Nineteen years ago, I sat at the kitchen table of my parent's house in Teaneck, N.J., waiting for the phone to ring. I knew that the sooner it rang after 1 p.m., the better the news would be. At about 1:15, the Chicago Cubs called to say they had selected me as their first-round pick in the 1991 Major League Baseball amateur draft. I was the 12th player taken overall. My draft class was topped by a highly touted left-handed pitcher the Yankees selected, Brien Taylor, and one pick after me was the man with the dreads, the Dodgers' Manny Ramirez.
This week, the amateur draft is again on all baseball radar screens. It is a time when dream meets reality and, in many cases, when disappointment dashes dream.
For the most sought-after players -- the probable first-rounders -- the hubbub leading up to draft day is a dress rehearsal for the world they will face after signing that first professional contract. Most likely, players have not had a minute to digest it all. I know I didn't. Once I was a projected first-rounder, my phone never stopped ringing. At the time, I was finishing up my junior year in college at the University of Pennsylvania, trying to survive an engineering major's schedule and attempting to understand the rule about representation by an agent before I was actually a professional.
For the most sought-after players -- the probable first-rounders -- the hubbub leading up to draft day is a dress rehearsal for the world they will face after signing that first professional contract.
Agents called. The press called. Cameras were at all of my games. I fielded questions about my desire. I took tests to analyze my psychology. I listened to Scott Boras hammer home his story about getting Ben McDonald big dollars in 1989.
Teams called, too. At one point, a potential suitor seemed to be genuinely disappointed with my answers on the psych test and suggested I take it over again. My "makeup" score was on the weak side, I am sure in part because I was honest enough to say that I most likely "played harder than I practiced."
I knew as soon as I stuck with that answer that I was losing the political game before I even got started. Maybe that was because I stopped coating my responses with sugar early on. Even before I passed on the Olympic trials and missed a game to study for a final exam, one reporter called my house and grilled me about my "desire." He said he had evidence that raised questions about my commitment.
I was being investigated?
The reporter cited a then-14-year-old friend of his son's who claimed that when he played against one of my summer-league teams (keep in mind, this was six years before this phone interview), I wasn't at the game. When this friend asked some of my teammates where I was, allegedly one of them responded, "Glanville only shows up when he wants to show up." Maybe it happened, maybe it didn't. But it is hard to rest your case on the memory of a conversation that took place six years earlier between 13- and 14-year-old players.
The craziness reached a head when a scout from the Detroit Tigers came to one of my games in a summer league where we used wooden bats. I was playing well, helping my draft status while staying in baseball shape. After the game, the scout came over to talk to me. He started by asking the usual questions, then he went straight for the jugular. "Why would we take a chance on you if you are not committed?"
By this time, I had worked out a speech in response to such questions. My answer reversed the idea that Ivy League players are soft. I pointed out that we played in the cold, without being on scholarship, balancing a tough academic schedule, usually in front of less than 50 fans. Seemed to me, we could argue that we were more committed.
And where on the matrix were these intangibles? The fact that my family made sacrifices to get me an education and fought civil injustices and racism to give their children a different kind of chance. I made the point that I would commit to the same degree I had committed to my education if a team granted me the opportunity. Then, out of agitation, I closed by noting that the Tigers didn't have a first-round pick that year, "so I won't be around for you to pick me anyway."
I was frustrated, an emotion that didn't match what a surefire first-round draft pick should feel when the opportunity for realizing his dream is staring him in the face.
At least this scout had seen me play. I grappled with the idea that reporters and scouts who hadn't even met me were commenting on my "lack of passion" or that my game was suited only for playing on AstroTurf. It made for a tough start with the media, placing me on the defensive right out of the gate.
After many weeks, I chose Arn Tellem to be my agent. Tellem was Jerry Maguire in the flesh. What impressed me the most with him was that he came all the way from California to Pennsylvania to see me, and instead of taking me to some fine dining establishment, he took me to Lee's Hoagie House, a true Philadelphia deli.
Eventually, draft day came and I was thrilled to be chosen so early by the Cubs. The team told the world of my qualifications and how they had found the right pick. But when the door closed and the microphones were off, it was negotiation time. In an effort to shave nickels and dimes off my signing bonus, they now told me all the things I couldn't do well. They compared me to Mike Kelly, the outfield legend from Arizona State University, whom the Braves had chosen second overall in the same '91 draft. Kelly's power numbers dwarfed mine, so the Cubs told me, "Kelly will drive in a lot more runs than you." Translation: Expect a lot less money up front than Kelly, an RBI machine.
I did not sign with the Cubs for a while, reinforcing my already stained reputation of not wanting to play. After about six weeks, we finally settled on my value. It was a dollar figure that was not in line with the long and fascinating breakdown prepared by Boras when he sought to represent me. He had explained how my engineering degree needed to be a part of the equation since I would be forgoing a real-world salary that would have been many times more than what I would make in the minor leagues.
But I was just happy to have finished the back-and-forth debate and the scrutiny of holding out. I also wanted to get started playing. I knew I wanted to be a ballplayer a lot more than I wanted to be an engineer (ultimately, it paid a lot more, too).
So when you think of this week, let it be a time of joy. The draft is a time when all that you dreamed of while playing Wiffle Ball in your front yard becomes real. All those left arms that people are willing to give for the chance to become a big leaguer have been returned to their owners until the next time opportunity comes knocking.
It goes without saying that you answer this door. But understand that although a glorious rainbow starts on the other side, you will have to be committed beyond your wildest imagination to even find out if there is a pot of gold at the end.
Doug Glanville, who earned a degree in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, played nine major league seasons with the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers. He serves on the board of Athletes Against Drugs and the fundraising committee of Boundless Readers. His book "The Game from Where I Stand" was released on May 11.