(Editor’s Note: The piece below was originally published on May 20, 2011; portions of the post have been updated. The finals rounds (16-40) of the 2012 MLB Draft take place today.)
[UPDATE] Spoiler Alert. It happened: Oakland A’s, 23rd round, pick #709.
By Ian Rebhan ’12
After countless questions, letters and phone calls, the season has almost come and gone. We have seen the scouts, and they have seen Tucker. It’s unbelievable to think that we are so close to the day that has been nothing but talk for nearly two years. It is dangerously close to the moment of truth.
For two years, Tucker and I have talked about the draft. We constantly talk about the letters, the phone calls, the scouts and the uncertainty. Many times I find myself taking a back seat with no guidance to give my friend. This is an experience that I — like most others — have only dreamed of, but will probably never experience. We talk about June, and what might happen; we talk about all of the hype; and we talk about the radar guns that we saw at the game that day. When Tucker poses a question, usually my only answer is, “Yeah, I really don’t know.” As draft day approaches, I started thinking maybe there’s something else that he needs to know. Maybe he can get some last minute advice or wisdom. Maybe I can give him an answer other than, “Yeah, I really don’t know.”
After having this realization, I made a point to find some last minute advice to make sure that he was prepared. I was on a mission to give Tucker something other than a shoulder shrug when he asked another question. He was still chasing a dream and I was chasing guidance — chasing answers. I wanted to find someone different — someone other than his dad or Coach Valesente (even though they have both been influential throughout the process). I wanted to find someone he could relate to — someone who had been in his situation, someone who had made it, someone who knows what works. I knew who I had to chase.
Four years ago rumors began swirling around my hometown that Carl Pavano had purchased a house and was throwing by himself into a net at the high school gym. The rumors were true, but it wasn’t until a year later that I had my first encounter with the Twins starter.
It was early January and I was in the gym preparing for my sophomore season. The parks and recreation director called me over with the news that “Pavano’s coming in to throw today.” A little awestruck because I was about to be accompanied by a Major Leaguer, I continued with what I was doing. A few minutes later, I saw his 6-feet, 4-inch, 250-lb frame walk through the door.
Admittedly intimidated, I was a little unsure of what to do until he initiated conversation. He started with a “How’s it going, buddy?” He was an ordinary guy — someone with the same love for the game as I have. I finished my workout, but we were carrying on a continuous conversation about baseball so I stayed as he stretched out.
When he finished stretching, he grabbed his bucket of balls — Major League balls that you would normally fight over in the stands — and walked to the other side of the gym still holding our conversation. He asked questions about where I was playing and answered my questions. He continued talking as he threw ball after ball into the net on the other side of the gym, never missing the foot-wide red circle in the middle. After thirty minutes of throwing and constant conversation, we walked to the other side of the gym to pick up every ball he had thrown. After putting the last ball into the bucket, he looked up and asked for my phone number. “We both need someone to throw with,” he said. “I’ll call you tomorrow morning.”
The next morning my phone rang. It was Carl asking me to come down and throw. We threw — and again carried a constant conversation — as he would tweak different things in my delivery. This became a constant for the next month. Every morning we would go throw and work out. I would hear stories about the Major Leagues, and most important, receive more advice about becoming a better pitcher. After a month of this routine, Carl left for Spring Training and I returned to school, but we have kept in touch the past two years. We still continue to throw and work out together in the winter, and exchange emails or texts during our seasons. I will email him after a good start, and he always responds with a question about how I am doing. Whenever I struggle, he has a solution to fix my problem. He has always been the one I have gone to with a baseball question. I knew he was the one who would have an answer — other than a shrug — for Tucker.
In 1994, the Boston Red Sox drafted Pavano in the 13th round. As a senior at Southington High School, Carl experienced the same letters, phone calls and uncertainty that Tucker has gone through this year. Carl, a 13-year MLB veteran, has made it and would have suggestions for a smooth draft process.
I didn’t think that it would be particularly hard chasing Carl for advice because he always offered his experiences with me. During the winter, we had talked about Tucker and his possibility as a draft prospect, but I had never asked him for his two cents on the draft. I sent him an email describing the situation, and asked how he dealt with the “behind-the-scenes pressures” of the draft that Tucker and I had always talked about but had no answers.
Carl was happy to help. While looking over Carl’s responses, I had a strange sense of Déjà vu. After reading about his draft experience and how he dealt with things, I realized one thing: Tucker and Carl are extremely similar. I was shocked to discover the similarities between two people I thought I knew very well. Finally, I was ready to have an answer other than, “Yeah, I really don’t know.”
I first wanted Carl’s thoughts about the most important aspects of the draft process. To be honest, I was expecting an answer regarding contract negotiations, but that was far from what he said. “Relax and enjoy it,” Carl urged. “It will work out how it is supposed to.” He continued, “Remember, you have no control over the draft so enjoy it. It only happens once in your life.”
Since September — when asked about his future — Tucker has always said, “Whatever happens, happens.” We would always look at it as him just brushing off more questions about the draft and trying to avoid more hype, but in reality that’s just how Tucker is. “I’m worried about what’s happening now,” Tucker emphasized. “I’m worried about Ithaca.” Tucker always stresses that he’s “going to have a good time with my friends here and when June comes we’ll see what happens.” Carl echoed this point by stating, “Always make it seem like playing Major League Baseball is what you want to do.” And Tucker certainly does. There is no doubt he’s determined to make it, but as he says, “I don’t want to get ahead of myself.”
A constant theme to all of our draft talks have been how Tucker deals with the hype, the scouts and the letters without becoming distracted. He claims that when he takes the mound he doesn’t notice the radar guns behind the backstop.
For Carl it was the same way. “It never really bothered me,” Carl said. “I was so focused on the task at hand that I hardly realized they were there.” He continued, “If anything, it got me fired up and made my focus and performance that much better. I have always done better when I feel there is a lot on the line.”
By this point, I am sure that the two are related. Tucker is the same way; he has the closer mentality that thrives on pressure. “I love pressure,” he admits. It’s what pushes him to elevate his game.
Lastly, Carl advised, “There are so many things out of your control in the game of baseball.” Carl countered, “You can control your attitude, shape, health, commitment and preparation. There are certain recipes for success — you have to find your own.”
Tucker has certainly done this. His physical skills are Major League-worthy. His competitiveness is unmatched (even if you beat him in a game of Mario Kart he won’t let it happen again). He has a love for the game and a determination to succeed at the next level. Although Tucker has had many positive influences in his life and career, he has done it his way.
The countdown to Draft Day begins: June 6th is right around the corner. The letters will stop and the scouts will disappear. Who will draft him? What round? Where will he be playing this time next year?
I used to wonder a lot as he stumped me with the “yeah, I really don’t know” questions. I used to wonder if he would be successful. I used to wonder how the draft might affect him. However, I used to do all of these things. Now there is really no wondering. I heard about the draft experience from someone who has won 108 games (and counting) and a World Series ring in the Major Leagues.
I searched for answers to those “yeah, I really don’t know” questions but, in all honesty, I really didn’t get any answers. What I did receive, though, was reassurance. Tucker Healy and Carl Pavano share the same mentality and approach to the draft, to baseball and to life.
When June 6th arrives, we can be sure of one thing: Tucker Healy is going to be just fine.
Ian Rebhan recently graduated from Ithaca College (Sport Media) and is currently a graduate student at the Park School of Communications (Ithaca College). A native of Ludlow, VT, Rebhan is also a pitcher for the Bombers. Follow him on Twitter @Ian_Rebhan.
Photo Credit: John Froschauer/AP (1st photo) // Charlie Riedel/AP (4th photo) // Ithaca College Sports Information (5th photo)