A Pro Scout at a 13-Year-Old Tournament
Would you expect to see a professional baseball scout at a 13-year-old summer baseball tournament? That seems to be the direction baseball is heading. Take the case of Luke Alexander, an infielder on the current Mississippi State roster. He committed to the Bulldogs in 2011 and graduated from Belmont Hight School in 2015. Isolated case? Consider DeSoto Central phenom Blaze Jordan (And with a name like what why shouldn’t he be?), who committed to Mississippi State as a 13-year-old eighth grader earlier this year.
In Coach Dave Season Four, the Scarlet Knight dads learn of a professional scout attending the games of rival Coach Fletcher Brandt’s Elite Baseball Academy Yankees. The Yankees are talented, but–come on–they’re thirteen years old, for crying out loud. Their conversation about the scout is one I am beginning to hear more and more at different ballparks. Is it good for baseball? Read this excerpt from the book and join the discussion.
Talk of a Scout at Foodstuff
I met Rooster, Dean, and Charlie at the Foodstuff grocery store to prepare for the next Manhood Academy campout. With an off week before the big Fourth of July tournament in Center City, we were seizing the opportunity to cover another manhood principle and enjoy some father-son time with no baseball involved. Rooster had covered the first two principles with Hunter after practice and between tournament games, but this would be Hunter’s first outing with the whole team.
“All right, who’s the food expert?” Charlie asked. “I’ll have to admit, my wife has done all of our grocery shopping for years. She even takes care of the food for most of our church events.”
All eyes turned to Rooster. “I can find my way around. Let’s go.”
Running into a Friend at Foodstuff
We started in the meat section. We were loading the grocery cart with steaks and pork tenderloin when a familiar voice called out, “Well, if it ain’t the brain trust of the Southburg Scarlet Knights.”
“Gene Henderson!” Dean hailed. When we had shaken hands all around, Dean asked, “How’s Billy enjoying his summer?”
“He misses the guys from the middle school team, but this summer has been really good for him. When you play for Fletcher, you know you’re not going to have a lot of free time, but so far he has delivered on his promises.”
“What did he promise?” Rooster asked.
“That Billy would hit in the middle of the lineup and that Fletcher would get the boys seen by college coaches. Fletcher found a little hitch in Billy’s swing, and he’s been tearing the cover off the ball so far this summer. I don’t know if you guys have looked ahead to the potential of the high school team when all of our boys are playing together…”
We laughed. “Many times,” I said. “So much that it’s hard to stay in the present sometimes.”
“Yeah, well, Fletcher is a really good coach, and Billy’s not the only one from Southburg who has gotten better. Jesse Winfield has always been a good fielder, but he’s starting to hit better than he ever has before. And L’Marcus Meeks—he’s going to be tough to cut again, even on the middle school team.”
“I think Coach Dave sees that,” Dean said. “He has been expanding Reggie’s role so that he can play third base. David Wayne already pitches and plays third, so there may be room for three catchers next year. They just won’t get as much time behind the plate.”
“Heard your boys have been in the weight room.”
“Yeah, Tyrell’s been working with them. Strength and flexibility. We’ve started seeing a little difference, mostly in their ability to get the bats around on some of the better fastballs that they’re seeing now.”
How’s Your Team Doing?
“You guys won the little tournament in Hamilton?”
“Just seven teams but good competition,” Dean said.
“We won a big sixteen-team tournament this weekend, even without your newest player.”
“Yeah, heard you guys were playing in a big out-of-town tournament. Congratulations.”
“Say, how did Hunter so this weekend? That’s a bad deal with his mom and dad. He had been struggling the last tournament or two—at least in the field.”
“Knocked the cover off the ball,” Rooster beamed. “Hit a three-run bomb in the championship game off the tall lefty from the Venom. Not sure it has landed yet.”
Gene looked a bit surprised. “We’ve seen that guy. He’s probably the best we’ve faced so far.”
“Well, maybe we can do something about that in Center City in a couple of weeks,” Rooster replied, elbowing Dean. “We’ve got a certain right-hander that I would take over that guy.”
“We’ve got a lights-out righty ourselves,” Gene said, referring to Keith Rankin from Harrisville, a hard thrower that we had seen in school ball. “Hope they get a chance to match up.”
After a moment of awkward silence, Gene asked, “So what’s with all the meat?”
“Kind of a father-son campout this weekend,” Dean answered.
“Cool. We’re down south again this weekend. Gotta size up the competition down there before the state tournament, you know. You guys have a good time. It was good to see you.”
Wait, One More Thing
We shook hands again, and Gene began to walk away. Rooster couldn’t help a subtle jab. “Hey, Gene, how’s that whole college scout thing working out?”
Gene turned and walked back to the meat cooler. “Honestly, I thought that was just Fletcher being Fletcher. I mean, every once in a while, you hear about some middle school kid committing to a big school, but, really, college coaches have more to worry about than how some Triple-A thirteen-year-old player is doing. All that said, I’ve gotta say Fletcher has come through even bigger than he promised.”
“I hadn’t seen any college coaches at our games—well, unless you count when we were playing a team with some college coach’s kid on the other team. There have been a few of those, and I wouldn’t put it past Fletcher to count those as our kids being seen. But that changed last weekend.
“I noticed the guy because I was standing down the line in right field.” Gene stopped and grinned. “Old habit I picked up back in middle school ball. Anyway, Billy plays right field most games, so I just kind of hang out by myself down there. A couple of weeks ago at a tournament in Haleyville, I noticed this guy hanging out behind the fence, writing in a notebook. My first thought was that he was south state’s version of Fletcher Brandt, and I didn’t pay him much attention.
“Saturday morning, this same guy was out there again. Because it was daylight, I could tell that he was wearing Dodgers gear. Like, a really official-looking Los Angeles Dodgers shirt, one you don’t see in a sporting goods store. I looked into all the teams that were in this tournament, and there wasn’t a single Dodgers team in any age group. I even looked on the website at all the Triple-A and major teams in the state. Not a single Dodgers team.”
Rooster’s curiosity was about to get the best of him. “Did you talk to him? I would have gone straight up to him and asked him what he was doing there.”
“Of course you would have, Rooster,” Gene laughed.
Rooster’s face flushed. “Okay, but why was he there?”
“I never talked to him. I could tell he didn’t really want to get too close and have to talk to anybody. The last thing I want to do is ruin my kid’s reputation by getting in a scout’s business.”
“What do you mean, your kid’s reputation?”
“I think he was there watching Billy.”
“Well, he was always standing behind the right-field fence, and I never saw him at any of the other games except ours. Billy had a really good weekend at the plate, too. I didn’t want to seem pushy and ask Fletcher about this guy, but why else would he be at just our games and always right behind Billy?”
Why Else But to Watch Billy?
“So did he ever talk to Billy or Fletcher?”
“Not unless he talked to Fletcher on the phone. He always showed up right at the beginning of the game, came straight in from the parking lot to his spot behind the fence, and always left while the teams were shaking hands after the game. By the third game of the weekend, when I hadn’t seen him at any of the other games, I walked out to the parking lot between innings to do a little reconnaissance.”
“A little what?” Rooster wanted to know.
“Did you find out anything?”
“Not far from where the guy walked in was a car with California tags. It had a Dodgers sticker on the back glass, so I figured that had to be his car.”
“Not really, just that he came to every one of our games. We played six from Friday night through Sunday night, and he was at every single game, always standing behind the right field fence and usually taking notes. We never left the park between our first game Sunday morning and the championship game Sunday night, and I never saw this guy at any other game but ours. He had to be watching Billy, wouldn’t you think?”
“I don’t know,” a couple of us mumbled, trying to sort through the information about the mysterious scout.
“I’ll tell you this: If that scout was there to watch my son play in a thirteen-year-old tournament, that will cause Coach Fletcher Brandt’s credibility to explode in my mind. Well, I gotta go. See you guys in Center City.”
“Whaddya make o’ that?” Rooster asked as soon Gene rounded the corner by the saltine display.
Experience with Scouts
“You guys have more experience with scouts than we do,” I said, turning to Charlie and Dean. “Have you ever known one to act like that?”
“My experience is pretty limited,” Charlie said. “We talked to a few scouts before Bobby got sick the first time. When he missed his junior year and came back as a senior, we saw a couple of them at tournaments, and they asked about him. They were more interested in his story by that point, though, because no team is going to draft a kid with leukemia, even if it’s in remission. After Bobby died, we actually got a card from one scout. He went through the usual ‘sorry for your loss’ and then told us that if we ever got to wondering how far Bobby could have gone if he hadn’t gotten sick, he just wanted us to know that he thought he had the physical skills to be a really good college player but that he had the mental make-up to be a Hall of Famer. I know those were just words on a card, but he didn’t have to do that. We really appreciated it.”
“Scouts can be pretty strange birds,” Dean said. “When I was getting looked at in high school, they would kind of lurk around the fringes at first, showing up at the big tournaments where they could have been looking at any number of players. When they started talking to my family and me, they opened up a little bit about their interest. Even then, though, they played it pretty close to the vest. There are just so many things that go into drafting players and so many people involved in the process that they can’t show too much interest until a lot of other folks on up the chain sign off on it. But to answer your question, Brad, I have never heard of a scout doing what Gene said this guy did.”
“Didn’t think so,” I said. “Be interesting to see if he shows up again. If we see him, at least we’ll know what his deal is.”
“How’s that?” Charlie asked.
“Because Rooster will go up to him and ask.”
Al Ainsworth is the author of six books: