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Tuesday, June 6, 2006 | We all know San Diego is a baseball hotbed for college recruiters and pro scouts alike. Most years that means one or more players are first-round draft picks.
But when the two-day amateur draft begins today, this might be a rare year when San Diego is shut out of the first round. Vista High pitcher Trevor Cahill, who otherwise plans to play Ivy League baseball at Dartmouth, is the only name mentioned as a possible first-rounder.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a future major leaguer among this year’s crop of high school seniors. The baseball draft is more of a crapshoot than football and basketball, and there aren’t many sure things in those sports, either.
The Padres’ roster features three starters from San Diego high schools – try to find another Major League team that trots out a third of its starting lineup from high schools in its backyard – and the first-rounder is the one still trying to prove he belongs in the big leagues.
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez was the first pick of the draft out of Eastlake High by the Florida Marlins in 2000.
Right-fielder Brian Giles, a two-time All-Star, was a 17th-round pick in 1989 out of Granite Hills High by the Cleveland Indians.
Left-fielder Dave Roberts, a Rancho Buena Vista High alumnus, was drafted by the Indians out of UCLA in the 47th round in 1993 before he returned to the Bruins for his senior year and was subsequently drafted in the 28th round and signed by the Detroit Tigers in 1994.
I wondered what the Padres’ three homegrown players felt was the most important lesson they learned from their high school coach that helped them progressing to the majors. You might think it was the fundamentals. Kids grow up in San Diego learning an advanced level of baseball from San Diego’s knowledgeable fraternity high school coaches.
But that’s not what Giles, Roberts and Gonzalez told me. Giles played for Gordy Thompson, now retired and living in Oregon; Roberts for Steve Hargrave, now an assistant principal at RBV; and Gonzalez for Dave Gonzalez (no relation), who is still coaching the Titans.
“The biggest thing Gordy did is he cared about you not only as a player but as a student and a friend,” Giles said. “That’s tough to find in athletics. He taught me there’s not much you can control in the game, but you can control showing up on time and playing hard. Those are things that still apply in the Major Leagues.”
Giles, 35, grew up in his El Cajon community knowing Thompson was the man he would play for some day. When his youth league practices were over, he and his buddies would wander down the street to watch the Granite Hills game.
The same was true for his younger brother, Marcus, a second baseman with the Atlanta Braves.
“Marcus and I were fortunate to play for the same coach,” Giles said. “We’re still good friends (with Thompson). When we talk, we don’t talk about baseball, unless he’s in town for a game.”
Roberts, 34, said Hargrave stayed in touch with him throughout his college and minor league careers. He attended some minor league games and spring training games.
“I really appreciated that he cared for me as a person,” Robert said. “Some players have coaches that are just X’s and O’s type of guys. Coach Hargrave was more than that. We have a tight bond and that means more than anything.”
Gonzalez, younger than his homegrown teammates after turning 24 earlier this month, still trusts Dave Gonzalez with his future.
Adrian’s older brother Edgar, now in the Florida Marlins’ system after playing at San Diego State, played for three different coaches at Eastlake before Dave Gonzalez took over in the middle of Edgar’s junior year.
“My brother told me he was going to turn around the program, and he did,” Adrian said. “We still talk about baseball. He tells me what he sees and I ask him how the team is doing. It’s a good relationship we have.”
Adrian said he’s gone back to a knee tuck before striding into pitches that Dave Gonzalez teaches at Eastlake. Adrian had a toe tap similar to Chipper Jones and Sammy Sosa earlier in his career, but he said the Marlins’ coaches had him remove the toe tap from his setup. To regain a comfortable feeling at the plate, he’s adopted the knee tuck he first learned from Dave Gonzalez.
But the high school coaches who turn out major leaguers emphasize more than techniques. They teach work ethic because if the talented athlete relies on raw talent, their career is headed for a dead end.
At some point the coach becomes a second father more than a coach or teacher. Roberts says he still has a hard time thinking of Hargrave as anything but his coach he looked up to as a kid.
“It’s funny,” he said. “I haven’t played for him for 17 years, but he’s still Coach Hargrave to me. I don’t know when the right time will be for me to call him Steve.”
Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org’s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send a letter to the editor.