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May 24, 2011

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

A Day in the Life: The Road to Wilmington

by Jason Parks

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Standing at 6-foot-2 and weighing close to 185 pounds, Royals prospect Jake Odorizzi is almost my preferred cup of coffee. (As you might recall, I tend to like my young pitchers in the 6-foot-3, 190-pound range. It’s just my scene, man.) Acquired in the “Really? That’s all you got for Zach Greinke?” trade, Odorizzi was widely considered to be the top prospect in the Brewers organization, but like his contemporaries in the deal, lacked the Pavlovian punch to water the national mouth. As someone who has been watching Odorizzi since his 2008 complex league campaign, I can proudly stand before you and say that my mouth was already fully salivated. Wait, that sounds bad.

With an athletic build, a deep present arsenal, and some additional projection in the tank, Odorizzi could end up the hidden prize of the Greinke haul. However, it should be said that despite being a fantastic prospect now and future projection, Odorizzi’s ceiling is probably only that of a solid third starter at the major-league level. But that’s OK, right? Quality third starters are valuable creatures. They are the Honda Accords of a rotation.

I’m trying to keep my eyes open as I watch the 21-year-old right-hander stroll to the mound to deliver the opening salvo of the game. It’s about 6:10 p.m. on May 21, 2011. My eyes are heavy thanks to a Friday spent drinking fine spirits and eating my weight in Arancini di Riso, which exhausted me and embarrassed others. It’s a first-pitch strike from Odorizzi, 89 mph on the outside corner to Rangers center fielder Jared Hoying. I’d kill a close family member for a hot shower, something to eat, and a firm mattress with clean sheets. I’m really into clean linens. A 91 mph fastball, called a ball. It looked close. I think.

Baby I've got metal knees ooh.
Lady I'm a beggin' of you please

It’s Saturday at 11:30 a.m., and I’m about to navigate my way from my apartment in Brooklyn to Herald Square, which is a location in Manhattan where sanity goes to hang itself. On the menu today is a bus ride to Wilmington, Delaware, where I’m scheduled to watch RHP Jake Odorizzi (Royals) vs. RHP Wilfredo Boscan (Rangers) in a Carolina League battle between a team from the Carolinas and a team in the Carolina League that plays in Delaware. A 10-hour bus ride separates the affiliates. Good times.

It’s a hot day, and I find myself waiting outside of Macy’s sprawling department store (I’d say “iconic” department store, but it’s the 21st century and nobody really cares), which happens to be Wilmington bus’ pickup spot. The exact location is 34th between Seventh and Broadway. My ticket costs $20. My desire to board this bus, travel to Delaware, scout the weekend series, and document those scouting experiences is at an all-time low. I mainlined a 12-ounce iced coffee while on the L Train to Manhattan. I haven’t eaten. I’m not going to panic, but I feel like panic is possible.

Here’s where my adventure gets its legs. I spot an attractive perceived-to-be-single female wearing a Brooklyn Cyclones hat, which immediately tickles my fancy because, (1) I’ve never seen an attractive perceived-to-be-single female wear one, (2) I enjoy scouting the New York-Penn League, and I make the trek to Coney Island to see the Cyclones on a regular basis, and (3) because she too looks like she is about to have a major panic attack. Our eyes introduce themselves.

12:45 p.m. The bus is late. The loyal proletarian gatherers remain gathered on the sidewalk in front of one of the many entrances to Macy’s. It’s getting warmer outside. Tensions are high. Voices are escalating in volume and intensity. Rapture is real and about to show its face.

To break the ice and perhaps prevent an anxiety disorder from manifesting and giving the world a free show, I casually saunter over to Cyclones Girl and introduce myself. She looks both relieved and terrified, which isn’t an uncommon reaction given the fact that I look like a safe yet slightly unbalanced person. We exchange names and facial tics. I asked her what she was listening to on her iPod. This is how I judge people.

After pondering the legitimacy of my approach for a few seconds, Cyclones Girl stated that she was listening to Elliott Smith. The pitcher gets his sign, comes set, tips the pitch, and leaves the ball over the outer half of the plate. “You?” Because I was holding pocket aces, I didn’t need to fumble around trying to think of something effectual to play with her mopey musical choice. “‘Raw Ramp’ by T. Rex.” As the slightly worried look on her face quickly transformed into a toothy smile, she remarked, “Oh man, I love T. Rex. Marc Bolan is [sic] amazing.” I know this.

The bus finally arrives and my fellow humans devolve, forming three separate queues, each line thinking they represent the singular path to priority seating. Just when I want to give mankind a chance, this reality reminds me why I like drinking alone. Not that I’m tenderhearted, because I’m clearly indifferent most of the time, but I lose the stability of my new relationship with Cyclones Girl when I allow a few old women with obvious physical impediments to take the line in front of me. In a scene reminiscent of a bad movie, I see Cyclones Girl board the bus ahead of me, take a high-value window seat, make eye contact with me, as if to say, “Hey, I know we just met, and even though you are clearly hung over and possibly a little too confident for your own good, I’d like for you to sit beside me for the next two-and-a-half hours. You can make me laugh with your clever wit, and once I find out about your baseball interests, we will probably blow off our individual plans to spend a casual weekend in Delaware appreciating each other’s attractiveness,” and then go back to her iPod as if my altruistic act and my playful smile weren’t worthy of a saved seat. Whatever. Good thing I told her my name was Kevin Goldstein.

I get an aisle seat near the back of the bus, with a larger-than-average woman to my immediate left. She is already eating and breathing like she is already full from eating. Cyclones Girl looks like she’s having a great time at the window on row three. Her seat partner is at least 30 years her senior, but he looks pretty cool. Good for them. I hope he can speak in nauseating detail about Odorizzi’s overall future potential or Marc Bolan’s 70-grade bone structure/song-writing combo.

I quickly realize that this bus is a Department of Motor Vehicles on wheels. The air is filled with the aroma of Funyuns and Fun Dip. A playful combination of contempt and complacency overtakes me. I’m in my head. I’m on a journey to do something I love with all my heart, but the conditions at hand are making me doubt my place in this world. I need to go over my scouting notes in preparation for Odorizzi’s start. I need to pull it together. It’s just a bus ride.

I’m 500 words deep into my Odorizzi prep when the woman one row up and to the right starts pulling an Ike Turner on her 7-year-old son. This kid looks like a jerk, but it’s a bit much. Everybody else seems okay with the physical reprimand taking place. I never feel comfortable when I witness abject child abuse in a public setting, and I’m from the South. As I start the internal debate as to whether I should remind the lady that the kid is juiced on Fun Dip and is therefore unable to sit still in his seat, the assault subsides and peace is restored. I pour my attention into the scouting notes as I continue to listen to T. Rex’s “Electric Warrior,” a record that would have played nicely with casual baseball conversation and innocent invitations with a certain Miss Window Seat.

Oh, Lady your lips are the most, ooh
Baby, your mouth is like a ghost

The rest of the ride is uneventful, except for the 15 minute “stop” that took place 15 miles from Wilmington’s city limits. Seeing as how the majority of people were getting off in Wilmington, the need to feed and graze at a truck stop so close to the city seemed unnecessary. After letting the larger-than-average woman off the bus so she could buy something to snack on, I found comfort in my newfound space and explored some peaceful thoughts. I wondered if Odorizzi will look better than he did in spring training. I wondered if Boscan’s curveball is still too soft and slow. I wondered why T. Rex doesn’t get the love. It’s sex with a beat. When my neighbor returned from her feeding, I was a gentleman and threw her trash away. I can be a nice man.

After watching a cabbie proposition a woman for sex on the street in front of the bus stop, I proposition him for a ride and head straight to the stadium for batting practice and infield drills. I’m dedicated. It’s 4:00 p.m. I’m starving and want to wash the bus off my skin. I arrive at the stadium and pick up my credential. The people who work for the Blue Rocks restore my faith in humanity; they are so incredibly courteous and professional. It started with John Sadak, the head of media relations, and extended out to the vendors and support staff. The day is getting better.

The stadium is empty except for the on-field participants, so I find an empty restroom to take a sink shower and brush my teeth. I always carry the necessary supplies to execute these actions. My hunger is 70-grade. I gather my field tools and head to the third-base side to watch the Blue Rocks hit in the cage. I’m joined by a few of my scouting brethren, and we start discussing the upcoming game and the refreshing qualities of the quaint stadium and staff. The assorted food courts don’t open for another hour. Joe’s Crab Shack is within walking distance, but I have a job to do. I have to focus.

The gates open and the stadium comes to life, as fans draped in the soft blue aesthetic of the affiliate walk purposefully to their seats. I dig the vibe. I quickly make my way to the gift shop to purchase a Blue Rocks t-shirt. (I have a piece of merchandise from every affiliate I have ever had the privilege of stumbling upon.) The food lines are jumping and first pitch is coming, so my hunger must live on. I see a local with a corny dog, and I almost wet myself with excitement. People outside of Texas call them “corn dogs.” We call them Corny Dogs. Deal with it. I return to my seat and ready my system.

An hour into the game and Odorizzi has already shown the Myrtle Beach Pelicans five different pitches. His command isn’t especially sharp, but he clearly has a good feel for his craft, and his cutter looks like a major league-quality pitch. His fastball velocity is fluctuating but working effectively in the 89-91 mph range, touching 94, and coming to the plate with a nice angle. He isn’t showing many sliders, but the 82-83 mph pitch has nice tilt. His softer curve is also solid, but he lost a few of them in the 74 mph range. The curve looks better at 78. I’ve only spotted one changeup to this point. Odorizzi knows how to pitch. I like the line he keeps to the plate. I dislike the corny dog line. It looks long.

The game concludes, and I have charts and notes to go over before I can call it a night. I walk to a local establishment for a quick beer and burger combo before grabbing a cab to the hotel. In only 10 short hours I will return to the field to prepare for RHP Joe Wieland vs. LHP Noel Arguelles before boarding another bus for another city and hopefully another opportunity to lose myself in corrosive thought. I love it.

Baby, you think you’re a champ
But girl, you ain’t nothing but a Raw Ramp

---

Professor Parks is on the road once again, on the lookout for top prospects and the next Brooklyn Cyclones Girl. As such, he'll be away from a computer and unable to answer questions for a short while. But we don't want you to think he doesn't love you, is ignoring you, or is holding his silence until he finds a lady who bests JetBlue bag-checker "Katie." He'll be back in the chair soon. 

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

Related Content:  Jake Odorizzi,  The Who

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Baseball ProGUESTus: A... (05/24)
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