STARKVILLE – Each summer, many baseball players have to make the tough choice to either come to college or sign a professional contract after being selected in the MLB Draft.
Eric Cerantola, however, not only faced that dilemma but also had to choose which sport he wanted to play. The Canadian was drafted by both the Tampa Bay Rays in baseball and the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League as well.
“Hockey and baseball never came hand-in-hand when it came to the drafts,” Cerantola said. “I had picked baseball before the MLB Draft. Basically, I was just debating on which one I needed more. I had the opportunity in the draft but felt like I was still raw and three years of college will allow me to polish myself a little more.”
So Cerantola decided to pass up on his professional opportunities and pitch for Mississippi State - some 1,000 miles or 1,600 kilometers from his hometown of Oakville, a suburb of Toronto.
But being far away from home was nothing new for the freshman. Since his high school did not have a baseball program, Cerantola would go on the road for weeks at a time with the Canadian National Team.
“Playing for the national team, we got prepared pretty well because we’d go down to Florida and play professional teams at minor league complexes,” Cerantola said. “I felt like that prepared me pretty well for this.”
It was through the Canadian National Team that Cerantola was first introduced to the Diamond Dogs. Former MSU pitching coach Gary Henderson had a connection to one of Cerantola’s coaches on the Canadian team and traveled to Florida to scout him.
Henderson also went north of the border to Canada to see Cerantola pitch again and was able to convince the 6-foot-5, 195-pound right-hander to come on an official visit to Starkville.
“The first time I came down to visit, they were destroying the stadium,” Cerantola said. “So I didn’t commit blind, but there was no stadium. Overall though, I loved it. The campus is beautiful and everything about it is exactly what I was looking for.”
Cerantola’s initial season at State was a bit of rollercoaster ride. He began the year as a midweek starter but was sent to the bullpen after a pair of shaky starts in late March in which he was unable to pitch out of the opening inning.
Cerantola got his confidence back and only allowed one more run the rest of the year. He finished his freshman campaign with a 3-0 record, a 4.30 earned run average, 21 strikeouts and 11 walks in 14 2/3 innings of work.
“The best way I could describe this year is up and down,” Cerantola said. “I started out well and then hit bottom. I worked hard just to get back at it, basically just going out there and pounding the zone. We made a couple of adjustments but overall it was just getting out there and being more comfortable. I put too much pressure on myself, maybe trying to make the perfect pitch instead of just going out there competing and having fun.”
Cerantola’s arsenal features a high-90s fastball that is complemented by a curveball and change-up. His fastball hit triple digits on the radar gun during an appearance against LSU at the SEC Tournament in which he tossed two shutout innings and only allowed one hit.
“I was kinda surprised,” Cerantola said. “I guess the adrenaline was pumping a little bit.”
Cerantola capped his season with a strikeout against Vanderbilt at the College World Series and is pleased with the progress he has made thus far at State.
“This has been great,” Cerantola said. “I’ve put on about 20-pounds. I’ve come a long way already with my development from last summer until now. I’m enjoying myself.”
Cerantola will rejoin the Canadian National Team this summer to compete at the Pan American Games in Peru from July 26-Aug. 11.