SLIPPERY ROCK — Jack Graham is looking for a fresh start.
Step one is landing a starting position.
The 2011 Seneca Valley graduate — a transfer from Youngstown State — is battling for the second base spot on the diamond at Slippery Rock University.
“Our starter from last year (Matt Curtis) has graduated and that spot is open,” SRU coach Jeff Messer said. “Jack is definitely in the mix there.
“We play 19 games before our conference schedule begins, so a few guys will receive long looks and the opportunity to win the job.”
Graham, the son of Baltimore Orioles’ Director of Player Development Brian Graham, was a middle infielder and hit in the middle of the lineup for Seneca Valley his senior year. The Raiders won the WPIAL championship that season and Graham homered for the go-ahead run in the title victory over Peters Township.
Seneca Valley finished 18-4 that year and Graham was drafted in the 50th round by the Chicago White Sox. But he was committed to a scholarship with Youngstown State.
“Sometimes things just don’t work out,” Graham said. “They had a coaching change there and I felt like I needed a new situation.”
The Penguins struggled on the field — finishing 11-44 and 14-43 the past two years — and Graham struggled at the plate. He hit well below .200 in his two seasons at YSU, collecting only 20 hits.
He and sophomore outfielder/pitcher Logan Brown decided to transfer to The Rock.
“His sister goes here already and with second base being an open position for us, it was a natural fit,” Messer said.
Graham’s bat came alive during fall ball at SRU.
“I know I can hit and I hit well then,” Graham said. “I had a lot of RBI. My confidence is back and I’m anxious to show what I can do.
“I’ll contribute in whatever capacity the team needs me. I’m going to play second base at a level nobody else will. I’m a hard-nosed player who gives 110 percent every single play.”
Rock assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Billy Messer lauds Graham’s defensive ability.
“He’s very good at second and we need to get a little better defensively,” Billy Messer said. “Jack definitely has an edge defensively. He’s got a real shot at starting for us.”
Graham started his freshman season at YSU and started 18 of the 32 games he played in last year. He hit fifth in the lineup in high school. He may hit second, seventh or eighth for The Rock.
“He’s a versatile two-way player,” Jeff Messer said. “He turns the double play extremely well.
“We were hoping to get Jack out of high school. He’s a welcome addition now.”
Graham was interested in The Rock when he was in high school,“but I was very comfortable with YSU throughout the recruiting process.”
“They offered me early and that’s where my heart was,” he added. “But things change.”
He emphasized that winning in high school isn’t the reason he wants to play for a winner now.
“As a competitor, you always want to win,” Graham said. “No one ever likes to lose.”
Graham will be reunited with former Seneca Valley teammate Carson Kessler, a freshman infielder/catcher with The Rock.
“He’s another versatile guy. Carson is our fourth catcher right now,” Messer said. “He can play either corner infield spot, too.
“I don’t expect him to play much this year, but when he does play, it will be because of his bat. He’s got some pop.”
SRU opens the 2014 season on Feb. 22, facing Walsh in Chillicothe, Ohio.