Like fishermen talking about the whopper that got away, every scout has a story of the hot-shot player they saw way back when.
For Lou Laslo, that player was a high school kid from Kalamazoo, Mich.
“I saw him between his junior and senior years in high school, and he was playing in a Connie Mack tournament in Battle Creek, Mich.,” Laslo recalled. “When he was taking infield he made his throws from the edge of the outfield grass - what an arm! His make-up was outstanding, and his parents were outstanding. He was just a great kid.
“I was with Milwaukee at the time, and I spent the last week of his senior season watching every game he played. We were going to draft him, but the Yankees had the pick right before us and they were the ones that drafted Derek Jeter.”
For Mike Trbovich, finding that special player happened strictly by accident.
“It was 17 or 18 years ago, and I was driving home from Columbus. When I drove down on (State Rt.) 23 in the morning the road was opened; but when I came back at about 1 o'clock they already were putting construction saw-horses there to start road construction.
“So I followed a detour sign, and then I didn't know where I was. I ended up in a little town called Radnor, Ohio, and I was going west for three or four miles, but all I saw were cornfields. All of a sudden, clear back beyond the cornfield, is an opening and a space where there's a ball game going on. I thought, `Let's stop for a minute and see what's going on.' So I pulled in and walked behind the backstop.
“The pitcher for one of the teams let a couple of guys reach base, so his manager called in this big kid from shortstop. He starts taking his warm-up pitches, and all of a sudden I see the ball explode the last 10 or 12 feet.
“I look at this farmer, mid-60s and tanned from working in the fields, and I asked him, `Hey, do you know who that is?' And the farmer looked at me, all indignant, and says, `You don't know who that is?' When I said no, he said, `That's Timmy Belcher.' I got to see him pitch, turned his name in, and a few years later he ended up being the No. 1 draft choice in the whole United States of America (by the Twins in 1983).”
For Anup Sinha, projecting success for a player most scouts thought would fail was his favorite scouting memory.
“In 1993 I spent the summer scouting the Cape Cod League (a top-flight amateur league based in New England). There was this shortstop at Orleans who I really liked, but he was a skinny kid who didn't hit for power. He was a sophomore (at Georgia Tech) and I liked him, so I gave his name to our regional cross-checker.
“Our cross-checker watched him play shortstop and said he didn't have good enough hands and had a long release on his throws, meaning he wouldn't be able to play shortstop. And he wouldn't hit enough to play in the outfield, so he said he wouldn't have taken him in the first 10 rounds of the draft.
“That player was Nomar Garciaparra.”
Laslo laughed when asked if the great players knew the scouts were watching.
“I watched Alex Rodriguez play in a tournament in Euclid, Ohio. It was myself and scout from Toronto, and we wanted to get his time (running) from home plate to first base.
“The first time after he ran to first, a batboy came to us and asked, `How did he do?' And we said, `Not good enough.'
“So the next time Alex ran to first he had an outstanding time. The batboy came out and said, `How did he do?' And we said, `That's better.'
“After the batboy went back to the dugout and told him, Alex just smiled and waved to us.”
- JOHN WAGNER