Marlins pitcher Tom Koehler is so devoted to Stony Brook, his alma mater, that he would give the university the shirt off his back. He actually once did that.
On Dec. 6, 2006, during the righthanded pitcher's junior year, he was asked to wear his No. 22 jersey to the Seawolves basketball game so that he could take it off and hand it to former Stony Brook pitcher Joe Nathan. The school that night officially retired it in honor of the All-Star closer, then with the Twins.
"He was whispering in my ear, 'Hey man, take 36, that's my number now,' " Koehler said.
Koehler is proud to have joined Nathan in pro ball (they have the same agent), proud to have been called up by the Marlins Sept. 2, proud to have pitched a scoreless seventh against the Mets Saturday and proud of the college that helped him get here.
It has been quite a year for the native of New Rochelle, who reached 97 with his fastball at Citi Field Saturday. He made the Triple-A All-Star Game, and he got to watch his former coach, Matt Senk, lead the Seawolves to their first College World Series appearance and a signature win over LSU.
"It was incredible, really exciting, especially because I was playing down in New Orleans and a couple of guys [on the team] were local guys who were big LSU fans," Koehler said. "All the hard work is paying off. They're just going to continue to get better."
Senk was the one who sold him on Stony Brook. "He told me straight out that I had an opportunity to pitch as a freshman, and that's something that I wanted to do. I didn't want to go somewhere and be on tarp duty or things like that. I liked his intensity and I saw they were going in the right direction. I was hoping that what the team did this year they were going to do when I was there," the pitcher said.
Koehler laughs about how his Stony Brook teammates got on him about the length of a home run that current Met Lucas Duda of hit against him while Duda was at USC. Koehler pitched in the NCAA Tournament against Ike Davis' Arizona State team -- a game in which the Seawolves let two leads slip away.
"We always played the teams tough and at the last second, we found a way to give them the game. That's one thing the Stony Brook team this year didn't do," he said.
He has not let his own chances slip away. Koehler was roughed up in his major-league debut (four runs in two innings against the Brewers), but in his next two appearances, he struck out seven in three scoreless innings. He was proud that Senk and many other Stony Brook people were at Citi Field Friday night to see him in a big-league uniform.
"I try to keep doing everything I've been doing since college," he said. "Keep working hard, don't lose focus, then hope eventually everything works out the way you want it to. Fortunately, thus far, it has."