Thursday, February 23, 2006

Left Stranded (Part I)

Just spent a couple weeks down in South Florida. Carson is still "PC geek" in my book, but he's coming along. My biggest problem is going to enough games with him to teach him the art of scouting. To him, it's still a science. A computer science project. But it helps to not only have him hear what I'm saying but to see it live under real game conditions. His knowledge of baseball trivia is remarkable, but he is rather weak on the tiny nuances of the game that are critical to my work. He also needs a lot of work on his writing skills. What most people don't realize is how much writing a scout does. You've got to be able to articulate what you see and then put it to words in a meaningful way.

I say he's coming along because of what he showed me yesterday. He took me to a JC game to look at a freshman center fielder named Donnie McLaughlin. A kid I had already seen in high school at least a dozen times. But Carson didn't realize it. He thought that this was truly the first time I had seen the player and I didn't let on any different. I wanted him to explain to me what he saw in the kid and to then tell me what he might become.

Several scouts were in earshot as Carson gave it his best shot. Even they were impressed with Carson's evaluation of Donnie. But impressed me the most was that he left his statistical jargon at the front gate. At least he was trying to change his perspective. Unfortunately, I had to show him that what may look terrific on the field might not be what our organization needs.

"So where did he go in the draft last year?" I asked.

Carson shrugged. "I was just trying to focus on the tools."

"45th round," answered Bobby Leonard, one of the scouts seated two rows below us.

Carson was dumbfounded. "How could someone with that much talent and all the tools not go in the early rounds?"

"Not all the tools," I replied. "Isn't that right Bobby?"

Bobby nodded. "Got some issues with the law."

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Extra Innings

Just so we have an understanding. I don't normally read the comments, much less respond to them. No different from when I played. I never read the papers. Ignored the radio. Didn't watch the news (yes...they did have television back then). And never even heard a peep from the fans although I'm sure they were screaming all sorts of stuff in my direction.

But the last comment that was posted Tuesday evening caught my attention. Don't ask me why I even read it. Like I said, I normally don't. And going forward, I probably won't. But the "anonymous" comment was truly an intelligent thought followed by a very perceptive question. So perceptive in fact, that it almost seemed like it came from a professional. Such a simple thought and question but loaded for bear. Almost like the questions I get from . . . the Doc!

I mean really Doc . . . proding me from the comment line? You didn't think I would notice? But that still doesn't change the fact that your thought and question have intrigued me. So, I thought it might serve me well to respond. Forgive me if I go Jerry McGuire.

You're right in an absolute sense. Just, "do your job, watch them, grade them, file your report and move on." That's my basic responsibility to my organization. But what about my responsibility to the game of baseball itself? Baseball is more than something that just sustains me. The game is a part of me. It is who I am. Just like a fingerprint. My identity. And if part of me is in declining health, I notice it. I feel it. It brings me down.

Those kids didn't "suck." Quite the contrary. That draft-and-follow pitcher is a real flame thrower with terrific tools. He's got a great future ahead of him, IF he can truly respect, appreciate, and approach the game like a professional. His level of mental awareness was more centered around himself rather than the game. A growing problem among younger players. And as more and more players adopt this approach, the face of the game will slowly start to contort and morph. It already has. This is just something that I've seen over the last ten or so years and the potential ramifications disturb me.

I would also say that the parents aren't helping matters. They're pushing their kids harder than ever. Of course, they are very aware that the stakes are higher than ever. But if little Johnny is out there simply playing for a top dollar draft slot, I've got news for him, he ain't gonna make it long term. Compared to ten years ago, I see more kids today with better physical talent but their mental approach to the game is much weaker. You can have a personal trainer, a batting coach, the best agent in the world, and a lock on all five-tools, but if your mental approach is nowhere centered on the game you can expect to join the growing list of guys who cashed in their fat bonus check and walked away without ever coming close to their potential.

And management isn't at all innocent either. It all starts at the top. The teams with the highest payroll are looking to fill their roster with the top individual players in their respective positions. But why don't they win every year? Perhaps because they're enough players still around that get it and respect the game and the team more than their own individual recognition and status. But as more and more big league players decide to adopt or buy into a mental approach centered around themselves (even though that approach wasn't what got them to the Big Show to begin with), the game will become more diluted for lack of better words, and the best individuals will start to win more pennants no matter.

Once a majority of players think that the game needs them more than they need the game, that will be a very sad day for me and an even more sad day for baseball. That is what I'm worried about.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Squeeze

Ever eat the chicken pot pie at Boston Market? I've had it for the last three days and I can't get enough of it. I figure that'll last for about another day or two but I'm milking it for as long as possible on this road trip. It goes without saying that with high school and college coming into full swing, I'm on the run seven days a week now. Today I did two college games. Both JC's.

I know it's early but I'm seeing some shabby play. For example, I saw a draft-and-follow pitcher make a solid pick-off move to second only to find his throw sailing over the bag into shallow center. But it gets worse. As the pitcher continued to sulk on the mound, the center fielder dashed in to scoop the ball and throw it to third on a line. Once the throw left the center fielder's hand, I could see the pitcher finally realize that he'd better get his butt over to third to back it up. Of course, the center fielder's throw was off target and ended up in the fence behind third. The pitcher quit running as he passed the coach's box. The run scored.

I saw a sophomore taking a nice lead off from second with one out. A somewhat low angle line drive hit sharply to right sent the speedy sophomore runnin' for home. Only one problem. The right fielder was playing shallow. Something the runner should've checked before heading off into the sunset. The fielder didn't even have to make a great break on the ball to catch it. By the time the speedster got to third, the coach was screaming for him to turn back. Double play.

I even saw an attempt at a squeeze go terribly wrong. The batter steps into the box after receiving the signal. The pitcher winds up and the batter decides to get a head start on things. He squares off early. Are you kidding me? What level was I watching? But it gets worse. I was expecting the see the pitcher adjust and throw it right down the kid's throat. Nope. Too much to ask for. He threw it right down the middle of the plate! What a gift, right? Nah. The batter popped up the bunt. The catcher caught it. One pickle later, double play.

Ah, that feels better.

This week I go back down to South Florida to spend some time with Carson.