Michael Roth doesnt draw a direct line from his surprise start against Clemson in the 2010 College World Series to his rapid ascent to the Los Angeles Angels less than three years later.
But the former South Carolina left-hander understands his stunning complete-game victory against the Tigers to avoid elimination in the Gamecocks run to their first national championship put a whirlwind chain of events into motion that led to him winning his first MLB appearance in relief this past April.
A ninth-round selection by the Angels after his senior year in 2012, Roth got the call to Angel Stadium after pitching 27 innings in the minor leagues.
Theres no telling what happens if I dont start that game against Clemson. Maybe Im wearing a suit and a tie right now, Roth said last week over lunch. There are always these opportunities that you get in life that lead you down a path and in a direction. Definitely, Clemson was an opportunity that I got on the field, and I was able to take advantage of it. It kept leading to more and more opportunities.
USC coach Chad Holbrook remains amazed about what Roth did in Omaha that night to keep the Gamecocks season alive, and that amazement extends to the unlikely rocket ship that has become Roths career.
I guess it was our fault that we didnt find him sooner. What was really neat was the way he performed out there, Holbrook said. It definitely jump-started his whole career. If we dont go to him or we keep him as the lefty specialist, is he in the situation that he is now as far as professional baseball is concerned?
Roth, who turns 24 after he reports to spring training in Tempe, Ariz., in mid-February, doesnt know where his next stop will be. Last season, he finished with a 1-1 record over three stints with the Angels. He went 6-3 with Double-A Arkansas, where he ended the 2013 season.
After pitching in the prospect-rich Arizona Fall League with Mesa, where he went 1-0 with a 3.43 ERA in six starts, and claiming a spot on the 40-man roster, he could envision beginning this season at Arkansas, Triple-A Salt Lake, or Los Angeles, depending on his performance and the organizations needs.
You cant control the decisions theyre making about whos being called up, he said. You have to take care of the things you can control every time you go out there to pitch.
Roth isnt the hardest thrower in the minor leagues, but his ability to change speeds, his competitiveness, his work ethic, and his smarts help make up for the lack of raw tools. He carries an inner drive to be one of the best on the field and off of it, as shown by his 3.83 GPA in international business and the $15,000 post-graduate scholarship that he earned.
That inner drive, combined with his maturity level, helped lift him to the majors much faster than more naturally-gifted colleagues, who may not possess Roths discipline and mental toughness. Hes very familiar with the quote by the Roman philosopher Seneca: Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. And he also likes the saying, Hard work beats talent when talent doesnt work hard.
Ive always been a guy who had to work harder than others. Thats something my parents instilled in me, he said of his father, David, and mother, Deborah. The two have moved from Greer to France because Deborah Roth is an executive with Michelin. He traveled this winter to see them and sight-see in Europe.
But now its back to the business of baseball as he prepares for spring training. Hes living in the Columbia area as he trains for the upcoming season, although his busy schedule has kept him from developing his fledgling motivational speaking business.
He looks back on last season with a sense of wonder and accomplishment.
Roth credits his Double-A pitching coach, Mike Hampton, who won 148 games over 16 seasons in the major leagues, for helping him adjust to pitching in the professional ranks.
I learned so much from him because hes similar to me, Roth said. He was so tough, and he knew how to compete.
And he mentions Angels teammates such as fellow left-hander C.J. Wilson and catcher Chris Iannetta for encouraging him to pitch as much to his strengths as to the hitters weaknesses. Simply wearing the uniform and playing the game at the highest level was his biggest thrill, as he spoke of the rush he received from facing hitters such as Minnesotas Joe Mauer, who got the first hit off him, and lineups like the powerful Texas Rangers.
Then there was his own clubhouse that featured the likes of superstars such as Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton. We had a whos who in the locker room. It was pretty wild.
After being called up so quickly the first time, Roth didnt have time to pack properly. On the first road trip, pitcher Garrett Richards had to ask Pujols if he would loan Roth a suit to wear on the plane.
Garrett brought me one of (Pujols) old suits, Roth said. It was black with stripes, and I was wearing brown loafers. It was way too big. I looked like a rookie.
Roth hopes to stick for good with the Angels, whether its as a starter or as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen. He realizes there are no guarantees. He may pitch for 10 years in the majors or he may never pitch again in the majors.
I want to play professional baseball and make a career out of it. I want to play as long as I possibly can, Roth said. But at the same thing, I also have to realize that just might not happen, whether Im not staying healthy enough or not performing well enough or just cant catch a break. At the same time, Ill know that I put in the work for it to happen.
Holbrook said he is admired Roths charisma, leadership and passion for four seasons in Columbia, as well as the 26-6 record and 1.91 ERA that helped lead to two national titles. Hes convinced his former pitcher is built to succeed.
I dont have any doubt that if hes used the right way, he can have a lot of success, Holbrook said. He will be successful on the field wherever you put him.
Roth understands life after baseball eventually comes for every player a moment he hopes is far into the future for him.
Itll be tough because its the end of life as youve known it, he said. But I also have other goals in life. Hopefully, theres more to come in the baseball world, but if not, then all these experiences will pay off in whatever I pursue afterwards.