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Having just sent a kid off to college, I have become very much aware of just how difficult "the college decision" can be. You not only need to find the right match academically and financially, you need to look beyond the college years themselves to make sure it's the right match for your chosen career.
When Kansas City Royals pitching prospect Ivor Hodgson was looking at his options back in 2005 after being a two-way standout at elite St. John's Prep in Washington, D.C., he had several choices.
He could go on to Maryland or Missouri, big schools well-known for their athletics as well as their academics. Or he could take a road less traveled by aspiring pro athletes, the one an hour up I-270/I-15. And that's the one he chose.
It led him to Mount St. Mary's College, nestled in the scenic Catoctin Mountains just south of the Maryland-Pennsylvania border.
"The Mount," as it's referred to, is known for being a top-notch liberal arts school. It's known for being the second-oldest Catholic university in the country, founded in 1808, and as being the site of the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.
But one thing the college, graduate school and seminary of just over 2,100 students has never been known for is producing Major League baseball players. In its 200-year history, "The Mount" has sent five players to the big leagues, most recently in 1932.
Hodgson would love to change that perception and that historical drought.
The 22-year-old was drafted in the 17th round in 2007 as an age-eligible sophomore by the Royals. This followed a season in which he not only was the Mountaineers' ace left-hander, he was their starting center fielder and had played regularly since his freshman year -- a major factor in his choice of school.
Hodgson, Washington, D.C.'s High School Player of the Year in 2005 as well as its Gatorade Player of the Year that spring, had come to the Royals' attention at Mount St. Mary's, thanks to superscout Mike Toomey, who also is special assistant to general manager Dayton Moore.
Toomey was on the way back to his home, just a half-hour south of The Mount, after a scouting trip when he decided to swing by and catch a doubleheader.
In Game 1, Hodgson started in center field; in Game 2, he pitched. And within a few weeks, Hodgson was a Royal.
In his two professional seasons, he has quietly emerged on the radar as a southpaw to keep an eye on.
After posting a 5.29 ERA in 14 relief appearances in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2007, Hodgson headed north to Idaho Falls this past June as a member of the rotation for the Pioneer League's Chukars.
There, he went 3-6 with a 3.14 ERA, good for second among starting pitchers in the Kansas City organization and fifth in the league. He struck out 67 in 71 2/3 innings, limiting foes to a .233 average.
The key words for Hodgson this season were consistency and reliability. He never missed a start and pitched fewer than four innings just once. He allowed more than three runs in a game only twice in 15 starts and gave up one home run all summer.
He got stronger down the stretch, allowing five earned runs over his last 26 2/3 innings -- a span of five starts -- posting a 1.91 ERA from August on. His best game came in his final start, when he struck out seven over six innings of one-hit ball Sept. 2.
And it was the reliability factor that made Hodgson happiest when the season and instructional league were in his rear-view mirror.
"I really liked that I was consistent and able to help my team out, that's what I'm really proud of," he said from his Maryland home. "Everybody has bad days, but I don't let them affect my next outing."
The Royals also have been very happy with the path his development has taken.
"He's long and lean and very, very coachable," said J.J. Picollo, the Royals' assistant general manager for scouting and player development. "He has a lot of untapped potential right there because he hasn't had the chance to be a pitcher 100 percent of the time."
He's getting that chance now.
The Royals made the decision for Hodgson soon after the Draft, though they did let him work out at both positions for the first few weeks.
"We did let him hit a little bit and work out with the outfielders when we signed him because we still wanted to evaluate him and see where his chances would be better," Picollo said. "But as soon as we saw him throw batting practice and saw his arm action, he had pitcher written all over him."
Picollo said the Royals knew it would take a little time for Hodgson to come to terms with giving up hitting. And, in fact, they let him bat for himself in the games he pitched his first season in Arizona (he went 2-for-5).
"I think there was that initial shock where you miss the hitting part," Picollo said, "but he's navigated through it."
Hodgson confirmed that.
"Everyone loves to hit," he explained. "And when you can't hit anymore it's a really empty feeling."
It didn't take him long to move on, though.
"About a week," he said. "After I went to instructs and J.J. told me I was going to be primarily a pitcher, I was like 'Oh, man.'"
But he's been filling up that emptiness by working on refining his whole pitching package.
"I had to buckle down and really focus on it," Hodgson said. "I talk to all the hitters and pitching coaches and try to get as much info as I can."
During instructional league last month in Arizona, Hodgson was working on repeating his delivery, something that was key, given the lack of innings over his career so far. The Royals also wanted him to become more aggressive on the mound.
But the reports were all positive.
"His fastball is 92, 93 and he's now conditioning his body to be able to do that on a consistent basis," Picollo said. "He's starting to develop a better feel for his changeup, which we knew would come because he has such good action."
The overall consensus?
"There's a lot to like about him," Picollo said.
In the spring, fans can probably look forward to seeing Hodgson on the mound in the Midwest or Carolina League. And he's eager to get out there.
"I am just looking forward to the opportunity to play in front of bigger crowds," he said. "That's what you grow up as a kid wanting, to play in front of fans who are chanting your name."
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.