It was the moment Tommy Lawrence had been waiting for his whole life.
On Saturday night, after the completion of the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, the former University of Maine star was offered a free-agent contract by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Lawrence, a right-handed pitcher who had expected to be drafted last year, finally will have the opportunity to play pro ball.
“Ever since I can remember, this is what I wanted to do,” said the 5-foot-10, 195-pounder from West Haven, Connecticut.
“It’s a dream come true,” Lawrence added.
Another potential Black Bear may forego his college career as Chris Murphy of Billerica, Massachusetts, was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday.
The hard-throwing right-hander was taken in the 29th round, No. 864 overall, by the Jays.
“I don’t know if he’s going to sign or not,” UMaine head coach Steve Trimper said. “We’re going to work hard on it, because he’s thinking about signing. But hopefully he doesn’t.”
The 6-4, 260-pound Murphy posted a 6-1 record with 88 strikeouts in 56 ⅓ innings this spring for Billerica. He was chosen the Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 Co-Player of the Year.
Lawrence was the America East Conference’s most dominating pitcher over the last two seasons. He compiled a 19-8 record in 30 appearances, including 29 starts, for UMaine.
He returned to UMaine for his senior season after he was not drafted and said he turned down a $15,000 signing offer from Tampa Bay last summer.
“I got my degree from school, which goes a long way,” said the child development student. “My summer coach [John Schiffner], coach Trimp and coach [Jason] Spaulding thought it would be better if I went back and got my degree instead of just getting picked up as a [junior] sign.”
Lawrence said he has agreed to sign for $1,000 and anticipates he may be assigned to the Hudson Valley Renegades, Tampa Bay’s short-season Class A affiliate in the New York-Penn League.
“Now, it’s more about just having the opportunity,” he said.
Lawrence, a two-time All-America East first-team pick, was the league Pitcher of the Year in 2013. In two seasons as a Black Bear, he allowed only 195 hits in 209 ⅓ innings and registered 175 strikeouts and 54 walks with a 2.75 earned run average.
The transfer from Winthrop University credits former associate head coach Spaulding, who left the program for undisclosed reasons late in the 2014 season, with expediting his development as a pitcher.
“He worked his tail off with me,” Lawrence said. “One year working with coach Spaulding and I go to the Cape [Cod Baseball League], pitch pretty good there, and I had two pretty good years in a row.”
Meanwhile, Murphy told ESPN Boston he has not made a decision about whether to sign or attend UMaine. He indicated that it will come down to how much money Toronto offers him.
Major league rules dictate that draft picks selected after the 10th round, like Murphy, cannot be signed for more than $100,000.
Former UMaine standout Mike Connolly, who was drafted in the 27th round (822nd overall) by the San Francisco Giants a year ago, reportedly received a signing bonus of approximately $50,000 plus the cost of his remaining undergraduate education, which was 1-2 years.