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Preisendorfer getting start with Yankees

Clint Preisendorfer is finally getting a chance to pursue his dream. Or, more accurately, he is finally taking advantage of the chance to pursue his dream - and doing it the third time around.

Preisendorfer, a left-handed pitcher and a 2004 graduate of La Jolla Country Day, was picked by the New York Yankees in the 42nd round of Major League Baseball’s first-year player draft earlier this month. The selection marked the third time he had been drafted by the Yankees, and this time, without any hesitation, he decided to sign a contract and begin his professional career.

“I finally made the right decision to sign,” Preisendorfer said. “It’s four years late, but hey, it’s better late than never. “I wouldn’t say I was surprised, but I’m definitely enthusiastic that the same team picked me three times. My mom likes to bring it up at the dinner table - she said she was checking out one of the Yankees’ blogs online, and someone had a post that said “ ‘Clint Preisendorfer, the third time’s the charm.’ ”

Preisendrofer’s history with the Yankees runs deep. As a high school player with the Torreys, he was scouted by the 26-time World Series champions and developed a close relationship with Damon Oppenheimer, one of the team’s top talent evaluators. After graduating from Country Day in 2004, he was selected in the 32nd round (969th overall) by the Yankees.

Rather than sign, though, he chose to attend Palomar College, hoping to improve as a pitcher by playing for one of the state’s top junior college programs. After a year with the Comets, he was picked in the 31st round (949th overall) of the 2005 draft by the Yankees. Again, he elected not to sign, as he wanted to finish his college eligibility at a four-year school and improve his draft stock.

Preisendorfer landed at San Diego Christian College in El Cajon, where he pitched for the Hawks, an NAIA program, for two years. He struggled as a junior, pitching only 15 2/3 innings, but improved significantly as a senior, going 2-1 with a 5.00 ERA in 12 appearances (five starts) for the Hawks.

“Clint is definitely one of the most intelligent players I have coached,” Hawks coach Pat Horvath said in a statement. “His growth over the past two years was remarkable. I know that Clint, given this opportunity, will succeed while representing SDCC and himself well.”

Preisendorfer reported last month to the Yankees’ spring training headquarters in Tampa, Fla. for preliminary workouts with the rest of the team’s draft picks and other signees - about 120 players in total. He will start his professional career with the Gulf Coast Yankees of the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. The team opened its season on June 19.

From there, he hopes to progress through the Yankees’ minor-league system, which could involve stops in Staten Island, N.Y. (short-season Class-A), Charleston S.C. (Low-A), Tampa (High-A), Trenton, N.J. (Double-A) and Scranton/Wilks-Barre, Penn. (Triple-A) before reaching the big leagues. “I’m excited,” Preisendorfer said of starting with the Gulf Coast Yankees. “It’s a starting point.”

Preisendorfer received a small bonus after signing and will get the standard rookie base salary of $1,100 a month.

Coming out of high school, Preisendorfer, now 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, threw a fastball that topped out around 92 miles per hour and a curveball. He now throws a four-seam fastball and a slider, and is working on developing his changeup, which will be a key to advancing beyond rookie ball.

His development as a pitcher likely took a step backward when he experimented with a sidearm delivery in college. He said he went to the different motion after a bout of ineffectiveness but later realized that he would be better served to return to an overhand delivery.

“I lost some velocity doing that, but I had a lot more movement on my pitches,” Preisendorfer said. “But I realized that it wasn’t going to be good for the long-term health of my shoulder. I’ve worked back to a three-quarter arm slot now.”

Preisendorfer will receive plenty of instruction in rookie ball, as the emphasis at that level of professional baseball is less on winning games than it is on developing players. He’ll get it from some of the best coaches as well, something he said he is excited about.

He said he is eager to get started with the Yankees organization, and sometimes wishes he had started sooner.

“Looking back, I really regret (not signing earlier),” Preisendorfer said. “I think I was scared of the unknown. I kind of wanted to hide out in college for a few years and figure it out. But I finally realized that, to do what I wanted to do and to fulfill my dream of being a pro ballplayer, you can’t stay in San Diego.”