After a successful senior season for Westmont College of the NAIA, St. Mary’s alumnus Michael Rishwain is ready to take his pitching arm into the professional ranks.
And there’s an organization waiting for him — on Saturday, the Washington Nationals selected Rishwain in the 23rd round of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, the 694th overall pick.
Rishwain was checking Twitter periodically, not expecting to see his name until later rounds, when his phone lit up.
“I got a text from a buddy saying congratulations, so I checked and there was nmy name,” Rishwain said. “I just kind of screamed, and was really happy, and teared up a little — it was a surreal experience.”
Rishwain really had one season to make his mark in college ball after an injury set him back his sophomore and junior years. A strained muscle in his back forced him to reevaluate how to pitch.
“They told me I had to change my mechanic,’ he said. “Mechnically, my arm had to become a lot shorter. I had a long, whippy kind of motion, and I had to shorten that up and be a little more out in front. I got to a healthier arm spot in the rotation.”
After posting a 2.77 earned-run average his freshman year in 17 appearances, his ERA swelled to 6.43 in 2014 in 11 appearances and stayed at 6.38 in 10 appearances as a junior.
This spring, Rishwain mastered his new form and held down a spot in the bullpen, positng a 1.51 ERA and a 4-1 record in 24 appearances. His performance helped the Mustangs to the NAIA World Series.
“This year felt a lot like it finally came full circle. There were a lot of things that happened that made me feel we had accomplished something,” Rishwain said. “My freshman year, we were not a very good team — we were below .500. This year we broke the school wins record again, which we set last year, we were ranked in the top 10, and we were able to play really well against some of our rival teams that had beat up on us in the past. I think that’s the highlight of the season.”
His arm caught the eye of professional organizations, but his arm caught another eye a while back, before Rishwain led St. Mary’s with 52 2/3 innings pitched and a 9-2 record as a senior in 2012.
His arm caught his dad’s eye.
“You don’t have that kind of idea (of professional baseball), you’re just happy he can play little league,” Ben Rishwain said. “We saw he could throw it hard and throw it straight, so we got him some pitching lessons, and he’s been pitching ever since he was about eight or nine.”
On Wednesday, Michael, who already has his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, leaves for Florida, where he expects to sign a contract and head to either the Nationals’ rookie-league team in Florida or the single-A short-season team in Auburn, N.Y.
An old high school teammate, Sam Held, will be on the same flight after he was drafted by the Nationals out of UNLV in the 29th round.