In praise of draft’s afterthoughts: A celebration of determination in late-round picks
|06.09.13 at 1:26 pm ET|
I have visions of Babe Ruth in spandex shorts painfully bending into a sprinter’s stance, taking a few deep breaths and taking off full speed down a track, flashbulbs popping. He chugs and grunts, his oh-so-human body jiggling for 40 yards as coaches impatiently wait at the finish line, rolling their eyes, stopwatches in hand. Yasiel Puig, he is not.
The Babe was no physical specimen and yet he dominated his era like nobody before or since. That’s what makes baseball especially beautiful. In football, you must have size or speed to play at the highest level. In basketball, you better be 6-foot-4 or lightning quick. The NBA has no room for average athletes.
But David Wells can throw a perfect game. If Pedro Martinez didn’t have three Cy Young Awards and you saw him walking down the street, you wouldn’t look twice. And if my favorite player of all-time, Dustin Pedroia, looked any more like your drywall-hanging cousin in Southie, Tom McLaughlin wouldn’t let him through the clubhouse door at Fenway Park.
Sure, we have guys that look the part. They are men like Mark Appel from Stanford, 6-foot-5, 215-pound hurler, drafted first overall by the Astros, and Jonathan Gray, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound right-handed pitcher out of Oklahoma drafted third overall by the Rockies. These are the men who we expect to not only make it to the big leagues, but to turn into the front-of-the-rotation starters on championship-caliber clubs. Lay eyes on Giancarlo Stanton and try to convince yourself that he can’t hit 40 home runs.
In 1995, the Detroit Tigers drafted me in the 57th round. I was so naÃ¯ve at 19 years old that when I was told I was going to the New York-Penn League to play for the Jamestown Jammers, I thought my home ballpark would be somewhere in Manhattan. Furthermore, I figured that besides the difference in signing bonus (it was a BIG difference), I’d be competing on a level playing field with the first-round pick. If I was better than him, I assumed I’d move up and he wouldn’t.
The race to get to the big leagues turned out to be ultra-competitive, but I like to think guts, determination and fight have plenty to do with the journey to the highest level. I liken it to a man (the first-rounder) having a head start in a race up a chain-link fence and the guy behind him must and reach to grab his foot and drag him down or knock him off.
With the MLB draft coming to a close, I find myself celebrating the guys that can’t be identified by the naked eye as productive baseball players. They are the guys who usually don’t have the head start — the shoe-grabbers with nothing to lose but the chip on their shoulder. They are also the ones that are the most fun to root for. Sure, Ken Griffey Jr. was fun to watch, as is Puig. But what a story Evan Gattis (drafted in the 23rd round) is.
Over the next few weeks we’ll all discuss the first-round picks. We will hash out when they will sign, in what small town they will begin their journey and how long it will take them to impact their respective major league clubs. And while we are busy drooling over these Adonis-like talents, the next Kevin Youkilis will be covertly advancing through the minor league system on his way to winning a World Series championship with a bunch of other idiots.
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