With NBA free agency dominating the sports world and superstars from around the league making decisions on where they want to continue their careers, former Santa Rosa Junior College pitcher Anthony Bender had a decision of his own to make.

In November, Bender committed to Cal State Northridge on a full scholarship to play baseball, but in this year’s Major League Baseball draft, Bender was selected in the 20th round by the defending World Series-champion Kansas City Royals.

Bender had to choose whether to start his professional career or attend CSU Northridge and risk the chance of getting injured. He opted to sign the dotted line on a contract with the Royals, a life-changing moment for him and his proud parents.

“We were waiting and waiting and when we finally got the call that he had been drafted, I didn’t know what to do. It was a surreal moment.” said Tami Bender, Anthony’s mother.

Bender originally turned down a $100,000 slotted offer from the Royals, but their counter was too good to pass up.

“It just feels like the time is right,” he said. “I am ready to start my professional career.”

After dominating local prep baseball at Casa Grande, Bender attended SRJC, where he not only improved on the field, but in the classroom as well.

“School never came easy to Anthony,” Tami Bender said. “He really started to mature into a man at the JC and take his studies a lot more seriously. He was a late bloomer.”

Bender graduated from SRJC with his associate’s degree in communications.

If a player is committed to attending college and gets drafted by a big league club, MLB offers a College Scholarship Plan to help him complete his college education. If things don’t work out for Bender and the Royals, MLB would offer him a scholarship to finish out his college degree at any university in the CSU system.

“It’s a business at the end of the day,” said SRJC coach Damon Neidlinger. “I’m proud of Anthony. He worked hard on the field and in school to put himself in this position as both a student and a player. He made a grown man decision.”

Bender played infield and batted in the middle of the lineup at SRJC, but his fastball, which at times clocked 97 mph, was what convinced the Royals to draft him as a pitcher.

“I hope to hit someday because I love to swing the bat, but I am here to focus on pitching now,” Bender said.

Bender made his professional debut Thursday night for the Arizona League Royals. It was a tough night for him. He worked 12/3 innings and gave up four hits and two runs.