Chris Pike, the former Southampton pitcher from Water Mill, followed a perfect game with a no-hitter for Oklahoma City University in March. But after reaching the next level, he said he was terrified of his first assignment: Get three outs.
It was the first inning of professional baseball for Pike, who was chosen by the Tampa Bay Rays in the ninth round of this year's amateur draft. The nerves also came from knowing that he hadn't pitched in a week and a half.
"The first guy actually flew out, but at the same time, I thought he might've hit a home run," said Pike, a starter/reliever for the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League. "He hit it deep to rightfield, but it was just a fly ball to right. After that, I took a deep breath and kind of settled in."
Pike, who signed his pro contract June 9, has a 3.72 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 191/3 innings for the Class A club. Hudson Valley leads its conference, which includes the Brooklyn Cyclones and Staten Island Yankees.
The 21-year-old righthander said he has found success throwing off-speed pitches for strikes. It's a craft he developed from ages 7-14, his travel team years, while competing in the Dominican Republic, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico and Georgia.
Pike added that pitch counts, which are enforced regardless of stats, are the only thing that limits him on the mound. The 6-foot, 175-pounder is free to decide what he throws, rather than having to read signals from the sideline.
"He throws a good fastball, 88-91 [mph], his curve and changeup are very nice," Renegades manager Tim Parenton said. "He wants the ball more than we give it to him."
Pike said his transition to a new team was made easier by a familiar face in teammate Alec Sole, a former Sachem North standout, who was selected in the 18th round of this year's draft.
Lefthander Steve Ascher of Mattituck was drafted by the Rays in the 17th round and was assigned to the Princeton Rays in the rookie-level Appalachian League.
Pike and Sole always wore different colors when they met on the diamond in high school and college, but Long Island roots were enough common ground to form a friendship at Hudson Valley.
"He used to go to All Pro Sports Academy in Bellport, right near Baseball Heaven," said Sole, a 6-2, 200-pound shortstop. "[Pike] was the first connection I made when I got here; he's a great guy."
Sole, who played college ball at St. Louis, said he still is trying to adapt to the pro level, where the pitchers are smarter and the overall game is faster. Through Friday, the 21-year-old had a .153 batting average with 10 RBIs in 27 games.
Sole has discovered that there is quite a difference between college and pro ball.
"It's a lifestyle now, it's a job," he said. "Every day, you're up at the field six or seven hours before [game time], fielding and hitting. In college, it's three to four days a week and the rest is practice and school. This is everyday baseball, which is a good thing, but it's an adjustment."
Parenton said the Rays view Sole as a good player with a high defensive upside. He said his strong arm and leadership skills are invaluable.
"He's going to play shortstop four to five times a week," Parenton said. "He's determined to be a good baseball player. He gets here early, he works on his craft and he knows this is something that he wants to do."
Parenton said Pike shows a similar determination to succeed.
Said Parenton, "I see Chris and Alec with great futures as long as they stay on the path they're on."