CONCORD, N.H. -- On the way into a Home Depot yesterday, Scott Cote was asked by a young stranger carrying kayaks, "How's Jordan doing?"
The stranger didn't introduce himself, asking only if his son Jordan, a third-round draft pick of the Yankees out of little-known Winnisquam Regional High School, had signed.
"When I walked away from this gentleman, I still didn't know who he was," Scott laughed. "Obviously, he knew I was Jordan's father somehow, some way. But we go into restaurants, banks, anywhere, and it's just, the whole town is talking about it."
The buzz has been fervent for some time now around tiny Sanbornton, a town of less than 3,000 nestled between the state's capital and its motor speedway, ever since this 6-foot-6 son of a body shop mechanic and travel consultant tossed his high school team to its first state title, two springs ago, with a no-hitter.
"It's weird walking around town when people are just staring at you," Jordan said.
As many as 25 scouts had been spotted at his starts this spring, and projected him to go anywhere between the third and seventh rounds. All of it came full circle tonight for the one-time Coastal Carolina commit, at the Concord Sports Center facility where he often trains.
Jordan sent his papers to the commissioner's office on Sunday. Tonight, in front of a crowd of roughly a hundred friends and family; and flanked by his parents, his high school and summer coaches, and the two Yankees scouts that had been on him from the beginning of this wave; he made it official, signing with the club for a $725,000 bonus.
Smiling, Cote admitted the offer was "a little below our number, but it was the New York Yankees, so that made the difference". He also revealed that he had plans to live with good friend Tyler Beede, the Auburn, Mass. native and Blue Jays' first-round pick, in Nashua. Beede, however, turned down a $2.5 million offer last night, and will report to Vanderbilt University at the end of this week.
Cote leaves for Tampa in the morning, and will report to the Gulf Coast League Yankees. Yankees Northeast Scouting Director Matt Hyde said Jordan will then go back down in September for instructional league, followed by a trip to the Dominican Republic to work the club's academy for several weeks. He'll return in November, and could return to Tampa as early as January.
"There's no rush with him," Hyde said. "He needs to get out on the mound, throw quality innings, and it's all about development. We like to move our young pitchers at a nice pace, and not feel like they're under pressure to get to New York right away."
Moments earlier, Scott (the auto body mechanic) reflected on the atmosphere in the warehouse-like facility with humility.
"We're just average American people," Scott said. "Jordan has an opportunity to do what he loves to do, and at the same time make some pretty nice money."
Just how much does he love it? Scott called it "scary, as far as I'm concerned."
"His whole life is baseball," said Scott, who was also an assistant for Winnisquam the last three seasons. "Even when he slows down and decides to relax, he's playing MLB baseball on a video game. I get up in the morning and he's watching the MLB channel. He's watching ESPN, he's on the internet. He goes to work out, and then he comes home and watches baseball. He knows more about baseball personnel than I know in my whole life -- almost to the point where, I love baseball, but after a while I just want to take a break, [and] this kid does not take a break.
"He just absolutely loves baseball. He talks to his agents, his scouts, his trainers, his pitching coach, almost daily. It's all baseball with this kid, and it's all his choice. Has been since he was eight years old."
All of it has translated into a product on the field that had scouts discussing his projectability all spring. Locally, it was a product that Winnisquam head coach Fred Caruso couldn't wait to coach, as he recalled watching Jordan as a 10-year-old crank a 300-foot homer for Northfield-Tilton Little League. When he was elevated to head coach five years ago, Caruso says he "was salivating" at the opportunity to work with Jordan.
As a freshman in 2008, Jordan was named the team's No. 1 starter, with a loose, roughly 6-foot-3 frame Caruso compared to "a scarecrow". But it was far from a finished product.
Enter Matt Blake, a Concord native and former Holy Cross pitcher who specializes with pitchers at the popular Cressey Performance facility in Hudson, Mass., and is now a scout with the Yankees. Three years ago, Blake saw a raw athlete with basketball skills and good hand speed, moving his body fluidly. From there, he worked with Cote to shore up his mechanics and create a downhill delivery that makes his pitches tough to pick up.
"A lot of big guys, they can get mechanical and get bogged down in the whole idea of a delivery," Blake said. "But we wanted it to be an uptempo throwing motion, so that was the first thing we really attacked."
As his body grew, the velocity climbed, and things took off from there. Now at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds, Cote threw as hard as 94 miles per hour this spring, leading to a 6-1 record, 0.77 ERA and strike percentage hovering around 72.
And he's still yet to fill out; scouts see him bulking up to 235 pounds, and his fastball possibly topping out at 97. Cote will have to improve on getting his pitches down in the strike zone, and staying on line.
But if history says anything, Cote could have a good chance down the line. From Brian Wilson to Chris Carpenter, all the way back to Mike Flanagan and Carlton Fisk, New Hampshire has proven a solid track record over the years in spite of its thin pool of prospects.
"I think it's just the attitude coming out of New Hampshire," said Blake, who is also an assistant for Massachusetts Division 1 state champion Lincoln-Sudbury Regional. "You're always going up against the southern kids. You're always going up against the climate. People are always saying you're not as talented. But, every time someone puts that out there, it just wills you to work that much harder, because it's never been handed to you."
Scott Cote and then Caruso entertained the crowd with stories of umpires thanking the Winnisquam staff for starting Jordan, and of Jordan boldly declaring before his famous state title no-hitter that there would be no hits that afternoon, among other things, before handing the pen to Jordan.
When the ink dried, the photo-ops had run their course and the media had cleared out, Jordan went to the back of the facility to throw long-toss to his summertime catcher of four years, Tilton School sophomore Ryan White, as Hyde looked over his shoulder.
Then he went upstairs to the portable mound, and threw a simulated bullpen for Hyde, with a handful of spectators leaning against the railings. The violent whir with each fastball passed by drew faint laughs and wide grins. And then it was back to more immediate matters, like why his laptop wasn't fixed in time for tomorrow morning's flight, and what he'd do in the meantime to cope.
"I'll remember you with the Cannonballs," he said to White as he unstrapped his catcher's equipment, referring to the AAU team they both used to belong to.
And just like that, their last bullpen session together as high schoolers, as amateurs, was over.
Cote then turned back to Hyde and asked, with a chuckle, "So can I pitch tomorrow?"