Eric Lauer made the biggest decision of his life on the outcome of a video game.
Lauer, whose Tri-City Dust Devils handed Spokane Indians their ninth straight loss in a 9-3 walloping, received a call from the Texas Rangers as a senior in high school, offering to take him with the 30th overall pick.
He then grabbed a controller and played a game of MLB 2K against an online opponent. If he won with the Rangers, he said he would accept the offer. If he lost, he would go to college.
After claiming a seven-run lead, Lauer’s opponent quit in the seventh inning. He took it as a bad omen.
“I was leaning toward college anyway,” said Lauer, who went on to play at Kent State and later was drafted by the Padres this year with the 25th overall pick.
As it turned out, Lauer – or 2K Sports, rather – made the right decision. He was a three-year starter for the Golden Flashes and posted a 0.69 earned-run average his junior season, the lowest for a starting pitcher in NCAA Division I since 1979.
While he told himself he would honor the outcome of the virtual game, what it did was reaffirm his gut feeling.
“I didn’t think I was mentally ready to handle all the stress that came with pro ball,” Lauer said. “I just didn’t know if mentally I would be able to handle failure as well as I would being eased into it more in college.”
Although he set his professional dreams aside, being drafted and signing a contract was a priority for Lauer through and through. He was originally committed to Kentucky, but flipped to Kent State because he believed working with its pitching coach, Mike Birkbeck, was his best chance of receiving another high offer.
Lauer went to college to mature, and T-C manager Ben Fritz is seeing the benefits with the Dust Devils this season.
“He’s a low heart-rate guy who doesn’t panic in any pressure situation and continues to make pitches,” Fritz said of Lauer, who is 1-0 with a 1.44 ERA for T-C. “You don’t have that every third start where he stumbles a little bit. When he’s off, he finds a way to compete and get out. He’s so consistent.”
Lauer surrendered two hits and one earned run in his start Saturday against the Indians. Pitching against Spokane, the Rangers’ short-season Single A affiliate, holds more meaning for Lauer because of what could have been three years ago.
“The Rangers have had that little asterisk for me,” Lauer said. “They’re a team that I’ve watched since high school because of what happened. It’s always interesting to play against a team that you have a little bit more history with.”