In the game of baseball, there’s no argument that the road to the Major Leagues is a hard one.
As hard as it is to make it from Single A to the majors, it’s even harder to get signed to play college.
For Tunkhannock Area graduate Rich Condeelis, the road after high school baseball has been a bumpy one, but after many hills and valleys, for now, it’s finally started to even itself out.
Condeelis recently signed a baseball scholarship to play Division I baseball at the University of Pittsburgh, one step closer in his quest to live his childhood dream of playing in the Major Leagues.
To say he jumped at the opportunity to play for the Panthers would be an understatement.
“I actually committed and signed before I was able to get out there,” Condeelis laughed. “I knew what it’s going to be like and knew the coaches so it wasn’t a big deal, they just joked it was the first time someone ever signed before visiting.”
After playing as a freshman at Florence-Darlington Technical College in South Carolina, Condeelis transferred to Lackawanna College to play for head coach Chris Penzak. He finished the season with a .387 average and 43 hits, including 10 doubles, 32 RBIs, 33 runs scored and tied for the team lead with six home runs.
After the season with the Falcons, Condeelis was contacted to play for the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League.
“It was a good fit for both of us,” Condeelis said. “I needed a place to play and they needed someone to play corner infield and eat up some innings.”
Meanwhile, after the Major League draft, Pittsburgh found itself depleted of several members of the pitching staff, and was in search of arms.
Condeelis was already thinking of attending the State University of New York at Buffalo in the fall until Penzak called and told him of Pitt’s dilemma.
“I had to at least hear them out, and they painted a good picture and made me a pretty generous offer,” Condeelis said. “I decided it would be the right thing to do in the end.”
The Panthers’ staff already knew of Condeelis’s bat, but wanted to see his arm, too. A team representative drove all the way from Georgia to Maryland to watch him throw in the Cal Ripken League.
He threw seven pitches in a relief appearance. By nightfall, the deal was finalized.
“Right now, I’m pretty raw, but throwing as hard as I do and the tools I have on the mound is pretty promising. The way they put it is there’s a lot of untapped potential,” Condeelis said. “They want to see me work with their pitching staff and to see the outcome of that. I haven’t really had a pitching coach before so I’ll benefit from that.”
Condeelis did pitch with the Tigers in high school, but saw limited action pitching in his senior season in 2012 and threw modestly for the Falcons in his last season.
The Cal Ripken League produced more innings, but also involved playing almost a full game before taking the mound to close.
“The league was a really good level of competition, but it was challenging,” Condeelis said. “I definitely went through my tough times down there but I think it was good to see. You can’t get too high or low in baseball so it was good to get humbled a little bit. It was a good experience to live a pro lifestyle and play every day.”
Condeelis features three pitches in his repertoire, and will be slated for the bullpen at Pitt, while also contributing with his bat in the field or as designated hitter. He plans to report to campus this Monday, Aug. 11, to get a jump start on a strength and conditioning program at the university’s facilities.
“You can’t really work with the coaches yet so it will be a lot of on your own stuff and things you can get done to make an easier transition come the first day of practice,” he said. “For me, I’m like a freshman-junior, kind’ve just stepping through the door. I haven’t had a problem in the past being the new guy and I’m excited to make my impression. It’ll be nice to show everyone there the final package.”
Classes start at Pittsburgh on Aug. 25, beginning a balancing act between school work and baseball that Condeelis will be faced with this year.
The life of a student-athlete at Pittsburgh will take some getting used to, but much like he has been in the past, Condeelis is certainly up for the challenge.
“It’s a big difference from what I’m used to, but it might be easier to focus that way,” he said. “Every day will be just as big for me because I’m the new guy and I’ll have to prove myself every day. We’ll have a lot of fresh faces this year, and I can’t wait to get back on the field.”