By ERIC GARLAND
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Jimmy Reed arrived on the University of Maryland campus in the offseason expecting a meeting with one of his baseball coaches. But he didn't expect to leave the chat faced with the biggest decision of his life: whether or not to turn pro.
Reed, informed by his coach that he was taken by the New York Yankees in the 21st round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft, was stunned.
"I didn't talk to any (scouts), I didn't even think that was going to be a possibility for me last year at all," said Reed, a senior. "It was a really tough decision for me and definitely the toughest decision I have ever had to make."
Reed was 1-3 in 20 appearances last season. He averaged nearly three strikeouts per game, leading to a career-best 2.70 ERA. That impressed the Yankees, who told him they would follow his progress closely with the Orleans Firebirds, his summer team in the Cape Cod League.
Reed held a respectable 2-2 record with the Firebirds and struck out 48 batters in just eight games in front of curious Yankee scouts hoping to sign the Gaithersburg native.
But by that time, Reed had already made up his mind.
He acknowledged that the opportunity to play in the pros would fulfill his childhood fantasy. And he would be joining the Yankees, one of the game's most celebrated franchises.
"It's my dream to be a professional baseball player and that's what I wanted to do my entire life," he said.
But he said he knew in his heart what the right decision was: stay in school for his last year.
"I wanted to come back and be a part of this team again," he said. "I wanted to be a leader for this team."
Last season the Terrapins finished 32-24, the program's best season since 2002. They defeated ranked teams like Virginia and UCLA but just missed postseason play. Reed decided he could not abandon the team.
"I want to take this team along with the rest of my teammates to the postseason," Reed said. "We haven't done that since I've been here and we haven't done that in a long time."
Reed, a journalism major, said he also wanted to return to get his degree. He felt he not only owed that to himself, but to his parents, who he said would have supported any decision he made.
Reed's teammate, junior right-hander Brady Kirkpatrick, said he thought Reed made the right decision.
"Last year he wasn't really in a starting role the whole year," Kirkpatrick said. "Scouts only saw him for about half a year starting. This year he will be starting the whole year so I think that he and his family made a great decision for him to come back to school and finish up and graduate."
Reed will return to play for a new head coach and a new pitching coach. Former coach Erik Bakich, who was praised by players and critics for his hard-nosed style of play at Maryland, accepted a job at Michigan and pitching coach Sean Kenny followed.
To replace the duo, Maryland hired head coach John Szefc, who was last an assistant coach at Kansas State, and new pitching coach Jim Belanger, who was the pitching coach at Monmouth University.
The new staff had little effect on Reed's decision to return.
"We still have our entire team here and that's the most important thing," Reed said. "At the end of the day it's not the coaches who are playing, it's the players. The chemistry that we have with this team since I've been here is amazing. That was a huge thing for me."
Despite delaying an opportunity most can only dream about, Reed said he made the right decision.
"I'm really happy I came back because I've got a whole other year to improve and boost my stuff for next year," Reed said. "I'll come back and I'll be a starter here again and be a leader on this team. I have no regrets."
That doesn't mean Reed's dream of toeing the rubber in a major league game is over. He will listen once again for his name to be called in next year's draft.
But this time, he will be expecting it.