Draft becomes an historic happening
TV, along with MLB.com, puts event on larger stage
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Many years from now, Major League Baseball's 2007 First-Year Player Draft will be remembered for Tampa Bay's selection of Vanderbilt left-hander David Price as the top overall pick.
And no matter how Price fares in his baseball days to come, what will be remembered most is the way that news was delivered to the world.
Thursday was the day that an event turned into a happening here at The Milk House inside Disney's Wide World of Sports. The two-day Draft is under way, and what already was a massive digital event entered a new age with a stage presentation that included a live crowd and ESPN2 audience for the first round, a commissioner announcing the selections, and 30 MLB delegate tables occupied by such legends as Jim Palmer, Robin Roberts, Dave Winfield and many more.
"I couldn't really sit still. My feet were shaking," said Ross Detwiler, a Missouri State left-hander drafted sixth overall by the Nationals and congratulated on-stage by Commissioner Bud Selig. "Growing the Draft like this is great for the development of players. People will start following players now that they've seen them getting drafted. We're starting something new here and I think it's great."
"Baseball is America's game," said Darryl Strawberry, the Mets' top overall pick in the 1980 Draft and one of their representatives at their delegate table on Thursday. "This may be another sign that baseball is alive."
"It's about time that baseball's Draft is on TV," said Felipe Alou, sitting at the Giants' table. "The game has made some big moves, like the World Baseball Classic last year, and it seems like there are fewer things left to do to make it all right. I've done everything else in the game, and this was a first for me. I may never come back actively, but I was glad the Giants asked me to be here for this."
Everywhere you looked, someone was sharing that sentiment. Here at Walt Disney World -- "Where Dreams Come True" -- this was Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Adventureland and Frontierland all wrapped into one. This was big-league, and everyone seemed to agree that it is only going to get bigger from here.
Baseball's Draft historically was an event kept fairly close to the vest, for years publicizing its first round the same day and then its remaining picks more than a week later due largely to competition with colleges over talent. The Draft grew into an Internet bash in recent years due to MLB.com technology that continues to make it the site's highest-traffic day of the year, drawing massive interest from families, friends and fans who know someone either showing up on the Draft Tracker or hopeful of being there.
ESPN2 televised the opening round for the first time on Thursday, with a simulcast on MLB.com, and Selig said emphatically after announcing that round's picks that it will be on television to stay. Fans everywhere saw Price go first, followed by: shortstop Michael Moustakas of Chatsworth High of Northridge, Calif. (Royals); third baseman Joshua Vitters of Cypress High in Anaheim (Cubs); left-hander Daniel Moskos of Clemson (Pirates); and catcher Matthew Wieters of Georgia Tech (Orioles).
While Price became the first-ever baseball player to be drafted in a live TV/Internet mega-event, Vitters became the first to walk up on a stage with the new organization's jersey and cap just like in other sports drafts. He was supposed to be in school back at Cypress High during this final week of classes, but fate and a lot of practice brought him here. And if you want to know just how big the First-Year Player Draft truly was on Thursday, then just check out the mobile phone buzzing in his pocket.
By the time he had shaken hands with Selig, met with his new club, done an interview and hugged his mother Teri again, there were already 55 text messages. Vitters reached into his pocked and pulled out his phone to show who they were from. The first one said, "Congratulations, bro" -- from someone whose number he didn't recognize. The second said, "Congrats, man, I'm happy for you."
That one was from Matthew Dominguez, a fellow third baseman from Southern California who would be drafted 12th by the Marlins. Dominguez was back home, watching it live on ESPN2 and following it live on MLB.com, just like untold millions of others. That's just not something that happened in the old days.
"It's awesome," Vitters said. "When I came in here, it was a little overwhelming, seeing these guys like Winfield and Strawberry."
Teri Vitters was sitting beside her son when his name was announced, one year after her older son Christian was drafted in the 10th round, and she was swept up in the spectacle of this year's event. "We're just all honored to be part of history," she said.
Three players were sitting by the stage at the start of this Draft, and beside Vitters and Detwiler was right-hander Phillippe Aumont, a high schooler from Quebec who was drafted 11th overall by the Mariners. "It's the biggest honor I've had since I was born," Aumont said. Well, you can't get much bigger than that.
|1. TB||LHP||David Price||Vanderbilt U|
|2. KC||SS||Michael Moustakas||Chatsworth HS (Calif.)|
|3. CHC||3B||Josh Vitters||Cypress HS (Calif.)|
|4. PIT||LHP||Daniel Moskos||Clemson U|
|5. BAL||C||Matthew Wieters||Georgia Tech|
|6. WSH||LHP||Ross Detwiler||Missouri St U|
|7. MIL||LF||Matthew LaPorta||U Florida|
|8. COL||RHP||Casey Weathers||Vanderbilt U|
|9. ARI||RHP||Jarrod Parker||Norwell HS|
|10. SF||LHP||Madison Bumgarner||South Caldwell HS|
Any worries that Aumont might sit there under the lights and slide way down the first round were allayed, but that unquestionably was a concern going in. "The only thing you don't want," Selig said afterward in reference to the recent NFL Draft, "is a Brady Quinn situation where someone slides down to the 22nd pick. We didn't have that."
What baseball did have was a far bigger audience, and a lot more fun.
As a result, there will be a lot more people saying things around the office on Friday like "barrel awareness," "signability" and "projectionable." That's because baseball's Draft just keeps rolling, whereas others are typically much shorter. Once ESPN2's coverage ended, MLB.com took over. BaseballChannel.TV began broadcasting every live pick of rounds No. 2-5 and beyond to close out the first day.
Day 2 coverage starts up at 11:30 a.m. today from New York. Jonathan Mayo and Perfect Game USA's Allan Simpson will be providing regular updates throughout the day during BaseballChannel.TV's regular programming. In addition, Mayo, Simpson and Seth Everett will do a one-hour show from 2-3 p.m. At 6 p.m., Vinny Micucci will host a one-hour show, again with Mayo and Simpson providing in-depth analysis.
An absolute baseball smorgasbord goes on, and the MLB.com Draft Tracker will continue to draw massive page views until it's over. And the memories of this Draft will live on, not just for who was drafted but how they were drafted.
"I'm glad to see what we've done," said Tommy Lasorda, one of the Dodgers' representatives here during the first round. "We would always see football and basketball and wonder, 'Why not us?' I wish I knew the answer to that, but I couldn't tell you. The main thing is that we're at that level now. This has been great."
And in some ways, it was even better than other Drafts. Tradition was on full display. Look around at the delegate tables, and you could find Robin Roberts, Tony Oliva, Ralph Garr, Andre Dawson, Tim Foli, Dwight Evans, Enos Cabell and so many others who turned people into fans. It felt like a new way to keep the game rolling.
"It proves how popular the game has become," Selig said. "I thought today was a remarkably good day."
Baseball never had seen anything like it. Settle in for another day filled with many more picks, followed by the most time-honored process of all: trying to go from a Draft pick to a Major League superstar.
That never changes.
"You're always curious to see how the guys do," Strawberry said. "Now more people will know about them. Players need to get recognition. The first Draft on national TV. It's something that should have been done a long time ago. It was good to see."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.