Sunday, June 7, 2009

Red Sox draft-day stories

Projected No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg has announced that he will hold a press conference to discuss his selection not at home and not at San Diego State but at the headquarters of the Boras Corporation in Newport Beach, Calif.

My, how times have changed.

With the draft now just a day away, here's a look at some of the draft-day memories of some of the first- and second-round draft picks who wear the "B" on their cap these days:

1980: Terry Francona
Francona was in Omaha, Neb., where he and his University of Arizona team were about to win the College World Series. They'd lost their first game to St. John's but wouldn't lose again; they beat Michigan by an 8-0 score the day before the draft and would beat Hawaii, California and Hawaii again to win the NCAA title. Francona, in fact, hit .458 in six games in Omaha and was named the College World Series MVP.

Francona was drafted No. 22 overall by the Expos -- right in front of future Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane.

"John McHale Sr. called the room at the hotel," Francona said. "You didn't know -- and then the phone rang. That's how I knew. There wasn't a whole lot of communication. There wasn't cell phones. My dad was basically my representative."

Francona had been one of the best college players throughout his junior season and even won the Golden Spikes Award as the nation's top amateur player. But he was only asked to fill out a couple of personality questionnaires, and he wasn't subjected to anywhere near the same scrutiny to which top amateurs now are subjected.

"I knew there were scouts around, but it wasn't quite the same then," he said. "There's a lot more money that you're paying these guys, so there's a lot more homework -- which is probably really good."

With his bonus money, Francona said, "I bought a -- what do you call it? -- a duplex as a rental property. Bad move. And I promised my sister I'd put her through school, but there were two things: One, I didn't think she'd go, and two, I didn't think I'd get drafted that high. I got shafted there.

"I actually bought a little bit of stock that did great -- great in terms of, I bought a couple of vans, but not great, like, I'm going to buy Pepsi."

1996: Mark Kotsay
Kotsay and the rest of the USA Baseball team that would win a bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics two months later was in a dorm -- "a military barracks," he said -- in Millington, Tenn., the day of the draft that year. Skip Bertman, the LSU coach who would manage in the Olympics that year, was the one fielding phone calls from big-league teams and relaying the messages to his players.

"We didn't have cell phones -- we had pagers," Kotsay said. "Nobody was following the draft online. Nobody was brought in to do TV."

Bertman was a busy guy, too. Kris Benson (Pirates), Travis Lee (Twins), Braden Looper (Cardinals) and Billy Koch (Blue Jays) were the first four selections in the draft. Seth Greisinger (Tigers) and Chad Green (Brewers) came off the board at No. 6 and No. 8, respectively, and Kotsay went to the Marlins at No. 9.

That high in the draft, there were few surprises.

"Everybody pretty much knew where they were going to get slotted in, for the most part, and what teams had advanced them," Kotsay said. "There wasn't really heckling or any joking around about it."

Kotsay would hit two home runs in a mercy-rule win over Italy in the opening round of the Olympics that year, but Team USA eventually fell to a Japanese team featuring, among others, Kosuke Fukudome and Tadahito Iguchi.

2000: Rocco Baldelli
The suspense ended quickly for Baldelli, whose Bishop Hendricken (R.I.) high school baseball team was scheduled to play in a playoff game the day of the draft. He spent the early part of the day over at a buddy's house, shooting pool and watching TV, thinking more about the playoff game than the draft. School was over and graduation was next on the horizon, so Baldelli didn't have to think about much other than baseball and hanging out with his friends.

The outfielder had gone into his senior season as a draft prospect, but he didn't expect to be drafted high enough to forgo a scholarship offer from Wake Forest and turn pro right away. As his senior season progressed, though, he became aware he'd started to climb up draft boards. By the time draft day arrived, he was well aware he'd go pretty early in the first round.

Still, though, he wasn't following along when the draft began. There wasn't any way to follow along.

"I didn't follow it at all, to be honest with you," he said. "There was definitely no TV -- the most it probably was at the time was that the top five picks probably scrolled across on the "Bottom Line" on TV. That was probably the most we were going to get."

While he was still hanging out at his buddy's house, he got a call with a hint that the Devil Rays, picking No. 6 overall, were planning to draft him if he still was available. It wasn't until he got to Bishop Hendricken for his team's game, though, that he was notified by local reporters that he'd officially been picked.

He and Bishop Hendricken then went on to win their fourth straight Rhode Island state baseball title.

2004: Dustin Pedroia
Pedroia's junior season at Arizona State had come to an abrupt end at the hands of Cal State-Fullerton two days earlier; the then-shortstop had gone 0-for-3 with a walk as the Sun Devils bowed out before even reaching the Super Regional stage. (Arizona State was the top seed in the regional and No. 7 seed overall but had to travel to Fullerton, Calif., for the regional. Don't think that didn't grate on Pedroia.)

Pedroia had hardly given any thought to the draft. He was still too upset about the defeat. Just like the year before, his Sun Devils had been beaten by Cal State-Fullerton short of the College World Series.

Unlike the players at the very top of the board, players who had a pretty good idea who might draft them, Pedroia had no idea. He'd had almost no contact with the Red Sox, and he'd done little homework on the other players with whom he was competing.

"There's so many players, you know what I mean?" he said. "There's so many players and so many picks. You can't wrap up in, 'Oh, this guy's picking here,' and 'That guy's still out there.' There's so many players -- and you don't even know the high school players. There's a ton of them. Anything can happen in the draft, and that's why it's fun."

Still, though, he and a couple of teammates gathered in the office of Arizona State coach Pat Murphy to follow the draft. Pedroia had reasonable expectations of being drafted in the first round, but it wasn't until after the 64th pick that the phone rang. It was the Red Sox. "Like two seconds later," Pedroia said, they called his name to make it official.

2006: Daniel Bard
Bard's first draft party did not go well.

The 6-foot-4 righty was a highly touted prospect as a senior pitcher at Charlotte (N.C.) Christian High School, and he had 10 high school friends over at his house to follow the draft. Based on talent, he had a shot to be drafted in the first couple of rounds -- but his commitment to pitch at North Carolina ended up dissuading far more teams than he expected.

"I didn't go until the 20th round," he said with a chuckle, "so the party didn't last long."

Three years later, there were no worries about him sliding to the 20th round. He'd had a few conversations with teams that were drafting at the top of the first round, in fact, and he fully expected to hear his name called early. He and his family went to a restaurant in Chapel Hill, N.C., and set up a laptop on a table in a quiet corner to wait for his name to be called.

But then he started to slide again.

The online ticker and audio broadcast weren't quite synced -- "The audio was way behind the ticker," he said -- and that made the draft difficult to follow. Either way, though, the first 10 teams all passed on Bard. So, too, did the next 10 teams. All of a sudden, there was a long line of teams set to pick who'd had very little contact with Bard just because they never expected him to last beyond No. 15 or 20 overall.

The Red Sox had met in the fall with Bard and North Carolina teammate Andrew Miller -- Miller was drafted at No. 6 overall by Detroit and now pitches for the Florida Marlins -- almost as a formality. Both pitchers filled out a questionnaire, but that was it.

The first time Bard's phone rang, it was an old coach who was working as a scout for St. Louis. The Cardinals had the No. 30 pick, and the scout wanted to know if Bard would sign for "slot" -- the bonus recommended by the commissioner's office recommended for each draft pick -- if he lasted until No. 30 and the Cardinals drafted him.

"Um, man, I can't really give you a definite answer on that," Bard said.

Before Bard could even finish his sentence, though, the scout cut him off.

"Whoops, sorry -- congratulations, man," he said -- and hung up.

"Congratulations for what?" Bard said, but he already was speaking to emptiness.

"I didn't know what he was saying, 'Congratulations,' for," the rookie relief pitcher said this weekend. "I looked and they were on, like, pick 18. I didn't end up going until 28, so that's how behind our (computer) was."

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