direct proportion to our growth.”

Selman, a 6-foot-3 left-hander, carried that success over to his professional career after being drafted in the second round by the Royals. At Idaho Falls, the Royals’ Class A-Rookie team, Selman was 5-4 with a 2.09 ERA and 89 strikeouts and 22 walks in 60 1/3 innings.

Those numbers earned Selman the Pioneer League pitcher of the year award. At season’s end, he went to Surprise, Ariz., to play in the Instructional League. Selman was supposed to be in Arizona for five weeks, but the Royals let him leave a week early to begin his internship.

“They knew how important that was for me, and it’s great they were able to work with me like that,” Selman said of the Royals. “They’ve supported me the whole way. It’s great to have an organization that allows you to be great on the field as well as off the field and supports you and tries to make sure you get your college degree. That’s what it’s all about: getting your college degree and playing professional baseball. I’m able to get those both done, and I’m feeling great about it.”

Selman, whose major is human organizational development, needed just the internship to get his degree. He began work with the Predators on Oct. 15. He’ll finish Saturday and meet with a board of professors who will review his internship Monday.

Once they approve of the work Selman did, he’ll be done at Vanderbilt and head to spring training, which starts Feb. 11.

While he’ll be back in the minor leagues after camp, Selman hopes to trade in his ball cap on May 22 when Vanderbilt holds graduation.

“I’m praying we’ll have an off-day, so I’m able to come back and graduate with the rest of my class,” Selman said. “My parents, my mom especially, wants to see me in a cap and gown, so we’ll see if we’re able to do that.”

Selman said he was never tempted to literally take the money and run. He received a $750,000 signing bonus from the Royals and could’ve turned his back on school.

Instead, he’s sharing an apartment in Nashville with three friends. Two are in the same boat as Selman. Mark Lamm, a sixth-round pick in 2011 by the Braves, is in the master’s program at Vanderbilt. Corey Webster, the Twins’ third-round pick in 2011, has one semester to finish.

And he’s glad to have those fellow pro players around, because Selman’s buddies on Vanderbilt’s baseball team are well aware their friend got a signing bonus.

“When we go out to dinner or hang out together, they say, ‘Of course Sam can pay.’ But when I’m with my roommates, other guys who have been drafted before, we split the spot,” Selman said with a laugh.

“You’ve got to try and have a happy balance and hang out with the pro players as much as you can so you’re not blowing through all your money with all your buddies. I’ll get them back, because they’ll get drafted this year and they’ll have to pay for it.”

While Selman has been focused on his work with the hockey team, he hasn’t forgotten about baseball. Corbin often sees Selman around Vandy’s weight room in the evenings. His degree is important, but he sort of hopes he doesn’t need it.

“Hopefully I can pitch as long as I can, but … I’m kind of pursuing a bunch of different things, keeping my options open and then seeing if anything pops up,” he said. “Right now, I’m just focusing on playing baseball as long as I can and doing whatever I can to improve my status with the Kansas City Royals and become a better pitcher.”

However, it has been a fun internship, even if the NHL lockout only recently ended. Selman has stayed busy in the finance department, in part because the Predators’ owners also own the management team that runs Bridgestone Arena.

Selman said he helped with corporate sponsorship and booking concerts. He made a good impression with his boss.

“He is just a delightful young man,” said Michelle Kennedy, the CFO for the Predators. “If you didn’t know it, you would never know that he was a really, really excellent baseball player. Because he’s very humble; he’s very modest.

“If you ask him to go make copies, he doesn’t look at you like it’s beneath him. He understands that he’s here to be an intern. He specializes in another area of expertise, that being baseball, but he doesn’t carry a sort of air about him. He’s just a nice, nice young man.”

Maybe that’s why Selman was so surprised to see the chaos that surrounded the Aerosmith concert. But he conceded that he actually had a choice of two concerts.

The other option, well, wasn’t really an option.

“I don’t really have (Justin) Bieber Fever, and Aerosmith, I enjoy some of their songs,” he said, “so it was a pretty obvious choice.”

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