Stroman is breaking the rules on the way to the top

Marcus Stroman isn't about doing things the conventional way.

A Mets fan isn't supposed to list Jimmy Rollins as his favorite baseball player. Stroman does.

An eighth-grader isn't supposed to play varsity baseball, especially in Suffolk County's competitive Class AA. Stroman did.

And a kid who checks in at 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds isn't supposed to be able to throw the ball 92 miles per hour. Stroman can.

But what really makes the Patchogue-Medford senior pitcher/shortstop special is that he's the best baseball player in New York. Any doubt about that was put to rest last spring, when the Duke-bound righty went 8-1 with a 1.85 ERA while striking out 96 in 64.1 innings. He was just as effective on offense, hitting .400 with two homers, 18 RBIs, 28 runs scored and a school-record 30 stolen bases.

Not surprisingly, Stroman racked up the postseason accolades,
winning Newsday Player of the Year honors and the Carl Yastrzemski Award, given to Suffolk County's best baseball player. He was only the third junior to win the 41-year-old award, with the other two having gone on to play in the majors.

Stroman is used to doubters, though. Every time he takes the field against new competition, whether it's at a national showcase or an all-star game, people aren't expecting much. At best, they're expecting a David Eckstein type. Instead, they get Hanley Ramirez with a 90-plus-mph fastball.

There's no better feeling than the one Stroman gets when he sees the looks on the faces of players, scouts and fans when he blazes a heater past an unsuspecting batter.

"My whole life I've gotten, 'You're too small to do this, you're too small to do that,'" Stroman says. "Especially with pitching, because scouts are always looking for 6-4 pitchers. But I can throw as hard as those guys.

"People don't believe it, so I tell them to bring a radar gun when they come watch."

The skeptics don't bother him. Instead, he uses them as fuel to keep going. "Marcus absolutely likes that people give him little credit because of his size," says Gregg Sarra, Stroman's longtime youth coach.

"He's very comfortable in his own skin, but I think he likes that shock factor when he hits the ball a mile over the fence," ninth-year Patchogue-Medford coach Tony Frascogna says.

There were certainly a few eyebrows raised back in 2005, when Frascogna called up a kid who hadn't even entered high school yet. But it didn't take long for Stroman to prove he was in the right place.

"There was kind of a question from some parents about him taking someone else's spot," Frascogna says. "But you just watch him for 10 seconds and you realize he belongs."

Back then, Stroman's main contributions came with the glove. He was John Legend smooth from Day 1 as a utility infielder, making plays most seniors couldn't. It might have gone unnoticed to the casual fan, but Stroman's defense immediately made the Raiders better.

Whether fielding a routine grounder or making a Web Gem-worthy grab, Stroman makes it all look easy. But as someone who loves a challenge, he won't hesitate to add a little spice.

"He's always having fun and when he gets a chance, he'll show some flair," Frascogna says.

These days, Stroman provides so much more than just defense. He's become the ideal leadoff man and an opposing pitcher's worst nightmare: Most times Stroman gets on first, he's turning it into a double or triple with a steal or two. Thanks to his baserunning, Stroman scored more than a run per game last year
(28 in 26 contests).

"My coach gives me freedom, so if I get a good jump, I'll go," Stroman says. "I think if I can get on second, we'll score the run every time."

Given Stroman's athleticism, it's no surprise he's thrived in pretty much every sport he's ever played. In fact, baseball was his third-favorite sport as a kid, behind basketball and football.

He gave up on football a couple years ago in order to preserve his body for baseball. He's still the star of the school's basketball team -- through the first two months of the season he averaged around 27 points per game -- and admits that if he were six inches taller, he'd be pursuing a college hoops career.

But since Division I basketball programs aren't exactly clamoring for 5-foot-8 point guards, Stroman directed his attention toward
the diamond.

His success this year should lead to some much-needed positive publicity for Patchogue-Medford. It's been an incredibly rough year at the school. On Nov. 8, Patchogue resident Marcelo Lucero was
murdered. Seven Patchogue-Medford students were arrested in
connection with his death, including one who was charged with
second-degree murder as a hate crime.

For the rest of the student body, life at Patchogue-Medford would never be the same.

"You could definitely feel the tension," Stroman says. "There was a lot more security. It just felt different."

Obviously, Lucero and his family were the real victims, but Patchogue-Medford suffered by association. About the only good press it got in November was when Stroman signed with Duke. Even if only for a moment, the school wasn't synonymous with tragedy as Stroman put pen to paper.

As Newsday snapped photos of Stroman inking his letter of intent, Patchogue-Medford's principal was thrilled to have another side of his school on display. "He was happy to have our school shown in a positive light," Stroman says.

Through it all, Stroman remains focused on the diamond. There's a lot of pressure on him to repeat last year's performance, but he isn't
feeling the heat.

He saves that for opposing batters.

Ryan Canner-O'Mealy covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.