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Baseball player pipeline runs from Arizona to Buckeye State

Todd Avery / Lantern photographer

Ohio’s erratic, day-to-day weather conditions are nothing like the sunny, cactus-filled deserts of Arizona. The two states are separated by almost 2,000 miles and the Rocky Mountains, so it’s no shock the climates are quite different.

However, when five Arizona natives willingly leave the year-round warm weather to play baseball in the often-unpredictable climate of Columbus, it’s surprising.

Ohio State sophomore Jaron Long and juniors Greg Solomon, Tyler Giannonatti, Brian King and Kirby Pellant all left “The Grand Canyon State” to play baseball two time zones away for the Buckeyes and coach Greg Beals.

“I just came because I wanted to get out of Arizona,” Solomon said. “I wanted to come to a D-I university that had a good program.”

Solomon, a catcher, was the first of the five to make the decision to come to Columbus when he left Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix after the 2010 season.

As a junior college transfer, he said he wanted to go somewhere where he knew he could play and at least have the opportunity to start. He said he felt OSU was a good fit because then-starting OSU catcher Dan Burkhart was leaving for the pros and Beals was taking over for retiring OSU coach Bob Todd.

Solomon started 46 games last season for the Buckeyes and has started 24 of OSU’s 35 games this season.

The other four “Arizona Buckeyes” transferred just a year later from junior colleges as well.

Pitchers Long, Giannonatti and infielder Pellant, all transferred from Chandler Gilbert Community College in Chandler, Ariz., while King came from Paradise Valley like Solomon.

“I feel like I should get some sort of finders fee for these guys,” Solomon said with a grin. “I mentioned (King) to the coaches last year and I don’t know if they had already thought about going out there, but I feel like I was the instigator of these guys.”

King, a pitcher for the Buckeyes starting eight games this season with a 5.08 ERA and 3-3 record, acknowledged it was easier making the decision to come to OSU knowing his junior college battery-mate was already there.

The same can be said of Giannonatti and Pellant, who not only went to the same junior college, but also won the 2009 Arizona Class 5A state championship together at Corona del Sol High School in Chandler.

“(OSU) came out and they offered me and they offered (Giannonatti), and it was like, ‘If he’s going, I’m going,”” Pellant said.

Beals said it definitely helps the recruiting process when players are recruited in pairs.

“They’re coming a long way from home, it’s nice to have a little bit of a comfort zone there,” Beals said. “It helps that they know they’ve got a buddy here or they’ve got another buddy coming with them.”

Long, a three-game winner with a 2.31 ERA, was the last of the five to sign with the Buckeyes. He said knowing that Pellant and Giannonatti were already committed to OSU made his decision easier, and he is glad they were here when he arrived.

“When you come to a school this big and you don’t really know anyone, it’s intimidating,” the Buckeye pitcher said. “But you have these guys that you’ve been friends with, so until you find new people to hang out with, you’ve got somewhere you can go with people you already know.”

When the two prominent baseball programs in Arizona don’t come calling, the state’s high school baseball players are not left with many options.

“In Arizona, there’s two schools: Arizona and Arizona State,” Beals said.

With eight national championships between them, The University of Arizona and Arizona State University have rich baseball histories and many of the state’s high school players dream of playing for the storied programs. But when they’re not offered the opportunity, they can feel slighted, like Pellant.

“If you don’t go there or get offered there, you kind of have a hatred toward them,” OSU’s team leader in steals (19) said. “That’s what makes you want to leave Arizona to get somewhere else.”

For many, the platform “to get somewhere else” is Arizona’s junior college baseball.

“If you don’t go to one of those two schools, a lot of kids go to junior college,” Beals said. “It is such more of a prominent avenue for high school kids there than it is here in the Midwest.”

“The JUCO baseball out there is good competition,” Pellant said. “Guys are getting drafted every year and it draws a lot of universities out there. OSU heard about it and went out there.”

The five players said they are happy that OSU gave them the opportunity and said coming to Columbus was the right choice, aside from maybe the weather, they all said jokingly. They said at times, they can’t believe they’re playing for a school like OSU.

“Ohio State comes out and recruits you and it’s kind of like, ‘Dang! OSU wants me,'” Giannonatti, who’s yet to appear in a game this season, said. “You see (OSU) on every channel every day, it’s a big school. It’s almost an honor to come here.”

Solomon said being a Buckeye has made him notice things he didn’t before.

“Whenever I go back to Arizona, I notice the ‘Block-O’ more than I did, before I saw it everyday,” Solomon said. “Knowing that there’s people all over rooting for you, I think is pretty cool, and I’m glad that I got to come here.”

Pellant agreed and said it’s awesome knowing there are Buckeye Nation fans everywhere that love them.

“They don’t know you, you don’t know them, but they support you every minute of the day,” Pellant said. “That’s special.”

The “Arizona Buckeyes” have been a vital part of OSU’s team this season. Pellant and Solomon, the only everyday players of the five, have started a combined 59 games for the Buckeyes while Long and King are part of OSU’s improved starting rotation, each winning three games.

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