Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Choke-Up (Part III)


So, where was I? Oh yeah, I made an appointment to sign the kid. I can remember getting lost in a very old neighborhood just north of downtown Ft. Lauderdale. Not exactly a great place to be lost. Not quite the ghetto but certainly light years away from the upscale suburban lifestyle of Russell Reed. Finally getting to his house, there must have been twenty cars out front. Half of which had those crazy lowrider hydraulic systems.

From what I could tell, his entourage included friends, uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins, girlfriends (I counted three...two of which got into a fight less than a minute after the signing), and of course, his alleged advisor. None of which had ever seen a minor league contract. I sat down at the kitchen table with Blake, his father, and the advisor who thought he was Scott Boras reincarnated. His mother was too excited to sit. She kept asking me if I wanted coffee, water, soda, or some of her secret recipe rum cake.

Blake was in a daze as I went over the terms. His father and the advisor asked a few questions but they mainly wanted to know where the contract mentioned the $105,000 signing bonus and where his first assignment would be. I showed them Addendum A which said he would be assigned to the Rookie team. Addendum B confirmed his $105,000 signing bonus to be paid as follows: $50,000 due 30 days after the contract is approved by the Commissioner's office with the balance due opening day of the 2006 season. They were a bit miffed at the payout terms but realized there wasn't much they could do about it. Blake's old man signed first. His hand could hardly settle down to sign. Sweat was dripping down his forehead. Blake, on the other hand, quickly stroked his name without much emotion or fanfare.

"Thanks Pops," he told his father as the two stood and embraced each other. The whole house went up in a loud cheer. Within minutes I had a champagne glass in my hand and was asked to give a toast. I gave my usually congratulatory speech, first to the parents for their countless hours of playing catch, washing uniforms, and driving Blake to practice, games, and tournaments. Then I congratulate Blake with a warning that it won't be easy from that point forward. Only about 20% of the players picked in rounds 6 through 10 make it to the Big Show. It will take a large degree of commitment and sacrifice to the game. But that the club was confident that Blake would be up to the task which is why we drafted him.

Two weeks later, Blake showed up at the Rookie team with a little problem. A torn UCL - ulnar collateral ligament. After a bit of questioning, it seemed he felt something go wrong after a throw to from third to first during his guest player appearance that fateful Saturday afternoon. He thought it would just go away. No need to tell anybody. The doctor with the Rookie team recommended Tommy John surgery and we voided his contract. Almost five months after surgery, his rehab was going well and on target. Although the success rate is 85% for a full recovery, he'll probably re-enter next year's draft and sit through all 50 rounds without getting a call. He apologized several times to me this last weekend. I told him to forget about it. The kid just wanted to play ball and was in complete denial. I got burned. It happens.

Anyhow, I'm traveling to Orlando tomorrow to prepare for the Triple Crown Thanksgiving Disney Tournament held at Disney's Wide World of Sports. I don't have much use for Turkey day anymore. I'll probably go to Boston Market for a turkey carver sandwich. The farther away I can get from my Thanksgiving memories the better.

By the way, Donald DeSear and Logan Copper are visiting Russell Reed this Friday evening. Since I'm going to be in Orlando, they wanted me to stop by to extend my congratulations. Rumor is that Russell Reed has agreed to sign for a cool million and that his last name is already stitched into a uniform that's hanging in a locker room down in Puerto Rico. He'll take the first flight out Saturday morning and be in the lineup for their evening game. But I'm not holding my breath that any of this will come true.

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