Whenever he needed to make a big pitch during his career at Franklin High School, Mike YaSenka could always rely on his 90-mph fastball to get the job done.
That pitch earned him a scholarship to Chesapeake College in Maryland, where he posted outstanding numbers for two seasons before transferring this past year to Eastern Illinois, where he continued to turn heads and grab the attention of scouts from a number of major league teams.
On Wednesday afternoon, YaSenka's dream of playing professional baseball became a reality when he was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 17th round (515th overall) of the Major League Baseball draft.
"I always dreamed of this day," YaSenka said. "But, to be honest, I was a nervous wreck last night. When the Cardinals called, it was more like stress relief."
A Pittsburgh Pirates fan, YaSenka is the latest area standout to be drafted in recent years. On Monday, former Titusville star JJ Bleday, an outfielder at Vanderbilt, went fourth overall in the first round to the Miami Marlins.
Last year, YaSenka's former pitching teammate at Franklin, Zach Guth, was taken in the 26th round by the Atlanta Braves while in 2017, Cranberry's Dylan Cyphert, another pitcher, was picked in the 17th round by the Marlins.
In addition, pitcher Josh Dye, the son of former Rocky Grove High School graduate Kurt Dye, was selected by the Kansas City Royals last year in the 23rd round, making it five players with area ties in the past three years to be drafted.
Not to be forgotten, Clarion High School graduate Jon Kemmer, now in the Minnesota Twins farm system, was chosen in the 21st round of the 2013 draft by the Houston Astros.
YaSenka, whose fastball was clocked at 96 mph this season at Eastern Illinois, said he received interest from a number of teams, including the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers, in addition to many others. However, the 6-2, 205-pound right-hander felt the Cardinals had the most interest.
"I knew they were interested because they had me throw a bullpen session on May 30 at Busch Stadium," YaSenka said. "I drove two hours from school and it was a really awesome experience. They had a bunch of cameras lined up all over and I threw all my pitches - fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. I felt like I had a pretty good bullpen session and I wasn't all that nervous. I just told myself to throw normal and not try to impress them by trying to overthrow. I was left with the impression that they were definitely interested."
However, after not getting a call during the first two days of the draft, YaSenka admitted that he was getting a little stressed.
That ended around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday when the Cardinals called and asked if he was willing to accept their offer, which also included paying off his senior year of college at Eastern Illinois.
YaSenka expects to fly to Florida this weekend for a physical. He still has the option of accepting and signing the Cardinals' offer or return to college for his senior season.
Although his path to the majors included a couple of collegiate stops, YaSenka, the son of Franklin residents Steve and Christine YaSenka, said he wouldn't change a thing.
"The Franklin area has always had a lot of love for baseball and the people here are really, really into it," YaSenka said. "I know we've lost a lot of businesses around here, but the people here have never lost their passion for baseball. It was a great place to grow up."
YaSenka really began making strides at Chesapeake College where he went 15-3 in his two seasons with the Skipjacks, helping them to a Maryland JUCO title in 2018.
"I loved my time at Chesapeake," he said, adding, "Junior college is the best route for guys like me who weren't elite Division 1 prospects. It gave me a chance to work and develop my pitches and mechanics."
YaSenka went 5-1 with a 4.65 ERA his freshman year with the Skipjacks, but averaged an eye-popping 14.70 strikeouts per nine innings, finishing with 98 punchouts in 60 innings of work while allowing just 25 walks.
In 2018, YaSenka dominated the competition as he went 10-2 with a 3.00 ERA as the Skipjacks finished 45-8. In 84 innings on the mound, he walked just 26 batters while striking out 131 (14.04 K/9) and earned a pair of saves.
Those numbers caught the attention of Eastern Illinois head coach Jason Anderson, who, following the transfer, immediately inserted YaSenka into the Panthers' starting rotation this season.
Stepping up to the Division 1 level, YaSenka made 15 starts and posted a 4-7 record and a 5.56 ERA, but his strikeout numbers remained strong, fanning 100 batters in 90 2/3 innings.
"At Eastern Illinois, my mechanics improved and I did much more strength training than ever before," YaSenka said, referring to the jump in his fastball velocity. "I also started using and trusting my other pitches, because I knew I needed to develop those if I wanted to get better. I still feel like I've got a lot more in me."