Life, at least temporarily, is about to get very lonely for Scott Radinsky. But feel no pity for this 17-year-old. He has brought it all upon himself.
He could have been right-handed, but no. That would be too easy. He had to be left-handed. And certainly no one made him pick up a baseball when he was a kid. He did it by himself.
OK, maybe he had no control over the 6-3 and 190-pound part. Let's give him a break there. But even after he acquired the perfect pitcher's body and discovered that it and the left arm made a pretty good couple, he could have thrown a baseball awkwardly, leading with the wrong foot and sort of sissying the ball a few feet in a harmless and undignified arc.
But no, not this kid.
Radinsky had to go out and throw baseballs hard. And accurately.
So, when Scott Radinsky says a sad farewell to his mother and brother and all of his friends Saturday, and climbs aboard a jet bound for Sarasota, Fla., to begin his new life with people he has never met, and when the loneliness washes over him as thoroughly as a tidal wave over a midget, don't feel too sorry for him.
Because even after platoons of major league scouts came scurrying around his home and his school, slinking about like weasels looking for a henhouse, even after they offered him lots of money and told him he had a chance, a very good chance, to someday pitch in the big leagues, Scott Radinsky didn't have to sign a contract.
But he did. And there's nothing his family and friends can do for him now.
Radinsky's plight began in earnest last season, his junior year at Simi Valley High. When he pitched, people noticed that the catcher would frequently make a yelping sort of noise and contort his face the way you do when you rapidly swing your big toe against the bed frame in the middle of the night on the way to the bathroom.
Upon closer examination, there seemed to be a direct connection between the yelps from the catcher and Radinsky's pitches. The yelp, it seemed, nearly always followed a pitch.
Professional scouts, who are paid decent wages to detect those things, believed it was no coincidence. They correctly reasoned that perhaps Radinsky threw a baseball hard enough to cause the catcher to make those dog-like noises in pain. To confirm this, they brought out the radar guns--small, hand-held devices that look like hair dryers. But, like real guns, they can end lives. Or at least careers. But they can also make them.
When they aimed the guns at Radinsky's pitches, numbers flashed on the digital screen, numbers like 88. And 89. The average major league fastball is 85 m.p.h. Not too many people can throw baseballs accurately at 88 and 89 m.p.h. You may have heard of some of those who can. Does the name Dwight Gooden ring any bells? How about Orel Hershiser? Bret Saberhagen? These men make pretty darn good livings doing it.
As the spring season began, most major league scouts on the West Coast knew as much about Scott Radinsky as they did about their wives and children. Which isn't surprising, because they probably spent more time with him. As the season began, the seats behind home plate at Simi Valley on the days Radinsky pitched were elbow-to-elbow with radar guns. One can imagine dozens of garage doors with automatic openers near the high school swinging open every time Radinsky released a pitch. There were enough radar guns to jump-start a pacemaker.
"Some games it was just ridiculous," Radinsky said. "The guns all have white fronts, and I'd glance up there during the game and see all these white dots. Sometimes there were 12 and 15 of them. It looked like a mass of little white dots."
In the first few games, Radinsky was again lighting up the digital displays with 88 and 89. And opposing batters had a lot in common with guys with bad breath in a singles bar--they were striking out a lot. Radinsky was piling up a list of shutouts longer than a list of states that Leon Spinks cannot legally drive in.
The victories mounted, but so did the number of innings the eager Radinsky pitched. The fatigue in his arm began showing clearly on the twinkling, white-faced radar guns. The numbers dropped steadily, to 85 m.p.h., then to 84 and 83. But if the radar guns showed a decline, the results on the field didn't. Radinsky finished the season with a 14-1 record and a 1.18 earned-run average. He had four one-hitters, struck out an incredible 180 batters in 100 innings--the team played only 210 innings--and carried Simi Valley to a 26-4 record and into the semifinal game of the Southern Section 4-A Division playoffs, where the bubble burst against a tough Esperanza team from Orange County.
"Let's face it, 100 innings takes its toll. The kid is only 17," said Simi Valley Coach Mike Scyphers. "He got tired. But for some reason, he was still striking people out pretty regularly. To get an average of 1.8 strikeouts an inning over 100 innings, he must have been doing something right."
As the season neared its end, scouts began talking to Radinsky. They knew what he could do on the mound. They wanted to know more about him when he was off the mound. A few wanted to know how much money he wanted to do what he does on the mound.
"We all knew we couldn't, under the rules of baseball, talk to him about money. But I did. And I know others did," said one West Coast scout. "The kind of money he said he wanted as a signing bonus . . . let's say $50,000 is in the ballpark.
"I just didn't think my organization would be interested in him at that price."
On June 2, the Chicago White Sox drafted Radinsky in the third round. He was the 72nd pick overall. Five days later, Dwayne Schaeffer, Chicago's supervisor of scouting for the West Coast, and scout Craig Wallenbrock, met with Radinsky and Scyphers, who served as Radinsky's agent. The meeting lasted several hours, and when it was over, Radinsky had put pen to paper and become a professional baseball player.
Terms of the signing bonus were not announced, and none of the participants will disclose the figures. When asked, Radinsky smiled and said, "That's not true. I told my mother." Add Mrs. Radinsky to the list of those who will not talk about the money.
"It doesn't matter to me anyway," Radinsky said. "This is not about money. It's about a chance to fulfill a dream, a chance to pitch in the major leagues. I honestly haven't given much thought to the money."
To reach the major leagues, however, Radinsky must travel a long road. It starts this weekend, the day after he graduates from school, when he jets to Sarasota and joins the White Sox rookie team in the Gulf Coast League. It is the first step. Radinsky knows it is a big one.
"In a way, I'm excited. But I'm scared, too," he said, brushing a hand over his crew cut as he gazed across the Simi Valley baseball field where he made his dream come true.
"I'm not even 18, I'll be 3,000 miles away, away from home for the first time, away from my family and friends for the first time. This is what I wanted all along, this is what I worked for, and sometimes I think that I'm not really all that scared about the whole thing. But really, I am scared."
Wallenbrock said Radinsky has nothing to worry about. At least for the rest of this year's rookie league season.
"All of our high school draft picks go to rookie league," Wallenbrock said. "The only exceptions to rookie league are four-year college seniors who have turned in exceptional stats. Some of those kids, maybe, we'd move right into Class-A ball. But with the high school kids, it's always the rookie league.
"It's their first time away from home, their first time playing seven days a week and you want them in a really relaxed atmosphere with a fatherly type manager. We just want them to get acclimated to pro ball. We're not really looking at their performance the first year. We want them to be comfortable and to adjust to the idea of playing pro ball. Then, after a year, we start watching the stats, and deciding who should move up and who isn't ready yet."
Among the players who have passed through the Gulf Coast League are San Diego reliever Rich Gossage, Angel outfielder Brian Downing and Gooden of the Mets.
Schaeffer, who talked to Radinsky for hours about the Gulf Coast League, living conditions in Sarasota and how tough the adjustment might be, didn't, however, sweet-talk him. He told Radinsky that high school ball is over. He told him that what he will see in the Gulf Coast League will be, in essence, the cleanup hitter from every high school team Radinsky has ever faced.
"That kind of shocked me, hearing it described that way," Radinsky said. "But he's right. All that means, though, is that if I'm going to face nothing but No. 4 hitters, I have to be the No. 1 pitcher every time out. It's as simple as that. I probably haven't seen hitters as good as these guys, but maybe they haven't seen too many pitchers as good as I am, either.
"In my mind I've prepared myself for a league full of Dave Parkers and other established stars. So when I actually get into it down there, it probably won't seem half as bad as I've told myself it's going to be."
Radinsky can often sound negative about the situation, about his chance of succeeding. But such talk is quickly overriden by an obvious confidence, a confidence bred by two seasons of standing opposing batters on their heads. Scott Radinsky knows he is not Dwight Gooden. But he also realizes that he is Scott Radinsky.
"One thing Scott has going for him is the right frame of mind," said Scyphers. "He knows he can succeed. He knows he has the right tools. And on top of that, he has the right temperment. Nothing riles him. He can go out and throw a one-hitter or go out and walk eight guys and get drilled, but he always reacts the same way. Nothing flusters him. As he moves through the minor leagues, that is going to be a very, very valuable asset for him."
Schaeffer echoes that belief. He watched Radinsky pitch in seven games this season. Obviously, he liked what he saw.
"The first thing you look at is that he's left-handed," Schaeffer said. "A good left-hander is a rarity in the game. Left-handers are at a premium. And then there's the great size: 6-3 and 190, and in high school. Then you watch him pitch. He has an above-average fastball and a good curveball. He's a little inconsistent with it, but it looks like he knows how to throw it. All the tools are there. He just needs polish.
"He's so determined to go on and make the big leagues. He believes he can pitch. He has the mental attitude it takes. He doesn't think anyone can beat him, and that's what will get him to the big leagues. He's the type of high school pitcher who could move up very quickly. I don't see anyone stopping this kid from doing what he wants to do."
Schaeffer said Radinsky's determination made a big impression on him early in the season, when he struggled but still threw a one-hit shutout against Riverside Poly.
"He was throwing only 84 or 85 m.p.h., but he had great command, throwing strikes at the knees. I don't think he would have lost that game if it went 20 innings. You win because you think you can win. I don't think he wonders if he can win, he always, always believes he can win."
Wallenbrock, the other Chicago scout who watched Radinsky pitch three times this season, put it this way: "Winners have a different look to them than other people. Scott has that look."
Before he got serious about baseball, what Radinsky wanted to do was be part of a rock 'n' roll band. And he was. In seventh grade, long before his fastball was singing, he was. The band stayed together through high school, taking the name Scared Straight and producing two albums that, for the most part, carry anti-drug messages. As he begins a life in pro baseball he should, as the headlines remind us virtually every day, remember his own words.
"I'm not worried about myself and drugs," he said. "I feel sorry for those who have those problems. I don't understand it, but I'm also not living out of a suitcase for nine months at a time with a lot of free time and a lot of cash to spend, so I don't know the feeling. I don't know why they do it. I've never been there. But I do know that I'll never get involved in it. We all have choices. I know what mine is."
Most scouts, including the White Sox scouts, agreed that despite Radinsky's fine season and terrific statistics, he was taken relatively high in the draft because of his potential. They know he will get bigger. And with the instruction available in professional baseball, they know he will improve his technique and throw the ball even faster.
"He's got the opportunity to have a great career," said Angels' scout Kevin Malone. "He's big, strong and left-handed and he's with an organization now that likes left-handed pitchers even more than the other clubs. They really wanted Scott because he's left-handed and because of his potential. I think he will take what they teach him and add it to what he already has and become a really fine pitcher. He's got a bright future."
And it begins this week. He'll say his goodbys Saturday, and they will hurt. But what will hurt Radinsky at that moment even more will be the goodby that he won't get to say.
His father, Marshall, died last year at 60 after a yearlong battle against cancer. He taught Scott how to play baseball, even coached him a few seasons in Little League. And the father saw something in his son long before anyone else did.
"This was his dream as much as it was my dream," Radinsky said, speaking a bit more slowly, looking for the right words. "He coached me and he watched me play. And in the last few years, we talked a lot about me becoming a professional baseball player. He told me that I had it, that I could pitch in the major leagues some day if I wanted it bad enough.
"I think right now my Dad is as happy as I am, if not even happier, to see me accomplish at least a part of what we dreamed about together. When I signed the contract, my mom said, 'It's too bad dad isn't here to see this.' But I think he is here, somewhere, and he knows. And I think he's pretty proud of me right now."
Scott's mother also believes her husband's presence still lives in her, Scott and his 16-year-old brother, Bryan. But she also knows that Scott Radinsky, as he prepares to embark on the biggest adventure of his life, would give anything to see his father's smile again, to hear his words of encouragement.
"We know he's watching over us," she said. "But it's not the same. I know how proud he would be right now. And even though he doesn't talk about it much, I know that right now Scotty misses him very, very much."