I'm a sucker for a free ticket, especially to anything baseball-related. As noted celebrity dancer and running back Emmitt Smith was fond of saying, "If it's free, give me three". So naturally, I spent Thursday afternoon at The Milk House at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida for day one of the 2008 MLB Draft. No admission fee, not even a charge to park the car. The Milk House is normally used for basketball games and gymnastics and cheerleading events, but on this day, it was turned into a full-fledged nerve center for the best brains in baseball. Oh, and Steve Phillips was there as well.
My journalistic clout did me no good when it came to credentials. I'd phoned in my scheduled arrival to the Disney folks, but had somehow forgotten to get the expressed written consent of Major League Baseball. My newly printed business cards (thanks again, Mike), proclaiming me "Southeast Correspondent" for Mike's Mets, were of no avail. But all that meant was that I spent the day with the real fans, in the cheap seats looking down on the draft, instead of in the press area at the back of the room. As it happened, the view ended up being much better, and the "no autographs" admonition printed on the press credentials no longer applied to this reporter/fan.
The crowd was top-heavy with Rays fans, thanks to their close proximity (less than an hour from Tampa), their #1 pick in the draft, and their recent success in the AL East. Red Sox and Yankee fans were also well-represented, though I spotted only a few Mets caps and jerseys in the crowd. The goodie bags they gave out to the fans included an MLB.com t-shirt, a 2008 Draft ball cap, a selection guide, a copy of Baseball America, and a Baby Ruth bar, as well as a raffle ticket for a door prize and an autograph card.
Before the actual first round began, there was a mock draft to honor several Negro League players who never got the opportunity to play in the major leagues. The Mets' "pick", Robert Scott, pitched for the New York Black Yankees and the Memphis Red Sox. The Yankees' pick was the most intriguing: Emilio "Millito" Navarro, a tiny, spry Cuban infielder, who was reported to be ready to fill in the next time A-Rod hits the disabled list, despite his tender age of 102. Navarro is the oldest former professional baseball player alive today, but was more mobile and nimble than many other draftees, some in their 80's.
Unlike the NFL and NBA drafts, the players selected on Thursday were household names only to those few hardcore baseball draft enthusiasts. The only names I knew in the selection guide were Cutter Dykstra, Lenny's kid, and Jemile Weeks, Rickey's little brother. The Mets' first pick, the 18th overall, was granted to them thanks to the off-season return of Tom Gl@v!ne to the Braves. They chose Isaac Davis from Arizona State, who turned out to be someone's kid as well - former Yankee reliever Ron Davis. Isaac is a lefty first baseman/corner outfielder who can also pitch, and was described as a "solid base runner", though not a speedster.
Four picks later, the Mets tabbed David Havens, a shortstop from the U of South Carolina who bats lefthanded but throws righthanded. This fit with the Mets' "best available athlete" approach to the draft, since the Mets seem to be solid at shortstop for the next several years, Lord and hamstrings willing. Havens' second position, third base, is also a fairly strong spot for the franchise. Havens should probably be ready to slide over to second base as he works his way through the minors, since he'll be ready for prime time right around the time Luis Castillo's contract expires.
With the 33rd overall pick, in the sandwich round (thanks again, Gl@v!ne), the Mets chose Bradley Holt, a right-handed pitcher from UNC-Wilmington. I don't have a clue whether any of these players will make any impact in the near future. My only consolation in that fact is that most GM's and scouting directors could say the same thing. After all, the following active players weren't drafted until after the 20th round of their draft: Jason Bay, Andy Pettitte, and John Smoltz (22nd), Roy Oswalt (23rd), Jorge Posada (24th), Paul LoDuca (25th), Travis Hafner (31st), and Kenny Rogers (39th). That means EVERY team in baseball passed on these guys more than twenty times. Conversely, the following players were number ONE overall picks in their draft: Matt Anderson, Paul Wilson, Brien Taylor, Shawn Abner, David Clyde, and, of course, Steve Chilcott. It's a monumental crapshoot. I noticed that last list of #1 busts had way too many Mets for my taste.
One nice touch for the fans was the series of autograph sessions set up in the concourse of the Milk House. I was fortunate enough to choose the first session, and got autographs from Hall-of-Famer Al Kaline and Willie Horton of the Tigers, batting champ Ralph Garr of the Braves, Luis Tiant of the Red Sox (and Yankees, I guess), and Harold Reynolds, formerly of ESPN before saying some stupid things on and off the air. Later sessions included such luminaries as Enos Cabell, J.T. Snow, and Mark McLemore. I believe I chose wisely.
In truth, being there live at the draft was not as enthralling as it would seem. I heard the phrase "watching paint dry" several times in the five-minute intervals between Bud Selig's appearances at the podium. But I wanted to hang in there for the Mets' picks, as well as the remote chance that my raffle ticket for an MLB jersey would be called. I was rewarded for that patience. Kind of.
Note to MLB: in the future, you might want to give fans a first-come, first-serve choice of which team's jersey they get to bring home if their raffle ticket is called. Instead, they pulled numbers out of the hopper having already determined which team's jersey would be awarded. I know if they did it the way I suggested, most fans would have no incentive to stay for the last few hours of the broadcast if their team's draft pick and jersey had both come and gone. But at least they'd have a few dozen fans who got exactly what they wanted.
Instead, they got NostraDennis, proudly wearing his Mets cap, being ushered right past Tim Teufel and Al Jackson at the Mets' table without so much as a wave and a smile. What did I get for my patience and faithfulness? A brand new, authentic jersey, autographed by perfect-game pitcher Dennis Martinez, who shook my hand to boot.
A St. Louis Cardinals jersey.
I'm taking requests as to what would be the most appropriate final destination of this jersey. eBay seems too good for it. Should I maybe slide it under some wet cement in Citi Field when I visit Shea next month? Any other ideas? Anyone? Anyone?