Diamond Diary by Kevin Cooney



July 19, 2006

CAUGHT IN A DRAFT....

During the first week in June, Major League Baseball holds its annual amateur draft. Unlike the NFL or NBA Drafts, there is no coverage on national television with the top picks being welcomed by the respective league commissioner to a podium in New York City. Instead, families and friends of thousands of kids are hunkered down, staring at a computer screen, hoping to see and hear their name as a team makes them the next Albert Pujols.

It's an exciting day, to be sure, but one fraught with bitter disappointment and unanswerable questions, as well as great joy and answered prayers. For every kid whose name gets called, fulfilling the dream of so many players, there are many who shut off their computers at the end of the second day of unrequited waiting and try to sort out what just happened.

The fact that so many baseball players sit in hope of being drafted is part and parcel of the problem. Since baseball is much more of an "everyman" sport, there is greater opportunity for more players to have a shot, than the sports of football and basketball, which narrow their field with the size requirements of their respective sports. But baseball gives hope to the 5'7" infielder as well as the 6'7" pitcher.

When a good college player goes undrafted, he is left to answer questions by friends and family. How did so and so get drafted and not you? Why didn't team x draft you after talking so many times to you? What happened? Who can answer those type of questions?

The problem is that the draft is a complex animal that is not even fully understood by the people most directly involved with the process. The local scout and the cross checkers all turn in their reports and evaluations. The draft begins, and what seemed to be a set plan becomes a fluid changing process because of the decisions and selections made by all the other teams. The domino effect hits everyone as the rounds unfold, and organizations decide on the fly which way to head. Next thing you know, the local scouts' guys are less of a priority and someone else's name gets called.

One of my complaints with this process is when scouts lead a kid to believe that they will take him. The best scouts just do their homework on the kid and make no comment on the likelihood of his team drafting him. The kid knows he's being considered but doesn't get his hopes built too high. Most scouts operate that way, but some don't, and the kids get left holding the bag.

The other tough part for parents and kids is the varied opinion of what is important to the various organizations. Is performance more valued than potential? Many kids who have not had great careers wind up being drafted because of their size, power, speed, or arm, yet he was not as good as his teammate who went undrafted.

An added element to the draft today is the emergence of agents. Oops, I'm sorry, I meant to say "advisors".

The NCAA will not allow a student athlete to employ an agent, but he may utilize an advisor to help with the draft process. Like many of the rules of Myles Brand and his group, this one is as phony as a two dollar bill. Kids are now recruited during their college careers by agents looking to service the kid's needs in the draft, the minor leagues, and hopefully into the big leagues, when the jackpot gets hit.

I know agents whom I consider friends, and who I think are a benefit to their clients. I just feel that this practice has created more problems than benefits, at the college level. Once certified, any agent is free to try and recruit "clients". For what purpose, is the kid's best interest always being served, and does he really need a third party in his life at this point? Remember, the advisor becomes an agent when the contract is signed, and then takes his percentage of the bonus. So, is the advice given about signing or staying in school biased because of dollars, or is it about what's best for the kid?

Believe me, this is a mess for college coaches.

When a junior gets drafted, he has the option to sign or return to school for one more season. Usually a return means that the bonus money won't be the same after the following year's draft. The important thing for the kid to consider is how much he needs the money, and how badly does he want to finish school? The problem is that this decision is presented at a time where the kid is usually sick of school, and the idea of just playing ball looks real inviting; advantage- pro ball.

The average player drafted after his junior year has at least three semesters of school left. Many have four. If a player tries to go to school in the fall, he usually arrives back on campus after two or three weeks of classes have passed. At our school, teachers must grant permission for someone to enroll under those circumstances. Many are reluctant, because that is a lot of missed coursework in an upper level course.

If the player is lucky, he gets invited to Instructional League. This is good for his career, but eliminates any chance of attending classes that fall. Now graduation is pushed another year into the future. If the player is a good prospect he may later be asked to play winter ball, which knocks out another possible semester. You see where this is headed.

One alternative is to wait until the player's pro career ends and then start school. But what if he plays four or six years before being released or quitting? He is in a very different place in his life by then. The three or four semesters left are much more of a challenge. There may be a wife and children in the mix, and responsibilities that were not previously part of the picture are dominating his time.

Pro scouts will always offer a college tuition package as part of most bonuses, but the truth is that over 80% of that money is never used by the player. It all is made to sound real easy, which is just what any 21 year old baseball player likes to hear. It makes leaving school for the glamorous life of professional baseball, seem like an obvious choice.

Some of our guys got the chance to weigh all their options and make that sort of decision last month. Some left, some stayed, and some were never called. It probably wasn't easy for any of them.

THREE WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL...

This has been a busy month for my family. We had three out of state weddings during a five week period. My wife's friend was married in Mississippi. We stayed in Starkville, and were greeted at the hotel desk by a big picture of Mississippi State coach Ron Polk. In fact, everywhere we went in that town, Polk's image hung over me like a cloud. Did they all know that he beat us twice in last year's regional?

Anyway, I faced my fears and stopped by to see the living legend at his office. Coach Polk was gracious and showed me around their new indoor training facility. Wow! The Palmero Center also serves as an indoor option for MSU's football team, but they hardly use it. As I took it all in I wondered how people expect us to beat schools like this.

Our next stop was our annual drive to Loudon, Tennessee, and my in law's farm. We spent a few days splitting firewood, clearing brush, and chasing fireflies before driving to Springfield, Missouri. My all time favorite relief pitcher, Jim Cooney and Marin Whorton tied the knot in style. Luke was the ring bearer, Maggie the flower girl, and Jeff was the best man.

Marin looked great and we had a great time meeting her family. Jeff worked up the courage to make a funny speech about his brother, and the uncles, aunts and cousins all had a good time. I got to meet John Q. Hammons, the most famous man in Springfield. He asked if I liked "his" baseball stadium-considering it cost $30 million and is shared by Missouri State and the Cardinals' Double A team, I found some nice things to say about it.

The best behaved of the attendees wasn't Dickie Hart, Zach Roper, Anthony Doudt, Dave Eddinger-or even Dusty Gardner! It was our dog Trouble. The big Samoyed loved the drive and was nice and quiet in the hotel room. She behaved on the elevator and was a hit in the lobby. I wish I could say the same for Dusty.

We drove back to the farm and spent another week riding four wheelers and tearing up farm equipment before making the long ride back to Boca. We had a week at home and it was off to Austin, Texas for the wedding of my niece, Erin. My brother Pat and his other three kids made the trip in from upstate New York, but Mike, Sean, and Bridget were outnumbered by Renee's family; they even had a Mariachi band at the rehearsal dinner. We managed to sneak in a traditional Irish Blessing during the ceremony.

Austin is a town in which I would have liked to spend more time. They have a great section of the city loaded with music clubs and a history of talented country stars. We got to tour a museum of Texas history which was pretty impressive. We also got a look at the University's athletic facilities-pretty impressive. They say everything's bigger in Texas, and they'll get no argument here. The baseball stadium broke ground on a $21 million dollar improvement. Yeah...$21 million!

Seeing your first born get married gives you reason to sit back and think. Seeing Jim on the altar starting the rest of his life was a big moment. We always talk in terms of team goals and dreams for every season, or for each player's career, but this is the start of two lives becoming one. Everything changes and a new family is created. It seems weird that I am a father in law. I just hope I can be a good one. The bride and groom can now carve out their own unique place in the history of their families. Our prayers and hopes for the realization of their dreams go with them.

I THOUGHT THAT HE WALKED ON WATER...

Between weddings, we got a phone message on the farm, telling us that a good friend had unexpectedly died. Brian Gilchrist was the son of our neighbors Jim and Marion. We got to know him when he arrived after the hurricane last summer, to help with the damage to his parents' home, and he quickly made himself a favorite of everyone in our neighborhood.

Brian lived in Oak Ridge, TN, not far from the farm. He could fix or build anything, which is quite a departure from most of the guys on my street, and he was a great guy to be around. Not exactly a Boca guy, Brian lived the redneck life and touched everyone he met.. None were touched more than 8 year old Maggie and 6 year old Luke. ,

Sometimes I got jealous when Luke would gush to me about what Brian had taught him, built, or given him. Everyone called Brian, "Luke's new best friend." Each time that beat up red pick up passed our house, Luke would ask if he could go play with Brian. I'd look up and this 50 year old man in blue jeans and no shirt would be chasing Luke and Maggie, pretending to be a monster.

On his 5oth birthday we went for cake with our other neighbors. Maggie's homemade card seemed to bring a special smile to Brian's face, and the other gag gifts were appreciated.

Brian and I went into the study and he got out his guitar and sang for his Dad and my kids. I watched him strum his guitar, mesmerizing my son, and watched his father look on with pride as he sang a touching Randy Travis song about a boy and his great- grandfather. I know Brian felt about his Dad as the boy in the song did about the old cowboy.

When we got the news my first thought was "how am I going to tell Luke?"

He wore starched white shirts buttoned at the neck,
And he'd sit and watch the chickens peck.
And his teeth were gone, but what the heck,
I thought that he walked on water.

He said he was a cowboy when he was young.
He could handle a rope and was good with a gun.
And my mama's Daddy was his oldest son,
And I thought that he walked on water.

If the story's told, only heaven knows.
But his hat seemed to me like an old halo.
And although his wings, they were never seen,
I thought that he walked on water.

Then he tied a cord to the end of a mop,
And said, "Son, here's a pony, keep her at a trot."
And I'd ride in circles while he laughed a lot.
Then I'd flop down beside him.

And he was ninety years old in sixty-three
And I loved him and he loved me.
And Lord, I cried the day he died,
`cause I thought that he walked on water.

The details of the song are different.

Brian wasn't Luke's Great- Grandfather.

But Luke "thought that he walked on water."

I'll never forget listening to him singing that song to my son, and I'll never forget my son's friend. KC

 

 

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