Josh Kusnick is a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based agent who will periodically write about his experiences representing professional baseball players and media personalities.
The line between being a professional who is just doing his job and being a self-loathing stalker is dangerously thin in this industry. Every year that I have been an agent I have scouted kids younger and younger each year. When I started, I vowed I would never look at players younger than high school seniors. Over time, though, I started in on juniors, then sophomores, and now I have to look at freshmen. Yes, 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 know what I would do if I had to start scouting Little League.
I honestly can't envision a time where I would be comfortable going into a family's home somewhere in Middle America and pulling a Nick Nolte-type move from Blue Chips where I have to answer whether I'm 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, I've always had one major qualm with that movie, which is amazing because I‘m sure if I watched it again I‘d have 1,000 more. One issue has baffled me in the 16 years since the film was released, so much so that I am completely blind to anything else wrong with the move. The casting director found Penny Hardaway and Shaq to play two fictional basketball recruits named Butch McRae and Neon Boudeaux. However, when we finally get to see the token white recruit, who of course is a three-point specialist, the role was played by an actor. They literally could not find a 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.
Anyway, the business of scouting has gotten uglier in the last 10 years, and it has gotten that way because of coaches, colleges, scouts, and agents. Kids play year-round now, and it’s alarming that many of them lose out on a great deal of their childhood because of the demands of their baseball schedules. College and pro teams do their homework on these kids years in advance in trying to gain a competitive edge. Meanwhile, many established agents have been forced into earlier recruiting in hopes of trying to curtail something very dangerous that has started happening in the industry in the last few years. I've seen people trying to break into the agent business attempt to do anything to try and land a client. The worst trend I've seen is kids as a young as 14 retaining advisors.
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. However, 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 is a one-way street. I wish more than anything that teams would not put families in a position where they feel the need to start the process sooner than they must.
There are good parts, however, to scouting when you're an agent. One thing I have learned in this business is you never close the book on any player while you’re scouting. If you’re at a game to see a certain player, you can't focus just on that player. I discovered two of my higher-profile clients completely by accident.
I attended Florida State University from December, 2001 to May, 2006. Florida State is located in Tallahassee, which is vastly different from Fort Lauderdale, the Florida city where I grew up. Tallahassee may be in Florida, but it’s more like South Georgia than anything. Tallahassee has a community college which is located two blocks from the apartment I rented while in school. The first time I ever visited Tallahassee Community College before I became a full-time agent, I had the pleasure of watching Chipola Community College in 2002. I had the opportunity to watch Adam Loewen, who had a ton of buzz because of the amount of money he turned down the previous June after being the fourth overall pick in the draft before eventually signing in May, 2002. I also got to watch one of Loewen's teammates, a 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. You can find viable professional prospects at 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 both Chipola and TCC, who were playing each other that day. I specifically went to see Michael Saunders, now in the major leagues as an outfielder with the Mariners. I never got the chance to talk to him that day, because I was enamored by the center fielders on both clubs, Lorenzo Cain and Darren Ford. Both Darren and Lorenzo were drafted by the Brewers the previous year, and Milwaukee had the option to sign them up until the day of the 2005 draft. Since both players were drafted in the middle rounds, I figured neither was represented and it would behoove me to make contact with them.
Starting out in this business, I had a problem with professionalism. It wasn’t because I had a lack of respect for the game or the people involved. It was because I had no idea what the hell it was that I was doing. I was still in college and 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. Unfortunately, for me, the street clothes didn’t exactly scream “agent.” It is truly a miracle any player would talk to me then, 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 these young men's careers. After the game, I approached Darren first. Because he was on the visiting team, I figured he didn’t have much time to stick around before catching the team bus. I introduced myself, gave him a business card and all he kept saying was, “Call my Mom, I have nothing to do with this."That wasn’t real encouraging, especially since he was pretty much laughing at me the entire time. I figured that was the end of that and I made my way to the TCC locker room. I waited for Lorenzo for a good hour before he came out. I introduced myself, gave him the same talk I gave Darren, then presented him with my business card. I will never forget the look on Lorenzo's face the entire time I was talking with him. It was the "Where's Ashton?" look. I am fairly certain Lorenzo thought he was being punked 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 heard 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 Darren's 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 baseball game to see a player I didn’t even get a chance to talk to and eventually wound up being 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 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 team's 40-man rosters, Darren with the San Francisco Giants and Lorenzo with the Brewers. It is a rewarding experience to be there for 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 pre-draft workout at TCC that May and I wanted to go to see what it was like. My father and I sat 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. I learned quickly that this wasn’t the case with this player. So after the workout, I told my father to give this woman our business card. He initially resisted but I told him I'd 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 could be. When it was over, they told us they appreciated the card and that they would 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 the minor leagues. Somehow, Michael was drafted by the Brewers. Because Michael joined the Brewers' farm system 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 our friendship. After Michael's 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, Mickey. Both meetings went well, and about a week later, I was hired.
So, one baseball game changed the course of my entire life. Because I went to scout Michael Saunders at TCC in January, 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 major-league debuts sometime in 2010. I have lived up to every promise I have made to all three of these men. In return, they have stuck with my father and I the entire time. The ultimate reward for all the hard work I have done is knowing that I have made 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 faults. I give them my heart and soul and the only thing I ask in return is that they do everything in their power to take advantage of their tremendous opportunity to play professional baseball.