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It was just an average Thursday afternoon in Bradenton, Fla. Jonathan Searles was wasting time in the home-team's locker room, preparing for his next scheduled start on Sunday. It didn't dawn on Searles at the time, but his next start wouldn't be on just any Sunday, it would be on Sunday, August 6 -- the 55th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Suddenly, in walked Bradenton pitching coach Scott Emerson, who took the right-handed pitcher aside and dropped a bomb of his own. "I've got some bad news, Jon. You're not making the start in Bradenton on Sunday." At the time, Searles was 2-2 with a 3.65 ERA for the rookie-level Bradenton Pirates. Those aren't spectacular numbers, but they are among the best on the staff. He should still be starting. Right? "Oh man, what are you talking about?" Searles replied incredulously. And then Emerson let Searles in on the punchline. "You're not starting here on Sunday. You'll be starting in Williamsport on Sunday." Searles smiled. He'd been promoted to A-ball. _ Fifteen months ago, Jonathan Searles was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the eighth round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft. It was certainly a joyous moment in the Searles household. But it was also a complication for the Huntington, N.Y., native. You see, Searles is not just a pro baseball player -- he's also a sophomore at Penn. So the past year has been quite a whirlwind for Searles. He went from minor league ball in Bradenton to Penn to minor league ball in Bradenton to minor league ball in Williamsport, N.Y., to Penn -- with little or no transition time in between. Searles' last start this year was on the evening of September 4. He left at 11 p.m. that night for home, spent the 5th there and then drove to Penn on the 6th -- in time for the first day of classes on the 7th. "I haven't unpacked a suitcase since last year -- probably since [high school] graduation," Searles said. But that doesn't bother him much. What does bother him is that 0-5 record. Searles' stats at Williamsport don't look bad when you study them -- 4.11 ERA, 44 hits, eight walks, 21 strikeouts in 35 innings. But at first glance, all you see is that win-loss record. Oh-and-five. Ouch. "Unfortunately, I'm going to have to sit on zero wins for the whole offseason," Searles said. "And that sucks." But Searles pitched a lot better than 0-5. Having a last-place, .232-hitting offense 'supporting' him doesn't help. Neither does losing 1-0 and 2-1 decisions. "With baseball, the only thing you can really go by is stats," Searles said. "And unfortunately, I'm 0-5. "But the people who are really important in the organization and the people who I'm playing with know that I probably pitched better than an 0-5 record." It was the start that probably precipitated Searles' promotion to Williamsport -- or, at the very least, catalyzed the process. Only it didn't end quite the way the 6'3", 200-pounder had hoped. Going into the ninth inning at Bradenton, Searles was hurling a masterpiece of a game -- eight innings, three hits, no walks, no runs. But... "I came out in the ninth and I was so worried about getting that first guy out, I ended up walking him and I walked the second batter," Searles said. Searles was yanked, and the Pirates' relievers allowed both runners to score. So Searles' line was a little tarnished. But two runs and three hits in eight innings is still the kind of outing that'll get you a promotion. _ While Searles' college student/baseball combination is rare, it is far from unprecedented. In fact, Searles roomed with a fellow student/ballplayer at Bradenton this year -- Notre Dame sophomore/Pirates' pitcher Pat O'Brien. "We're both in the same situation, and we kind of helped each other out," O'Brien said. "It kind of made the summer go a little bit better." But unlike Searles -- who only missed the last two games of the minor league season while heading off to Penn --ÿO'Brien was forced to miss nearly three weeks of games because the Fighting Irish started classes on August 23. "I wish school would have started a little later," O'Brien said. "It's probably an advantage that he gets to play a couple weeks longer to finish the season out." _ August 6, 2000 -- Searles' first start above Rookie-ball. Three innings, six earned runs -- unquestionably a bomb. Welcome to the next level, Jon. Searles was determined to rebuild after that initial shellacking. And he did. Redemption? Ten earned runs allowed in Searles' final five starts. A 2.81 ERA after that first bomb. If Searles can stay on that trajectory, another promotion may be in order. Next potential stop: Hickory, N.C., home of the Crawdad's, the next rung on the Pirates' farm-team ladder.

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