George Kontos was a stand out baseball player at Niles West High School in Skokie, IL, and also lettered in golf and basketball. He then went on to the same school, Northwestern University, which Joe Girardi attended. His junior year he set a school record with 16 starts and was then selected in the fifth round of the amateur draft by the Yankees. It's been all up the organization ladder since. We had a chance to speak with him on the same day he reported to the major league training camp.
Q: Besides pitching, did you play any other positions at Niles West High School?
A: Other than pitching I mainly played third base in high school. I dabbled a bit at shortstop and in center field but I was mainly at third base when I wasn't pitching.
Q: You attended Northwestern U. just as the Yankees skipper, Joe Girardi, did. Not many players study economics. What drew you to it?
A: Studying economics is something that was not anticipated. I was very unsure of things my freshman year at NU and a few of my teammates and close friends that were a year older than me were studying economics so I looked into it and realized that it was something that I would enjoy. Thankfully math has always been an easier subject for me.
Q: The Yankees took you with a fifth round choice in 2006. Did you seriously consider staying in school or was there no way you were going to miss out on the opportunity to go pro?
A: Draft day was probably one of the most frustrating days of my life. When my name finally showed up on the draft tracker I can't tell you how elated I was. Seeing my friends and former teammates' names going and going is very frustrating just because you want it to be your turn already!! My cutoff was the fifth round though. I'd like to say that I would have been strong willed enough to stick to that but had I gotten selected in the 6th round I really don't know what I would have done. But since I was taken in the 5th the choice was easy.
Q: Your brother Chris is following in your footsteps, attending and playing college ball at Northwestern. Was his big brother a big influence on his decision?
A: I'd like to think I was a deciding factor in Chris' decision. I know he looks up to me and he and I are very close so I'm sure my going there was a very swaying factor in his reason for attending NU. He is a great athlete and a great student so I'm glad he chose to go there.
Q: You burst on to the scene at Staten Island in 2006, going 7-3, 2.53 in 14 starts, with 82 strikeouts in 78.1 innings. Was it an easy transition to pro ball?
A: I wouldn't say it was an easy transition, because the level of competition was definitely better than college but the main factor for me was being able to pitch to the inner part of the plate. It gave me a lot more confidence pitching to wooden bats. I didn't have to nibble anymore and I just let my stuff work and I got very good results.
Q: Your name was thrown around last year when the Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte trade was going down. What is like to hear yourself mentioned in trade rumors?
A: The whole Pittsburgh trade thing was a whirlwind. I was charting in the stands when a member of our press came down and said to me that I was the fourth guy in the trade. I really had never been in a position like that before and I had quite a few emotions. My initial reaction was, "Well OK, I'm not going to be with the Yankees anymore and I'll have to say bye to all my friends here and go make new ones." The way I looked at that whole situation was if I went to Pittsburgh it would have been a good situation, but the fact that I stayed with New York, to me, meant that the organization valued me enough to keep me. So it was a win/win situation.
Q: The situation calls for a big strikeout- which pitch do you probably throw?
A: Big situation pitch would definitely be my slider. That's my go-to pitch.
Q: A bunch of factors lead to an up and down 2007 season at Tampa, but you bounced back nicely this past year at Trenton. What made the difference?
A: There were a few things that myself and Scott Aldred worked on this past season, but the main things were I was getting ahead in the count more often which allowed me to pitch with more confidence and go after hitters more; and secondly we worked on a few things mechanically which allowed me to stay back over the rubber and get on top of the ball which made my delivery more consistent. A more consistent delivery yields more consistent strike throwing.
Q: Who are your closest friends in the organization? What do you do to blow off steam?
A: I have a lot of guys in the organization that I consider close friends. We are all a very tight knit group which is nice.
For me, lifting is the best way to blow off steam. Getting the Ipod and going into the weight room and hitting the weights hard. A good workout does wonders for me if I need to cut loose a little bit.
Q: If you could pick any teammate to bat in a big spot, who would it be?
A: This one is a tough question. It's tough to have to pick one teammate for this big a question, but I think I'd have to go with Colin Curtis or Austin Jackson in a big spot. They are both very clutch players.
Q: What went through your mind when you got invited to the big league camp this Spring? What number did they give you?
A: I'm very happy and excited to have been invited to major league camp. It's going to be a great experience to have the chance to be around all of those guys. We had our physicals today and I am number 93. Not something I'm used to but I like it.
Q: Have the Yankees given you an indication of what level you'll be starting the season at? If not, do you think you have a good shot at the Scranton rotation?
A: The Yankees have not given me any insight on where I might start. But for now I'm preparing to pitch well in ML camp and start the season in the Scranton rotation. It's obviously out of my control but where ever I start out the season I'm going to go out there and keep doing what I did at the end of last season. Get ahead in the count and throw strikes using all my pitches.
My Pinstripes: Great answers George. Thanks and good luck this year.
George Kontos: Thanks. I look forward to seeing this.