Coming out of St. Petersburg Junior College, Brian Zaletel was not highly recruited by the major four-year colleges. Ignoring the third baseman was their loss.
Zaletel signed instead with the University of Tampa and instantly became an important factor on consecutive Division II national championship teams. A Seminole High graduate, Zaletel was named a first-team All-American this season. He was chosen a second-team All-American in 1992.
But Zaletel's baseball career didn't end when UT defeated Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo 7-5 in last Saturday's national title game at Montgomery, Ala. He was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 31st round of baseball's free-agent draft and signed last Wednesday. Terms were not disclosed. On Thursday, he left for his first professional assignment, at Everett, Wash., in the Class A Northwest League.
"It's a great opportunity to play pro ball, move further on and get in a different atmosphere," said Zaletel. "It's something I've worked hard for. I didn't know if it would happen, but now that it has, I'm excited."
Twice an all-Pinellas County selection at Seminole High, Zaletel sputtered in junior college, batting under .300. But he was installed as UT's starting third baseman last year and responded with one of the best individual seasons in school history. He hit .407, the fifth-highest average in UT history, with eight homers and 66 RBI, also fifth on the school's career list. He also had a 23-game hitting streak.
He followed this year with a .333 average, 15 homers and 62 RBI, an off year compared to 1992 but enough to repeat as an All-American. His strong finish, including two homers in the South Region tournament at Plant City and three more at the national championship series, was enough to convince the Giants.
"He just wanted a chance and got it," said Tampa coach Lelo Prado. "If he keeps swinging the bat, he'll be a legitimate prospect, but he's got to improve his defense. If he swings the bat, they've got to find somewhere to play him."
Relief pitcher Shawn Slade was UT's only other draft choice this year, in the 25th round by the California Angels. He signed a minor-league contract and has been assigned to Boise, Idaho, also a member of the Northwest League, where he could face Zaletel.
He'll be back: UT leftfielder David Dion, who smashed seven post-season home runs to finish the season with 20, will return to the team for his final year of eligibility, Prado said Thursday. Dion, a presidential scholar, graduated last month with a degree in finance, but will enroll as a graduate student.
Baker's dozen: The Spartans hit 13 home runs in the national championship series (four games) to finish the season with a school-record 77 in 64 games. The 1987 Spartans hit 75 homers, but needed 10 fewer games to do it.
Signings: The UT swim team continues to rebuild, announcing the signing of three more athletes this week. Stacia Orr of Tampa leads the list, which includes Lynn Sansui of Costa Mesa, Calif., and Sean Sauer of Lake Forest, Calif. Beth Early of Mechanicsville, W.Va., Joanne Bellard of Malverne, N.Y., and Sandra Spiller of Longwood previously signed.
Regional soccer with a UT flair: Five UT players and one recent graduate have been selected to play on the Florida State Select Team in the Region III (South) tournament in Raleigh, N.C., this weekend against 11 other state teams. UT players represent one-third of the South roster.
UT players are forward Adrian Bush, midfielders Mike Heald and Sergio Jaramillo, defender Anthony Fotopoulos, and goalkeeper David Winner. Forward George Fotopoulos, on UT's 1992 Division II national runner-up team, is the graduate player.
Bush, Jaramillo and Winner also will play on the U.S. Olympic Sports Festival team representing the South. The festival is July 20-31 at San Antonio, Texas.