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SECAUCUS, N.J. -- The Bud Selig farewell tour took a detour through the Major League Baseball Network studios Thursday night, when the commissioner called out the first-round picks of the 2014 MLB draft. Among other high points, Selig had the pleasure of invoking his go-to phrase -- "The (insert team here) are on the clock" -- and announcing that the mellifluously named Florida prep pitcher Touki Toussaint had been picked by Arizona with the 16th choice in the first round.
Before the night was over, Andre Dawson, Ferguson Jenkins, Tommy Lasorda and numerous other baseball dignitaries helped bring 74 aspiring big leaguers into the fold. All teams have to do now is find common ground with those players and their advisors and make the finances work.
For sports fans who might have spent Thursday night following their favorite big league team or watching the Miami Heat wilt down the stretch in San Antonio, here are some assorted high points and other vignettes from the first day of the draft.
One of the most heartwarming scenes of the evening came after Florida high school shortstop Nick Gordon went to the Minnesota Twins with the fifth pick in the first round. He did a series of media interviews with his father, former major league reliever Tom "Flash" Gordon, before they exchanged a long and emotional hug.
Tom Gordon spent 21 years in the big leagues and accumulated 138 wins and 158 saves for eight teams. He was pitching for the Phillies in 2007 when the Dodgers selected his oldest son, Dee, in the fourth round. He remembers "shaking like a leaf" when he received a phone call alerting him of the news.
|Nick Gordon, a high school shortstop from Orlando, Fla., was joined by his father Tom, a former big league pitcher, after being selected fifth overall in the draft.|
So how did Flash Gordon react when Selig stepped to the podium and announced Nick's selection?
"I'm still shaking like a leaf," he said. "Probably even more so. Sweating. All the emotions. Having to sit there and not knowing exactly what's going to happen. It's tough to describe because you want everything to go so well. I have nothing but pride and pure joy for my boys about the way they've gone about it and communicated and worked together. It's a true blessing."
Nick Gordon is a talented pitcher with a mid-90s fastball, two breaking balls and a changeup, but he tabled pitching in his senior year at Olympia High School in Orlando, Florida, to focus exclusively on playing shortstop. He has a scholarship to Florida State but stands to receive a bonus of $3.8 million or thereabouts as the No. 5 pick. If he signs, as expected, he'll combine with Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano (who's sitting out this year because of Tommy John surgery) to give the Twins an impressive collection of young position player talent.
Nick Gordon isn't as fast as his brother, but he has considerably more power. Although Dee eventually shifted to second base in Los Angeles, Nick is intent on staying put at short. In 2005, when Flash was pitching in New York, Nick spent a lot of time hanging around Yankee Stadium and became friendly with Derek Jeter. The Captain talked baseball with him, gave him batting gloves, wrist bands, baseball shoes and other stray swag, and quickly became his favorite player.
"I model my game after Derek Jeter," Nick said. "That's my idol. When things are or aren't going his way, he's the same person. He never embarrasses himself or his organization, and he's a leader on and off the field."
Time will tell what kind of career Nick Gordon has, but he doesn't lack for diligence. For all the accolades that came Nick's way this year, Tom Gordon said his son stayed on top of his schoolwork, his household chores and every other conceivable non-baseball item on a busy teenager's agenda.
And no, Flash takes no offense to the fact that Nick lists another MLB player as his favorite. It was the same way with Dee.
"My oldest said, 'Daddy, you wouldn't be mad at me if Jimmy Rollins was my favorite player, would you?'" Tom Gordon said, laughing. "I said, 'No, as long as he's not your favorite father.' I think that helped Nick build up the nerve to tell me Derek Jeter is his favorite player."
There have been 38 major leaguers from Hawaii, including such luminaries as Charlie Hough, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez and Shane Victorino. The St. Louis Cardinals picked University of Hawaii second baseman Kolten Wong with the 22nd overall selection three years ago, and he just won the NL Rookie of the Month award for May.
But a prep player from the Aloha State had never been selected in the first round before Thursday, when the Milwaukee Brewers chose Waiakea High School pitcher Kodi Medeiros with the 12th overall pick.
Medeiros, a 6-foot-2, 196-pound lefty, went 7-1 with a 1.23 ERA and struck out 85 batters in 43 2/3 innings as a senior. He's the only first-round pick in the 2014 draft who lists "spearfishing" as his hobby. His best catch came on his final excursion before making the New York trip, when he caught a nine-pound parrot fish.
"Any time I have free time when I'm not playing baseball, I'm in the water spearfishing with my brother and my friends," Medeiros said. "I'd be doing that now if I wasn't here. I fall in love with the sport more and more every time I do it."
Medeiros gradually gained a higher profile after he attended the Perfect Game national showcase last year. He worked out for the Brewers and also visited with the Diamondbacks and Royals before landing with Milwaukee.
Medeiros received a good luck text from Victorino before the draft, and he grew up in Hilo, the same town that produced Wong.
"Since Hawaii is a small place, everybody looks out for each other and tries to represent the island and the state," Medeiros said. "They want to see all the kids out there make it big."
Jacob Gatewood, a 6-foot-5, 190-pound shortstop from Clovis High School in California, made some waves when he put on a show at the High School Home Run Derby as part of the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field. Gatewood hit balls to the nether regions of the outfield with a metal bat and received congratulations from Mike Trout, Mariano Rivera and other big leaguers in attendance. He also posed for a photo with his favorite player, Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
As one of seven players who came to Secaucus for this year's draft, Gatewood took a tour of New York City and paid a visit to Citi Field, where he experienced some All-Star Game flashbacks.
"I felt like I could hear the crowd screaming again when I went out there," he said. "That experience was so awesome. It was something I'll never forget. To go back when no one was in the stands and just kind of replay what happened that night was really cool."
Gatewood had been projected to go as high as 17th in one mock draft. He wound up waiting until Milwaukee chose him with the 41st pick, but there was some positive karma involved. Former Brewers slugger Greg Vaughn, who announced the pick, once played junior college ball with Gatewood's father, Henry, a former minor league catcher who was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round of the 1982 draft.
"Every time someone passed me, my dad told me I'd have to prove somebody wrong and make them pay," Gatewood said. "The teams know what they're doing. I'm not mad at any of them or anything like that. It's just the way it worked out. I understand this is also a business."
Ironically enough, in a year that's been marked by devastating arm injuries to so many pitchers, two prospects were selected in the first round despite having undergone Tommy John surgery before the draft. Toronto picked East Carolina right-hander Jeff Hoffman with the ninth pick, and Washington selected UNLV rightie Erick Fedde 18th overall.
Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins, who represented the Cubs at the draft, was asked for his thoughts on the ability of young pitchers to come back from serious elbow injuries -- and the willingness of teams to invest so much money in the process.
"It really depends on the makeup of the player," Jenkins said. "If you correct something, maybe it's going to help. In 21 years, I never had a sore arm, so I might be the wrong guy to talk to."
Selig routinely pays homage to the draft as a baseball tradition, and this year was no different. Between calling out picks, he reminisced about some of his favorite draft moments in his longtime role as Milwaukee Brewers owner.
In 1973, the Brewers' front office had a spirited debate over whether to select a New York high school leftie named Richard Shubert or a high school shortstop from California. The Brewers went with Robin Yount -- and were glad they did. Four years later, they invested their first-round pick in Minnesota high schooler Paul Molitor, who would go on to join Yount in both the 3,000-hit club and the Hall of Fame.
Selig has seen the draft evolve from a low-key, secretive affair to a big-money proposition to a televised extravaganza. He knows it has its limitations in comparison to the football and basketball drafts but thinks its best days lie ahead.
"The draft used to be on the phone," Selig said. "There were years when you wouldn't even divulge to the press who your draft choices were. Have we come a long way? Yes, we've come a long way."
But there is still more to be done.
"Everybody wants to compare this draft to the NBA and the NFL," he said. "But college kids get great publicity and grow up in basketball and football. I think we need to publicize this more and do more things. For millions of fans of all these franchises, this is the lifeline. I can't stress how important I think this day is."