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Prior Gets New Cap, and Gown to Match

May 15, 2004|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

After a brief stint in the minor leagues, pitcher Mark Prior graduated to the majors with the Chicago Cubs early in the 2002 season and became a National League All-Star last year.

On Friday, Prior graduated from USC and was one of two students who delivered short speeches before a full house at the Shrine Auditorium during commencement exercises for USC's Marshall School of Business. The ceremony also featured an address from Dick Cook, chairman of Walt Disney Studios.

"We all have fears of the unknown," Prior told more than 900 members of the graduating class. "My message to you today is trust in your abilities. Take each day one day at a time. You're not going to become the chairman of Disney overnight."

Prior, who has not pitched this season because of an inflamed right Achilles' tendon, earned a degree in business administration. He is one of only 17 active major league players with a college degree, according to James G. Ellis, associate dean of undergraduate programs for the business school.

Prior, 23, said teammate Greg Maddux joked Thursday that Prior was "overqualified" for his job.

"You think I'm proud of that comment? You bet I am," Prior said.

Unlike almost all of his graduating class, Prior already has amassed a considerable fortune.

The 6-foot-5 right-hander went 15-1 with a 1.69 earned-run average for the Trojans as a junior in 2001, then signed a four-year, $10.5-million contract with the Cubs after they selected him with the second pick in the June draft.

Last year, in his first full major league season, he went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and was third in voting for the National League Cy Young Award. His salary this season is nearly $3.2 million.

Prior, who transferred to USC from Vanderbilt after his freshman season, said he was nine units short of his degree when he was drafted. He continued taking classes after he signed and also after his rookie season. He said he finished with a correspondence course.

"It was tough, but it was just a matter of sticking with it," he said after Friday's ceremony. "I can finally close this chapter of my life and move on. It's pretty special."

Prior said he was unfazed speaking before such a large audience.

"There's more pressure other places," he said, laughing.

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