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Deciding between education and playing pro can be difficult

Posted: August 20, 2013 9:07 p.m.
Updated: August 20, 2013 9:07 p.m.

(Left) Valencia High graduate Casey Mulligan chose to play professional baseball over taking a scholarship to Cal State Fullerton. (Right) Valencia graduate Shane Vereen left Cal for the NFL only after achieving his degree.

Things have come full circle for 2006 Valencia High graduate Casey Mulligan.

Today, he teaches children the game of baseball in Indianapolis, Ind.

His business is called “Casey Mulligan Baseball,” where he gives lessons and conducts baseball camps.

The 2006 All-Santa Clarita Valley Baseball Player of the Year says when he talks to a kid he tries to remember what he was like at that age.

The 25-year-old’s message is usually: “I teach my kids if this is your goal, don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it.”

When Mulligan was 18 years old, his dream was realized.

The St. Louis Cardinals drafted him in the 22nd round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

But he also had a full scholarship to play baseball at Cal State Fullerton.

The choice was love and money over love and education — a choice hundreds, if not thousands of athletes in various sports have to make on a regular basis.

It’s a choice that comes with a lot of risk.

Take the money and play and realize your dream. However, run the risk of not completing a degree.

Go to school or stay in school, risk injury and never realize your dream. However, you could earn a degree.

Mulligan was offered $200,000.

“It was an easy call for me,” Mulligan says. “My whole life I wanted to play professional baseball.”

The choice was easy for numerous reasons — the money, the Cardinals were his father’s favorite team and the opportunity to start his professional career and avoid the risk of getting hurt in college.

Five locals were chosen in the most recent Major League Baseball Draft with four still having college eligibility.

Of those four, three signed with Major League clubs, including Pat Valaika, who in June said he was going to sign with the Colorado Rockies after a junior year in which his UCLA team won an NCAA title.

“I had three great years at UCLA,” he said. “It’s time to move on. There’s no better way to go out.”

Valaika has two brothers who were in similar situations.

Brother Chris was drafted from UCSB after his junior year in 2006 and ended up leaving school with eligibility.

He made it to the Major Leagues.

Brother Matt was drafted after his junior year at UCSB in 2009, went back to school and was drafted in the 34th round in 2010.

He had less leverage for negotiating after his senior because of no more college eligibility.

Yet he completed school.

He retired after completing one year of minor league baseball.

“We pretty much left it up to them,” said their mother Ilona. “When he was a senior in high school, Chris had the option to sign out of high school. We felt it was not the right choice to make. I think the kids needed an opportunity to grow up in a safe environment. I know Chris has said he wouldn’t give up those college years for anything. That’s priceless.”

Baseball is the sport where most people turn down schooling and move to play professionally.

But basketball, football and hockey are well known as sports where athletes have left schooling on the table.

It might appear that Shane Vereen did that, declaring for the NFL Draft in 2011 after his junior year.

But that wasn’t the case, as he completed his degree in communications — a major reason why the 2007 Valencia High graduate chose to leave Cal with a year of eligibility left.

“I wouldn’t have come out if I didn’t get my degree,” Vereen says. “I promised my mom and my grandmother that once I went to school, I’d get a degree.”

Vereen said there was never any doubt that school was first because of the risks that come with playing football.

“I never looked at it like that. I focused on what I needed to do,” he says. “Look at it from the standpoint that football is temporary. Regardless at what level you play at, it’s going to come to an end. I was always looking forward to what am I going to do after it.”

Vereen says he’d like to use his degree and get into TV after he’s done with the game.

And the game, once you get to the highest level, looks very nice on a resume.

That’s what it’s done for Mulligan.

In April 2011, he was pitching in a minor league game in Tulsa, Okla.

By that point, he was a very promising arm in the Cardinals organization.

He threw a 95 MPH fastball and his ulnar collateral ligament in his right arm snapped.

He tried to get through it and threw the same pitch.

The radar gun clocked it at 82 MPH.

He hasn’t pitched in a professional game since.

That has led him to his current job.

There are countless stories about men and women who have regrets about choosing school over sport, or sport over school.

Mulligan, as part of his signing bonus, also got the Cardinals to pay for his post-playing education.

As for him, part of his dream was achieved.

With an injury so severe, it’s likely he’ll never pitch in the big leagues.

But he’s comfortable with the choices he made.

“I wouldn’t change it,” he says.



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