Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Keep Running Up That Hill

The line between being a professional who is doing his job and being a self loathing stalker like creature is dangerously thin in this industry. Every year that I have held this job I have scouted kids younger and younger each subsequent year. The first year I started at worst I would only have to look at high school seniors. Then over time I started scouting juniors then sophomores and now I have to look at high school freshman. High school freshman get looked at by scouts and agents. I half expect to see Chris Hanson every time I show up at a game these days. I pray baseball doesn’t go the route of college football because I don’t even know what I would do if I had to start scouting little league games. I honestly cant envision a time where I would be comfortable going into a families home somewhere in middle america and pulling a Nick Nolte in Blue Chips, having to answer if I am a southern baptist or northern baptist. Over the last 10 years that’s where this business has gone. We’re scouting children for financial gain. Speaking of Blue Chips, Ive always had one major qualm with that movie which is amazing because I‘m pretty sure if I watched it again I‘d probably find a 1,000 more. This one issue has baffled me the last 16 years since the film was released so much so that I completely am blind to anything else that was wrong in the movie. The casting director found Penny Hardaway and Shaq to play two fictional basketball recruits in the film named Butch McRae and Neon Boudeaux. However when we finally get to see the token white recruit, who of course was a three point specialist, the role was played by an actor. They literally could not find one white NBA player to play Ricky Roe. Not one! Not Tom Gugliotta, not Adam Keefe, not Rex Chapman, not even the most obvious pick Christian Laettner. Evidently the crew could not find a white NBA player with the acting chops to keep up with the epic performances of Shaq and Penny.
The business of scouting has gotten more ugly the last 10 years and it’s gotten that way thanks to coaches, colleges, scouts and agents. Kids play year round now and it’s alarming to me that many of the kids lose out on a great deal of their childhood because of the demands of their baseball schedules. College and pro teams all try to do their homework on these kids years in advance trying to gain a competitive edge while many established agents have been forced into earlier recruiting in hopes of trying to curtail something very dangerous I have noticed in the last few years. Ive seen people trying to get into this industry do anything in the world to try and land a client and the worst trend Ive seen is underclassman retain an advisor even as young as 14 years old. Retaining an advisor is obviously a personal choice and one can choose to get one at whatever point in time the family decides they need help but there is absolutely no good reason a freshman in high school should ever be talking to an advisor. Hiring an advisor as a freshman in high school in a one way street and I wish more than anything teams did not put families in a position where the feel like they need to start the process sooner than they have to. There are good parts however to scouting while you’re an agent.
One thing I have learned in this business is that you never close the book on any player ever while you’re scouting. If you’re at a game to see a certain player you cant just focus on that player. I discovered two of my higher profile clients completely by accident. I went to Florida State University from December of 2001 to May 2006. FSU is located in Tallahassee, Florida which is vastly different from Fort Lauderdale where I grew up. Tallahassee may be in Florida but it’s more like south Georgia than anything. Tallahassee has a community college which was located two blocks from my apartment where I lived while I was in school. The first time I ever went to TCC before I became an agent full time I had the pleasure of watching Chipola CC in 2002. I had the opportunity to watching Adam Loewen who had a ton of buzz because of the amount of money he turned down that June. I also got to watch their lesser known third baseman by the name of Russell Martin. Watching that game opened my eyes to something I was totally unaware of at the time which was the viable professional prospects could be found a the junior college level.
A few years later I went back to TCC to scout players for my agency which was still very much in its infancy. I did whatever internet research I could ahead of time and discovered there were several draft and follow players at the school and at Chipola CC, whom TCC was playing that day. I specifically went to the game to scout Michael Saunders who is now in the major leagues for the Seattle Mariners. I never got the chance to talk to him that day because I was enamored by the centerfielders on both clubs. Lorenzo Cain and Darren Ford. Both Darren and Lorenzo were drafted by the Brewers the previous year and were draft and follow prospects for the 2005 season. Since both players were drafted in the middle rounds I figured neither was represented and I thought it would behoove me to make contact with them.
Starting out in this business, professionalism is something that I had a problem with. It wasn’t because I had a lack of respect for the game or the people involved in the game, it was because I had no idea what the hell it was that I was doing. I was still in college and I was working with my father trying to get our company off the ground. I would literally go to class then head to the games dressed in street clothes and unfortunately for me the street clothes didn’t exactly scream “agent”. It’s honestly a miracle any player would talk to me when I got started much less hire me. The day I met Lorenzo and Darren I was wearing dirty jeans that were completely torn at the heels and a Nirvana T-shirt. I looked more like a classmate than someone who could assist in these young mens careers. After the game I approached Darren first because being on the visiting team I figured he didn’t have much time to stick around after the game before catching the team bus. I introduced myself to him gave him a business card and all he kept saying to me was “Call my mom, I have nothing to do with this”. That wasn’t real encouraging not to mention he was pretty much laughing at me the entire time. I figured that was the end of that situation and I soon made my way to the TCC clubhouse. I waited for Lorenzo for a good hour before he came out. I introduced myself gave him the same talk I gave Darren an hour earlier and then presented him with my business card. I will never forget the look on Lorenzo had on his face the entire time I was talking with him. It was the ,Where’s Ashton look. I am fairly certain to this day Lorenzo thought he was being punk’d by a teammate.
One day about a month after I met both players I get a phone call from an unfamiliar area code. I answered and the first thing I hear was “What do you want to do with my baby!” It was the voice of a woman whom I have grown quite close with over the years. It was Darrens mother Carla. I spoke to her for an hour and assured her I had nothing but the best intentions at heart when I contacted her son. I stayed in touch with Mrs. Ford for months until I finally got the good news that I was hired. Same situation happened with Lorenzo. I stayed in touch with Lorenzo and his mother until I finally got the good news that I was hired. And that’s what happens in this business. I went to a single baseball game to see a player that I didn’t even get a chance to talk to and over time I was hired by two players that I now consider to be a part of my family. I have no idea what my life would be like if I didn’t have both Darren and Lorenzo in my life not only as clients but as my friends. Darren and Lorenzo were the first two players to hire me out of college (I had signed several minor league players at that point in time) and now they’re both on their teams 40 man rosters. It is such a rewarding experience being there the entire journey that starts in college and with a bit of luck and determination ends in the major leagues.
The second story I have about accidentally finding a player also happened at TCC and it all came from that first game I attended there. A major league team had a predraft workout at TCC that May and I wanted to go to see what something like that was like. While there my father and I were sitting behind home plate next to a woman whose son was invited to the workout. We sat next to this woman totally by chance, we just wanted someone to talk to while we watched the workout. This woman told us all about her son and how his father was a former major leaguer. As an agent, when you hear a player has a parent who played in the major leagues you automatically assume that the family already has an advisor or agent taking care of the situation. I learned quickly that this wasn’t the case for this player and his family. So after the workout I told my father to give this woman our business card. He initially resisted but I told him Id kill him if he didn’t. Finally dad relented and told the woman ‘Even though you probably don’t need this, my son said he’d kill me if I didn’t give you my card” The player and his mother were polite as can be and when it was over they told us they appreciated the card and that we’d be in touch. That player was Michael Brantley
That June the draft came and went and we went about our business as usual. We had Darren Ford and Lorenzo Cain both part of the Brewers organization playing in their minor league system. By some act of god, Michael was also drafted by the Brewers. Because Michael was drafted by the Brewers and was playing with Darren and Lorenzo we were able to stay in touch with him over the years. As expected, Michael did not hire an agent and was being taken care of professionally by his parents so in his mind he had no use for my services. Even though Michael didn’t want to hire me it didn’t impair the friendship I had with him. After Michaels third season I finally got the call I had been hoping for. I had two meetings set up, one with Michael and his mother and one with Michael and his father. Both meetings went well and about a week later I was officially hired.
I will say one thing about the meeting with Mickey Brantley. I was beyond nervous about meeting with a former major leaguer about representing his only son and I was pretty sure my age would work as a disadvantage in this case in addition to being relatively new to the industry. The only concern Mickey had about hiring me was the fact that I represented Darren Ford and Lorenzo Cain, the two people largely responsible for allowing me to stay in contact with Michael in the first place. Mickey felt that I had a huge conflict of interest and it wouldn’t be in Michaels best interest to have an agent who represented his competition. When Mickey asked me how I would deal with that situation I assured him that the conflict was minimal at best, that Michael would likely move to a corner OF position, and that there was always the chance someone could get traded. Thankfully Darren and Michael were traded the next season and my conflict of interest was alleviated. I now represent three centerfield prospects for three different teams.
So one baseball game changed the course of my entire life. Because I went to scout Michael Saunders at TCC in January of 2005 I signed Michael Brantley, Lorenzo Cain and Darren Ford. I have been there from the beginning for all three players and now I get the ultimate reward of seeing them live their dreams up close and personal. Michael has a chance to be the opening day left fielder for the Cleveland Indians this year while Darren and Lorenzo both will likely make their MLB debuts sometime in 2010. I have lived up to every promise I have made to all three of these men and in return they have stuck with and my father the entire time. The ultimate reward for all the hard work I have done is knowing that I have made a difference and have had a positive impact in the lives of my clients. They aren’t just clients to me. These guys are my family. I know it’s a business and while some agents prefer to set professional boundaries I will never close myself off to any of my clients. They all know me from top to bottom. They know my strengths and they know my faults, I give them my heart and soul and the only thing I ask in return is that they do everything in their powers to take advantage of this tremendous opportunity to play baseball.

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