Former N.C. State U. ace working toward Major League dream

By Chelsa Messinger

, via UWIRE

At this time last year, Jimmy Gillheeney was sitting in the back of his English 222 class at N.C. State U., trying to keep from daydreaming as the professor droned on about Chaucer and Shakespeare. What a difference a year can make.

It’s April in sunny Arizona, and you can see Gillheeney throwing in his bullpen, the same as he used to, working his trademark curveball-changeup combo. But this year, instead of small talk in between pitches with N.C. State pitching coach Tom Holliday, he’s getting tips from Cy Young winner Cliff Lee and MLB All-Star Felix Hernandez.

Gillheeney ignited his baseball career as the Wolfpack’s No. 1 starting pitcher last year after collecting All-ACC and Third-Team All-America (NCBWA) honors in 2008. Although he was still in college, many scouts began to salivate over his surprisingly advanced repertoire as early as his freshman year, when he was nominated for NCBWA’s Stopper of the Year, an award for the best closer in college baseball.

“Jimmy has always been really motivated,” said junior pitcher Jake Buchanan. “He is also confident in his abilities. He could stay relaxed even in the toughest situations when he pitched.”

The Seattle Mariners then drafted Gillheeney after his junior year with the second pick of the eighth round. He performed so well in the minors this past season that he was asked to participate in Spring Training with the major-leaguers in Arizona. This has surrounded him with famous players like Ken Griffey, Jr., with whom he shares a locker room.

“Its been crazy,” Gillheeney said, “I have been fortunate enough to meet and even have conversations with all the big-name Seattle players.”

Gillheeney is acing his way through the minors in a hurry. Most minor-leaguers spend years without even catching a glimpse of a major league game. Gillheeney hasn’t been in the system for a year and already is getting chances to throw against MLB All-Stars. For Gillheeney, playing professionally has upped the ante on how he performs.

“I have been working twice as hard as I did in college,” Gillheeney said. “It’s a little more serious considering that I’m actually employed with a full-time job, which is baseball.”

At this rate, Jimmy Gillheeney might soon be the next Seattle ace. The Mariners have fared well with lefties drafted in the eighth round. Seattle left-handed pitcher Cliff Lee was also drafted in the eighth round, in 1997 by the Marlins. In the meantime, Gillheeney is enjoying every bit of his trek to the top.

“I’m really enjoying myself a lot,” Gillheeney said. “I had a good spring training so I’m really excited for the rest of the season.”

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