Friday, June 06, 2014

Draft Night For Baseball

I'm not normally a draftnik kind of guy. I think the fact that Mel Kiper Jr. has made a career out of being a "draft guru" is a sign that our civilization is doomed. I think middle-aged men making a bunch of athletic 22 year olds stand around in their skivvies while their measurables get read out is deeply creepy. I think the fact that we have turned roll calls and glorified bingo (in the case of the NBA lottery) into television "events" is a sad, sad thing, especially in a world where your average Community episode had more crew members than viewers.

That being said, I watched a good chunk of the MLB first year player draft tonight. The telecast was largely crisp, the analysis of the players was largely free of Harold Reynolds, and the pace was good - four minutes or so between first round picks, one minute per pick thereafter. Once the first round ended and Bud Selig stepped away from the mike, teams started sending up former players to announce their picks, leading to some great intentional comedy - cue the mighty Ferguson Jenkins of the Cubs - and some great unintentional comedy as well. 

But really, the night was about the kids. The kids who were at the studio, the kids who were at home with their families, the kids who'd done pre-recorded segments talking about their families, their heroes, you name it. And for those kids, even the ones picked a little lower than they'd hoped (caveat: this was one seriously wacky draft, and it wasn't even the Cubs' fault this time), these were moments of pure joy. Watching shortstop prospect Jacob Gatewood trying, with shaking fingers, to button up the Brewers jersey he'd just been given by slugger Greg Vaughn. Watching St. Louis draftee Luke Weaver pull a stained glass cardinal out from somewhere and wave it at the camera as family and friends erupted around him. Watching Twins pick Nick Gordon talk about how it was a dream come true, and believing him.

Not all of these kids will make the show. Some will flame out in the minors, their flaws exposed, their promise overwhelmed by their inability to throw strikes or lay off the low outside pitch or pick up a decent breaking ball. Some will simply break down, through the wear and tear of baseball itself, or through accidents, or through random moments that no one could have foreseen. Some will get their cup of coffee; very few will become the stars that today they all know they can be. It's the math, the elegant, brutal, irreducible math of baseball that says if you draft 40 rounds' worth of kids every year and you've only got 25 roster slots on your big league club, most of those guys are going to fall by the wayside. 

But that's for tomorrow, or next year, or five years down the road, when a minor league manager calls a young man who's not quite so young any more into his office and tells him the team's decided to move in a different direction. Tonight was about joy. And tonight, at least, they are all all-stars, and for now, that's all that matters.
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