Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Pop -n- Cheese

On the hunt for some pop -n- cheese, the Baseball Championship Series U17 at the Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida, did not disappoint. There were roughly 10 teams from Florida and Georgia which gave me a fantastic look at the upcoming class of prospects. A team from Orlando even took the championship. If it can actually be said, I think Florida just might repeat its performance in next year's draft. The talent was even more consistent and fundamentally sound than the tournament held last summer. Bodes well for my territory.

I was even able to have Dr. Rakes stop by to interview several prospects that should go in the first five rounds. The summer tournaments are perfect for interviews since there's generally quite a bit of down time for players in between games. Most of the players had never spoken with a shrink before. Feedback from the players was mixed. The majority, however, said that it forced them to think about their game from different perspectives and multiple approaches. Hopefully they don't quit after the tournament or go into a major slump! As much as I love the Doc, too much thinking can be incredibly counterproductive.

Over lunch, I tried to resist my instinct to ask about Dallas Parker. That lasted all but three bites of my mushroom cheeseburger. The Doc assured me that he's making progress but that it's a slow process which takes a lot of time. To help prove his point, I reminded the Doc that I've been to so many anger management classes that I could quote the steps both backwards and forwards.

But apparently there's more baggage to his relationship with his father than I or even the Doc expected. And that's when the Doc hit me with, "But you can relate to him. Can't you?"

You see, he knows where I've been. It's a place where he hasn't been. A place that's only revealed to him through textbooks or the thoughts of his patients.

Sure, I can relate to Dallas.

Take the time when I was twelve years old. Pops had just finished a shift and a half when he walked through the door. Fortunately for me, the pork chop dinner I had picked up from a local dive was still hot and ready for him to eat. He sat down as I served all three place settings. I called mother who was laying on the sofa, but she was so drunk that she couldn't pry herself off the cushions.

As usual, not a word was spoken during dinner. I tried to eat but my mind wasn't on food. Pops made quick work of the chops. I excused myself after several bites. He never even looked up. I planted myself by the phone. My glove in hand punching a ball into the sweet spot. It was 6 o'clock. If I had made the city all-star team, my coach would call me at 6 o'clock. I was certain that the call would change my life. A couple minutes went by and I figured that I was just midway down the list. Another five minutes went by. Still no call. Another ten. Nothing. Another twenty. Painful silence. I buried my head deep into my glove. I had always made the all-star team. In fact, I had made every team that I had ever tried-out for. But somehow I had to face reality that for the first time ever, I failed to make a team.

With that, I heard my father push back from the table and laugh. He walked over to me and continued to laugh. Only now his laugh turned into one of those cynical laughs. You know, the kind that says you're a worthless piece of garbage. "You didn't make the team, did you?" he asked. Of course, he already knew the answer. Before I could muster my response, he had his belt halfway off.

My mother, sensing what was about to happen, slipped off the sofa and tried to protect her little boy. But she was useless. Pops easily shoved her aside and then cracked the belt against his hand. Out of options, I jerked up and tried to make it over the sofa and out the back door. I almost had it but my big toe nicked the top of the sofa and caused me to stumble. It gave him just enough time to cut off my escape. He grabbed me by the neck and pinned me down to the ground with his knee. "You're a lazy-good-for-nothing-spoiled-brat. You're a disgrace to me, your mother and the whole family. If you just would've practiced harder, this would've never happened." I practiced everyday for hours (rain or shine).

What happened next doesn't deserve a description. By today's standards, he would've gone to jail for that incident and many others. But that was 38 years ago. Things were different. Much different. But what really gets me was that for years I actually thought he was angry because I didn't make the all-star team. It wasn't until after Pops died that I came to realize it wasn't about me at all.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Up In The Zone

The two undecided draftees are still my primary focus. Even with the summer camps and tournaments in full swing for the 2007 draft prospects, I have to really concentrate on making a solid showing with these two kids. In my world, the difference between five and seven signees is pretty large. Especially given the number of draftees from my area. But it won't be easy and with each passing day, the odds of them signing become less and less.

RHP Marcus Brown was one out away from finishing his sophomore year at junior college with a no-hitter. I was there. And so were four other scouts. His slider is the main draw. He consistently drives it down and away from a RH batter with a short repeatable delivery. One of the better sliders in my area. He mixes in a two-seamer in the neighborhood of 89-90 mph that tails into the knees of the RH batter. Both with nearly identical deliveries making it very difficult on the batter. At times, however, he gets under his slider early causing him to tip his pitch and hang it up in the zone. His frame is most likely tapped out at 5'10" 180 lbs which hurt him in the draft. But he's a standout in JC ball and would probably have his way with opposing batters in his junior year. Both he and his father are weighing the benefits of going to a 4-yr versus signing. We took him somewhere in the early-middle rounds. He was a draft and follow prospect with another team last year, but he failed to sign when they allegedly offered him tenth round money. Now I'm offering him less money, which means he could very well end up a draft and follow prospect for us.

LHP Cody Brewer probably should go to college but he has zero desire to hit the books. His parents won't even talk to me. They see college as the only way for him to go. Cody, on the other hand, has other ideas. He pretty much sealed his draft day success with some big appearances on the summer showcase and tournament tour. It also didn't hurt that he matched up well against some top HS talent this spring. A big strong frame who ironically doesn't pitch off his fastball. He has an above-average curveball that he can throw for strikes and a nasty split finger that really makes 'em look stupid. Unfortunately, he doesn't project too much more. What you see is what you'll most likely get. His four-seamer sits between 89-91 mph with above average command. Although he's already committed to a 4-yr university, he hasn't stepped onto campus just yet. I've offered a hundred times to speak with his folks but I can't get an audience to save my life. Even when I offer to get DeSear or Cooper to speak with them, I get the same cold shoulder. I honestly didn't think signability would be an issue given his selection in the early rounds. And let's face it, the slot money ain't pocket change. This one could be the proverbial straw if he doesn't sign.

I should know something for sure from each of these guys by the end of next week at the latest.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Stealing Away

At this point, we have six draftees from my territory that haven't signed. Not good. Two of the six are out of the question as they have already committed to 4-yr schools and are packing their bags as I type:

OF Dustin Wood uses an unorthodox stance but makes consistent contact when pitches are down in the zone and can muscle balls out to the deepest part of the yard. Led his team in HRs. For a HS senior he showed great patience and maturity in his approach at the plate. A slender body type with room to fill-out. He's a 60 runner on the 20-80 scale. Decent accuracy but lacks the arm strength for right field. He'll be on my radar screen in two years. His father really pushed him towards 4-yr college when Dustin fell into the 20+ round.

C Tommy Hill was probably one of the cockiest kids in my territory let alone the entire draft. In his senior year he threw out 25 of 26 basestealers with POP times that rarely exceeded 2.0 seconds. I loved his snap throws down to first and third. He's a genuine leader, but he did have a tendancy to ride his teammates too much. Especially the pitchers. At 5'9", 165 lbs, not too many pitchers are gonna tolerate his harsh words. His offense was primarily gap to gap with an excellent feel for situational hitting. Unfortunately, he said if he wasn't picked in the first five rounds, he was off to 4-yr college. We took him after the fifth but prior to the tenth round thinking we could stear him into signing, but I was wrong. We'll see how he does with a veteran college staff.

Two others have committed to JCs and will become draft and follow prospects:

LHP Chase Lewis was looking to be picked somewhere in between rounds 3 and 6. This HS senior was keen on going the JC route if picked any later. When he fell out of the sixth round, we figured the worst that could happen was that he'd become a draft and follow prospect. We tried on at least four occasions to sign him after the draft but he and his family would have nothing of it. His 90 MPH fastball will only get faster. He can also cut his fastball making him one of my personal favorites. But his standout pitch is clearly his changeup. He grips it awkwardly which gives it a late tilt, diving away from righthanded hitters. He can throw it for strikes on any count. I've enjoyed watching him freeze batters between his changeup and the fastball. Only downside is his lack of repeatable delivery. But when he gets them guessing, it's all over.

RHP Lee Strong set himself apart by easily handling top prep talent at several national tournaments last year. But his cheese started to mold towards the end of his HS season. It went from 90 mph in January to 84-85 mph. His mechanics also seemed to look more labor intensive. His above average curveball and changeup were the only things that kept him on the radar screen. Both are plus pitches. Not that it matters but Carson (PC Geek) was extremely high on this kid simply because of his 92 - 7 strikeout-walk ratio. Anyhow, the sudden drop in velocity and a perception that his 5'10" 160lb frame was done growing, caused him to slip past the 15+ round. Lee and his "trusted advisor" (girlfriend that will be going to a local community college) agreed that he should attend the same local communty college to regain his velocity and hopefully increase his draft value to somewhere in the top five rounds. This wasn't the first time "love" got in the way of one of my signings. It will be interesting to see how he responds. On the mound that is.

The last two are undecided. I'll hit them up in the next post.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Pinstripes


DeSear had a tone to his voice that said, "See, I told you this wouldn't work." And considering he only said two words, "Where's Dallas?" -- that was pretty impressive.

I called his cell phone but it went straight to voice mail. I then called his wife, Rachel at home. No answer. I called the Walmart where she works and had her paged. 10 minutes later she picked-up. I asked her where Dallas was? Of course, she was in disbelief. Apparently he had left the night before and was going to stay with a friend near the yard. I asked if she could call the friend but she left her cell phone at home and couldn't dial long distance from work. She gave me the number to call. Almost an hour had gone by since Dallas was supposed to report. I called the friend who sounded like he just walked in from an all-night party-- not as drunk as he probably was six hours ago.

"Dallas? He was supposed to meet up with me last night? News to me, dude." With that, he hung up. I called back Rachel to see if she had given me the wrong number. Unfortunately she hadn't. Now my cell phone was ringing. It was DeSear again. Pounding me with the same question but now laced with a string of profanity. If there's one thing you don't do, it was sign a contract and not show up.

Rachel was now distraught. Perhaps he was in an accident. I called the highway patrol and asked if there were any accidents last night along what would have been his most likely route. A few, but only fender benders. Nothing serious. Well that was good news. But it still didn't get us anywhere.

We were at a dead end. Rachel left work and headed for home to check her cell phone and answering machine. That took about 45 minutes. No messages on either. She called all her friends. Nothing. What little family they spoke to. Nothing. Neighbors. Nothing. The evening rolled around and Rachel decided to call the police. Of course, that didn't do much good when you live out in Sorrento. It was like calling Barney Fife and Andy Taylor.

The next day rolls around and Dallas shows up at the yard a little before 7:30am. Of course, he was whisked away for interrogation. Under the bright light he disclosed that he had been in South Carolina yesterday visiting his supposedly ill father in the Ridgeland Correctional Institution. I knew exactly where Ridgeland was because I scouted a kid from nearby Jasper County High School who I happened to project as an 80 for speed (on a scale of 20-80).

Come to find out, his father wasn't ill at all. It was just a ploy to get Dallas to the jail. Dallas wouldn't dare tell Rachel that he was going to visit his father. She despised the man and made Dallas promise that he'd never talk or see him ever again. Somehow his father learned that Dallas had been drafted and got a hold of his cell phone number. In his father's mind, Dallas was loaded with cash. Dallas suspected that his father was lying but Dallas needed to go for another reason. He needed to get all his hatred and anger towards his father out in the open to deal with it. He needed to put the past behind him before moving forward. And his father's plot to get him to the jail was just the opportunity he needed.

From what I hear, Dallas has shown flashes of brilliance in several innings of work, but for the most part is struggling with his location. He has mandatory telephone conferences with Dr. Rakes three times a week.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Rocket's Red Glare

With short-season Class A and rookie ball getting off to a great start, it's been one of those proud papa moments again. We were able to sign five draftees before play started.

SS Orlando Fonseca
RHP Dallas Parker
C Mac Thomas
RHP Rio Cabrera
OF Cedric Franklin

The last two were Goldie's alone. If you remember, I objected to Rio Cabrera due to poor mechanics. But Cabrera has already had an excellent outing in his first rookie ball appearance and is getting some unusual attention from our GM Logan Cooper. Shortly after the game, Logan apparently made some lofty comments about Cabrera's "rocket arm." He even hinted that several more appearances like that and he'll be quickly promoted to high-A or perhaps double-A. But what got me was that he apparently thanked Goldie for all his hard work in uncovering and signing Rio.

And then he went on to praise OF Cedric Franklin! Yes, this was the homeless man loitering around first. He's getting a shot in center field and so far has made the most of his 28+ plate appearances. .325 batting average and .408 on-base-percentage. But more staggering are the 3 HRs and 7 RBIs. I may have to revise his nickname from dough-boy to C-Note. And of course, Logan took the opportunity to give another pat on the back to Goldie.

What about my draftees you ask?

Well let's see. Dallas was a no-show on the first day our rookies were supposed to report. That went really good for me. 30 minutes after the check-in time both Cooper and DeSear were on my like two crazed junkyard dogs.

"Where's Dallas?" DeSear asked over the phone.

Of course he showed up the next day, but not without a story. I'll get to that on the next post. But for now, I'm actually getting ready to watch some of the MLB afternoon games. Thank goodness for baseball on July 4th! And of course, a major thank you for the men and women who continue to make our freedom possible and to all those who have gone before them to make our freedom possible to begin with.