Rice trades hoop dreams for spot atop mound

Feb. 10, 2014

By Jerome Boettcher | Subscribe to Commodore Nation

Steven Rice grew up in a small town in Indiana.

So, naturally, a passion for basketball poured through his veins.

Thirty miles from West Lafayette and less than an hour from Indianapolis, he idolized the Purdue Boilermakers and Indiana Pacers.

Like most kids in the basketball-crazed state, he had aspirations of playing in the NBA.

”My dad was actually a really good basketball player so I grew up wanting to be a basketball star,” he said. “But then I realized when I got stuck at 5-foot-6 in ninth grade I probably wasn’t going to play basketball anymore.”

Height couldn’t limit him from throwing a breaking ball. Plus, he was a left-hander—giving him a sizeable advantage on the mound.

So it didn’t take Rice long to see baseball as his ticket.

“It was one of those things where my dad kind of realized I was left-handed, and he loved baseball,” he said. “It was kind of a reverse role. He loved baseball but couldn’t play because he wasn’t good at it. I loved basketball but wasn’t good at it. He kind of grew me up around baseball because I was left-handed. Thank God he did, because if not then I don’t know what I would be playing.”

Entering his senior year at Vanderbilt, Rice is one of just two players, along with pitcher T.J. Pecoraro, remaining from the 2011 team that reached the College World Series.

Rice, whose made all 40 career appearances out of the bullpen, soaked up lessons from the upperclassmen on that squad like a sponge. Eight pitchers were drafted that year, including stalwarts Rice looked up to, such as SEC Pitcher of the Year Grayson Garvin, Taylor Hill, Mark Lamm and Will Clinard.

“Watching them develop and become the players they became, helped me a lot to let me know what I needed to do to become a good pitcher in this program,” said Rice, who set school records for strikeouts and lowest ERA at Crawfordsville High School. “They had a lot of drive. When they came to the field, they knew what they needed to do to become better that day. I think for them, just their routine and mental approach toward the game, I took mental notes of that.”

Rice comes off a breakout season, setting career highs in wins (4), ERA (2.57), strikeouts (28) and appearances (21).

He might not be the most intimidating presence on the mound—he is listed at 5-8, but Rice admits he’s 5-6 1/2 without his spikes—but he learned from Garvin and Hill and others how to accentuate his other talents.

He relies heavily on his curveball, which doesn’t accelerate more than 76 miles per hour.

“I’d rather be lucky than good any day,” Rice said, smiling. “That is one of those things I had to learn from the older guys. They all threw decently hard. But what I learned from them is they don’t necessarily throw hard in the games. But they try to manipulate the baseball and try to get movement.”

Rice graduates in May with a degree in financial management. If pro baseball doesn’t pan out, he wants to go into sales. But he has already set limitations. He won’t sell insurance, pharmaceuticals or cars—especially used cars.

But Rice really hopes more baseball is in his future.

He stresses consistency in his pitching and the ability to fill a role as a situational lefty as strengths.

Developing in a pitching dominant program such as Vanderbilt also should help his prospects. If anything, reaching that level will provide a sense of satisfaction. When reality set in that his hoop dreams wouldn’t come true, he shifted gears.

Even with a different sport, Rice was told the same thing—he was too little.

“I think the main reason is because at every level I’ve had people say, ‘You can’t do that.’ I use that as motivation,” he said. “I feel like if I keep progressing and get to that level and have that hunger to make it to the top level, then I think hopefully it will work out. If not, then I’ll have the degree to fall back on.”



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