The phone rang last night around 8 p.m. I picked it up.
"Hey," the voice on the line said. "It's Tony Gwynn."
Earlier in the day, desperate for something fresh to bring to the story of Jason Donald, I had taken a shot in the dark and attempted to reach Gwynn. The Hall of Fame right fielder, now in his seventh year as head baseball coach at San Diego State, had tried to recruit the Phillies prospect back when he was in high school in the Fresno area. I didn't think there was much chance Gwynn would have anything to add to the story. After all, how many kids has he coached, let alone recruited, over the past six years? Besides, we are talking about a guy who never hit below .309 in 19 big league seasons. We are talking about a guy who hit above .320 in each of his last two years in the league. We are talking about a guy who is in the Hall of Fame. That kind of guy has to have a pretty restrictive radar, no?
Well, Gwynn does have a radar. And Jason Donald has been on it ever since Gwynn saw him play at the Area Code Games in California back in 2002. Donald ultimately chose to attend the University of Arizona over San Diego State, but Gwynn was so impressed with the young short stop that he has followed his career ever since.
"There are about 10 guys that I keep track of, follow their careers," Gwynn said.
And he loves Donald. In fact, he said he thinks the 24-year-old will open a lot of people's eyes this year in spring training, when he has a chance to compete for a spot on the Phillies' bench (or, if second baseman Chase Utley isn't ready to return from hip surgery on Opening Day, in the starting line-up).
"That one game you see him play, it’s not going to wow you, " Gwynn said, "but you watch him 10 games, you are like dang, this guy knows how to play the game."
Scouts rely heavily on measurables, and because Donald does not have great measurables, he isn't included on anybody's list of the elite prospects in the game. But ballplayers like Gwynn seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to recognizing other ballplayers. And he thinks Donald can be one.
For more, check out the story in today's paper. . .
Things should start to pick up here in Clearwater today. The rest of the Phillies' staff is expected to arrive today, along with most of the travelling media who cover the team. Players should also start to stream in at a relatively steady pace. I'll try to check back around lunch-time with some more reading.