When a pitcher steps to the mound and sees Trevor Crowe as his first batter, he knows he's in for a long day.

Crowe, a junior outfielder for the University of Arizona, is not only the best leadoff hitter at the college level, he's also one of the top players at any position in all of amateur baseball. The proof is his recent selection as one of five finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, which is presented annually by Baseball USA in conjunction with the Major League Baseball Players Association to the country's best amateur baseball player.

"It's really a great honor, regardless of what happens," Crowe said of being named a finalist.

Crowe's credentials as a leadoff hitter are impeccable. He led the Pac-10 in eight offensive categories this year and was named the conference co-player of the year. He finished the regular season with a .421 batting average, a Pac-10 record 14 triples, nine homers, 54 RBIs, 26 stolen bases, 81 runs scored and 104 total hits -- production that most batters, never mind a leadoff hitter, can only dream of approaching.

"I definitely embrace the role of leading off and getting our offense started," said Crowe. "I think I help the team in various ways. If we need a walk, if we need a hit, if we need to see a lot of pitches ... I think I can help out in a lot of different situations."

Looking to the future and his possible high selection in this week's Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Crowe said he would love to continue hitting leadoff at the professional level. But he added that's not a key focus of his ambition, "I just want to play at the Major League level. If I'm a leadoff hitter, great."

Coming out of Westview High School in Portland, Ore., where he was a two-time, first-team All-State player and the 2002 Oregon Player of the Year, Crowe did have a chance to turn professional. The Oakland A's selected him in the 20th round of the draft.

But Crowe opted to go to college instead, and he's never regretted the decision.

First of all, he's received a good education, and as a communications major, he hopes someday to have a broadcast career. Secondly, he believes that playing college ball has made him a better player, while also providing a greater opportunity to make it to the big leagues. To prove this, he points to statistics showing that the success rate for college players making it to the Major Leagues is much greater than for those who jump right from high school to the pros.

"It just seemed like the smarter thing for me to do," Crowe said. "Being at this university is one of the greatest choices I've made in my life."

At Arizona, he's grown as a player under the guidance of a top-flight coaching staff, and he's also learned from playing with and against some of the best players in the nation. From his coaches, he's learned never to be satisfied with his development. An All-American, he could have rested on his laurels, but he doesn't.

When asked his greatest weakness as a player, Crowe said, "Everything. I have to get better in every phase of the game."

He cites his ability to deal with the mental aspects of the game -- a particularly tough challenge for someone like Crowe who came into the season with such high expectations from coaches, teammates, fans and others -- as the best part of his game.

"My greatest strength is being able to play under control and not let the situation get out of control, while maintaining the same intensity and passion," Crowe said.

Dean Golembeski is a freelance writer based in Connecticut