By Tom Waddill Sports Editor Huntsville Item

HUNTSVILLE - Dallas Gallant made his decision. On Thursday night, the talented right-hander who started his baseball career at Trinity High School and continued it at Sam Houston State signed with the Minnesota Twins.

A 23rd-round pick of the Twins late this spring, Gallant spent a couple of months mulling his decision. He went to New England and pitched another summer in the Cape Cod League before concluding he would skip his senior year at Sam Houston and sign with Minnesota.

"I'm excited - excited, relieved, anxious, everything," Gallant said late Thursday evening after signing his first pro contract.

"It's a dream come true," he added. "Now I get to go out and play."

Gallant will fly to Tennessee on Sunday morning and start his professional career with the Elizabethton Twins of the Appalachian (advanced rookie) League.

"I'm probably going to throw a few bullpens before I jump straight into games," Gallant said.

"They see me as more of a reliever/closer type of guy, pitching in  the back end of the bullpen. I like that and enjoy it a lot."

Minnesota's initial offer made Gallant think long and hard about returning to Sam Houston State for his final season.

The ace of the Bearkats' staff for much of his time at Sam Houston, Gallant decided to show the Twins what he could do by pitching a couple of months in the Cape Cod League for the second straight summer.

"The Twins flew the scouting director and their cross checker out to watch me, and they liked me," Gallant said.

After seeing him pitch for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks, the Twins made a new offer, this one much more to Gallant's liking.

"We talked it over and got it done Monday afternoon," Gallant said. "I've been talking to my parents. They were behind me whatever my decision was."

Gallant said he also consulted Bearkats head coach Mark Johnson and pitching coach Chris Berry.

"Coach Johnson told me he'd talk to me friend to friend, not player to coach," Gallant explained. "As much as he wanted me back, he told me he'd shoot straight with me. Coach Berry was the same way."

Johnson said he understands why Gallant chose to sign with the Twins rather than come back to Sam Houston.

"Dallas got a good contract with Minnesota. He's excited and can't wait to get started," the coach said. "This is not a surprise for us. When we recruited Dallas we knew this was a possibility because he's a good pitcher, and a good guy who works hard."

Gallant knows he's got to keep working. Johnson doesn't think that will be a problem.

"The thing I've seen really improve is his consistency with the breaking pitch," Johnson said. "That pitch has bite to it now.

"Dallas has also improved mentally, emotionally and physically since we've had him."

It's going to be difficult, Johnson said, to move forward without a guy who has started 32 games the past three seasons and posted a 16-16 record. Had he come back, Gallant probably would have been the Friday night starter during the Southland Conference season again, the guy Johnson counted on to set the tone each weekend from March through May.

"To lose a guy between his junior and senior year is tough, but that's part of college baseball," Johnson said. "You get to where a guy is going to be a leader and he's going to dominate the league. He's been everywhere and played in all the other ballparks.

"This guys is going to have a fantastic senior year, then you lose him. I've had it happen a hundred times; it's part of our game. But you want to be recruiting those type guys."