Bronson Arroyo wasn't the first 5-year-old to dream of a career in professional baseball, but he is one of the few who've actually accomplished what they set out to do.
While most of his fellow Hernando High graduates are still basking in their new-found freedom, Arroyo has plunged head first into the work force. And he wouldn't have it any other way.
A third-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Arroyo is pitching for the minor-league Bradenton Pirates in what he hopes is the first stop on a climb to the majors.
"This is always what I wanted to do," said Arroyo, who makes it back home each Sunday on his day off. "I realize that it was a long shot just making it this far, and that the odds aren't going to get any better as I go along. But I think I'm ready. I know I have a lot to learn and a long way still to go."
In two brief appearances for Bradenton, Arroyo has shown some of the promise that made him a top amateur pick of the pitching starved Pirates. In his debut, the 6-foot-3 right-hander struck out two in one inning of work. He followed that up last Friday with four strikeouts in a three-inning stint.
"I'm very happy with how I'm throwing right now," Arroyo said. "They've gotten some runs off me, but no one is really stinging the ball. I've been getting batters out with my fastball and curve. It's the change-up that they've been hitting so far, and I think once I get comfortable with the pitch I'll be all right."
Like all of its minor-leaguers, Arroyo is considered an investment by the parent club, one who shouldn't be rushed too quickly. At this level, strict attention is paid to the number of pitches thrown and the number of innings is severely limited. Pitchers are allowed to throw a maximum of three curveballs per inning, forcing them to develop a repertoire of pitches, the change-up in particular.
"We have close to 15 pitchers on the roster right now and everyone of them throws hard," said Arroyo. "We're all in the 86-88-mile-an-hour range. There's not a lot of difference between us right now."
As some pitchers complete their rehabilitation and others move up to Class A ball, Arroyo, who's already in the starting rotation, should see his work load increase.
"I'm sort of adjusting the way I pitch," he said. "In high school, I could throw fastball, curve all day and get away with it. But up here even the 7-8-9 hitters can hit a ton. I know I can't expect to strike people out all the time."
Arroyo counts himself lucky to be able to pitch so close to home.
"Half the guys on the team are from other countries, and just about everyone else is from out of state," he said. "If I had been taken by another team, I could be 2,000 miles away. Being in Bradenton I get a chance to pitch in front of people I know, and as special as this is, it makes it that much nicer."