Michael Katz has the opportunity to pursue a boyhood dream, but that doesn't mean his decision was cut-and-dried.
William and Mary's slugging junior first baseman and the Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year signed with the New York Mets on Wednesday, after being chosen in the ninth round of last week's Major League Baseball draft.
"With all the talk leading up to the draft, I thought I'd be taken in a certain place and provided it worked out, I figured it would be in the best interest of me and my family for me to pursue it and I was leaning toward signing.
"But once it became a reality, I thought about William and Mary. It's not really a hard decision to play professionally. What's hard is leaving your teammates and your friends for your senior year. That made it a little more difficult."
Katz was one of three players drafted from the Tribe's CAA regular-season champs, along with fellow junior Nick Thompson and senior second baseman Ryan Lindemuth. Thompson signed with the St. Louis Cardinals after he was chosen in the eighth round, 10 spots ahead of Katz. Lindemuth was picked by the New York Yankees in the 37th round.
Old Dominion had two players drafted: senior lefthanded pitcher Ryan Yarbrough went to Seattle in the fourth round, and redshirt sophomore pitcher Connor Overton was picked in the 15th round by Miami. Overton will sign with the Marlins, Monarchs' coach Chris Finwood said.
Katz would not disclose financial terms, saying only that he was "comfortable" with the money he received. He will play for the Mets' Brooklyn franchise in the Class A short season New York/Penn League.
"I needed an amount of money worth forgoing my senior year," he said. "That was part of the situation."
The Mets also will cover all expenses for his final two semesters at William and Mary, above his signing bonus and salary, when he returns to pursue a bachelor's degree in marketing. He said such arrangements are common with juniors who choose to sign and leave school.
Thompson is a different case, academically. He earned a bachelor's degree in biochemistry in 2 1/2 years at East Carolina, allowing him to transfer to William and Mary in the middle of the school year and be eligible immediately.
He worked toward a master's degree in molecular biology this spring, but will shelve academics as long as baseball lasts. He intends to go to medical school when his baseball career concludes.
Thompson was a key piece in the Tribe's CAA regular-season title and for one of the nation's most productive offenses. The Chesapeake native was first-team all-conference, batting a team-high .368 with 69 runs and a .479 on-base percentage.
"I was thrilled to be at William and Mary," said Thompson, who will play for the State College (Pa.) Spikes, also in the Class A New York/Penn League. "It was a great experience — a good group of guys, a great team.
"The main reason I came to William and Mary was for the baseball experience. Obviously, it's a great academic institution and I enjoyed starting work on my master's, but when I was looking (to transfer), the coaches told me I'd have an opportunity to play every day. I did and that helped me a lot as a player."
Thompson spent the past few days in State College in preparation for the season, which begins Friday. He likened it to a step above the Coastal Plain League, the summer circuit in which he played for two-plus seasons. He played for the Peninsula Pilots and the Edenton Steamers.
"It's a little more professional environment," he said. "I've held my own. I've done well. I don't feel overwhelmed at all. I think the experience I had at William and Mary helped prepare me, and I'm used to wooden bats from playing in the Coastal Plain League."
Katz was a Louisville Slugger first-team All-American after a season in which he batted .363 and finished in the top 10 nationally in runs batted in (75), runs (64), home runs (14), doubles (24) and total bases (155). He leaves William and Mary with a career .346 batting average.
"The three years I spent at William and Mary were probably the best three years of my life," Katz said. "I met some of my best friends, people who probably will be best friends for the rest of my life.
"I was so fortunate to be able to play at William and Mary and go to school there. I feel like I took advantage of all the school and Williamsburg have to offer. I loved every minute of it."
Fairbank can be reached by phone at 757-247-4637.