Set sail for Seattle

SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:04 AM ET

It took 10 years, three drafts and a push from his mom but Aric Van Gaalen finally achieved his goal.

The Edmontonian put his name on a one-year, minor-league contract with the Seattle Mariners yesterday, the team that selected him in the 30th round of the Major League Baseball draft back in June.

Van Gaalen was previously drafted twice by the Toronto Blue Jays, but never signed and the six-foot-six southpaw wound up toiling in the Northern League for his hometown Cracker-Cats.

"I've been waiting a long time to be a professional baseball player," said Van Gaalen, although he admitted soccer was actually his first sports passion.

His mother, Debbie, convinced him baseball was a better road to travel. And after playing for the Confederation Park Cubs, South Edmonton Cardinals, St. Albert Cardinals, Team Alberta, St. Petersburg College and finally the Cracker-Cats, Van Gaalen is on the move.

He'll report to the Mariners' Instructional League squad in Peoria, Arizona, in two weeks and then head to Seattle's minor-league spring training camp next March.

With the experience he's gained playing under Cats' boss Terry Bevington, Van Gaalen is likely to be assigned to one of the Mariners' single-A outfits in Wisconsin, Washington or California.

"I just want to play baseball so wherever they put me is fine with me.

"I'm not going to put too big of expectations on myself," said Van Gaalen, who spent much of the season developing a better curveball and altering his change-up.

"It definitely helped (playing for the Cracker-Cats). A lot of these players have played double-A, triple-A or even in the big leagues so I definitely learned what pitches to throw and it gave me a lot more confidence."

He is the third Northern League pitcher signed by the Mariners, following in the footsteps of Winnipeg's Bobby Madritsch and George Sherrill, both of whom made the big-league roster.

Van Gaalen had somewhat misleading numbers with the Cats - a 2-6 record and a 5.65 ERA in 73 innings of work - but nothing that detracted Seattle's wish to bring him aboard.

"We expect big things out of Aric.

"We think he could get to the big leagues in two or three years," said Wayne Norton, the Mariners' director of scouting for Canada and Europe.

"Aric is in a good position. We got old and slow in a hurry and we need to get some young, fresh blood.

"He didn't throw a lot in college so he's short on experience. But his arm is fresh.

"What we see in him is projection as he gets stronger and his velocity increases. He has a deceptive delivery so his 88 m.p.h. fastball looks 90 to hitters and we like his movement."


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