Eric Haberer completes remarkable rise to third round of MLB draft Spt_haberer_as_6-23_spt

By Gus Bode

Story by Adam Soebbing

There was “no way” Eric Haberer thought he would be drafted as high as the third round of the Major League Baseball draft prior to the 2004 Saluki baseball season.

But there he was Sunday, after two weeks of negotiating, finally signing with his favorite baseball team, the St. Louis Cardinals, who selected him 90th overall in the third round of the June 7 draft.

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The left-handed pitcher, who just finished his junior season with the Salukis, agreed to a $422,500 signing bonus in addition to a monthly paycheck of $850. He will also receive a bonus each time he advances within the Cardinals organization.

The Bloomington native flew to Johnston City, Tenn., Monday to join the Cardinals’ rookie league affiliate and said he could begin throwing in games as soon as Tuesday.

Haberer, who was the first Missouri Valley Conference player taken in the draft, may have been the last to sign. His contract talks had stalled regarding a $5,000 difference between what the Cardinals wanted to pay and what Haberer wanted to earn.

“The negotiations just worked out that way,” Haberer said in a cell phone interview. “We both wanted to finish it, so we just decided to meet down the middle.”

Haberer said he plans to buy a new truck with part of his money and invest the remaining sum.

SIU baseball head coach Dan Callahan, who must now look to replace his ace in the pitching rotation, is more excited than not to be losing his best pitcher to the majors.

“We are all very proud of him,” Callahan said. “It’s nice that he’ll be able to start his professional career with a little money in his pocket.”

After spending much of his Saluki career as the team’s closer, Haberer was moved into the starting rotation following the team’s disappointing 0-9 start to the 2004 season. Haberer appeared in just three of the Salukis’ first nine contests, each time with the Salukis trailing.

Against nationally ranked Notre Dame in game No. 10, Haberer started for the first time since Feb. 15, 2003, pitching five innings and allowing just one earned run in the no decision.

Haberer earned raves following the game, eventually becoming the Salukis’ ace and filling up many Friday afternoons for Major League scouts.

“If you know a kid is going to pitch every Friday, you can make adjustments as far as when you’ve got to be there,” said Scott Melvin, a Midwest regional scout for the Cardinals. “If you wait to watch a relief pitcher, he may or may not pitch; so, yeah, I think it was a big plus for him to be an everyday Friday guy.

“He was seen quite a few times by a lot of people.”

In a second outing versus Notre Dame two weeks later, roughly 30 scouts were on hand to see Haberer defeat the Irish and one of their top guns, Big East Pitcher of the Year Chris Niesel.

Haberer finished the 2004 season 6-3 with a 3.54 ERA, good enough for second-team All-Missouri Valley Conference honors.

After he admittedly blew off his sophomore year, Haberer was instilled with a newfound desire to reach his potential on the mound. A freshman All-American in 2002, Haberer was extremely disappointed with his 1-3 record and two saves the following season.

“I didn’t work out as much as I should have my sophomore year; I kind of took my success my freshman year for granted,” Haberer said. “I wasn’t in shape. And then going into my junior year, I worked out hard. I did all the work they told me to and even more. I got in a lot better shape and a lot stronger.”

Despite his re-energized work ethic, Haberer still did not expect things to go so well for him in 2004. He had always thought himself capable of being drafted, but he never entertained thoughts of being selected so high on the first day.

“I didn’t have a very good season last year, but I still thought that if I came out and played the way I am capable that I could go in the draft,” Haberer said. “Now the third round, I had no idea I was going to perform that well this year. I think I really made huge strides from my sophomore to my junior year.”

Although Haberer wasn’t projected as a third rounder this time a year ago, Melvin insists he has always been on the radar.

“I saw him when he came in to play for [SIU] as a freshman at the fall scout date and he was throwing 89-91 [miles per hour],” Melvin said. “His pitching ability has gotten better and he has just become a more attractive person because he’s been able to show his durability and he throws strikes.

“He’s a strong-armed lefthander and we all know the value of those guys.”

Melvin said Haberer needs work on his off speed pitches, among other things, but Haberer acknowledges it will take much more to realize his dreams of suiting up in a Cardinals uniform.

“It’s a whole different ball game now,” he said.

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