by Dan Cleary
CHESTER TWP, NJ---It stands to reason that Rick Porcello enjoys the solitude and intense thought that is unique to fly fishing. One can picture Porcello extending his long, athletic frame on the banks of a stream, river or lake, casting a fly in hot pursuit of an elusive trout, while the rest of the world serves as a quiet backdrop to the task at hand.
Now put Porcello on a pitcherís mound and it is almost the same exact scene as he goes after a hitter, blocking out all the sound around him, toeing the rubber with the same intensity.
"I love flying fishing with my family and friends," said Porcello, who can be found fishing around his hometown of Chester Township in Morris County, New Jersey or his familyís cabin in Vermont. "I do it when I have free time. It really helps me relax and it allows me to take my mind off baseball for a while."
"I love fly fishing for trout," added Porcello, who jokingly said he couldnít reveal his favorite fishing spot. "It keeps you focused and you use your senses. It helps you figure out patterns of where the fish are. It is just like pitching. You have to figure out what pattern of pitches you have to throw to certain batters. There is a definite correlation between the two."
Ah, baseball and fishing. Ted Williams would be proud. The late Hall-of-Famer became almost as well known for his fishing exploits later in life than his hitting for the Red Sox during his legendary career.
You canít get more All-American than going fishing and playing baseball. And you canít get more All-American than Porcello, who just happens to be the best high school player in New Jersey, a future millionaire, and as humble and as gracious as a young man you will meet.
Porcello, an 18-year-old, flame-throwing, 6-foot-5, 195-pound righty from Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, N.J. recently capped one of the most illustrious high school careers in state history by helping the Pirates (32-1) capture their fourth Non-Public A state crown in the last five years, while also being the 27th player selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft by the Detroit Tigers, the defending American League champions, on June 7.
Talk about having a dream week.
"It has been very humbling and a great experience," said Porcello, who finished his senior season 10-0 with 112 strikeouts and just 15 walks in 70 innings pitched. He also sported a sterling ERA of 1.20 en route to being named the Gatorade National High School Player of the Year.
"Iím just soaking it all in right now," added Porcello, a lifelong New York Mets fan, who can also swing the bat as his .477 batting average, 11 homers and 48 RBI can attest. "Iím very fortunate to be in this position and Iím not taking anything for granted."
Coming into the draft, many baseball experts felt Porcello could go as high as No. 2 to the Kansas City Royals. Porcello and his family were invited to attend the draft in Florida, which was televised for the first time ever by ESPN2, but they declined because Porcello was preparing for the state final, a game in which Porcello fanned eight and allowed five hits in the Piratesí 10-1 win over St. Joseph of Metuchen two days later.
So, the Porcello clan convened in the family den where Rick, his parents, Fred and Pat, and brothers, Zach, 23, and Jake, 16, gathered in front of the television. The family watched as the names were announced, but they didnít hear Rickís name for over two hours. It was speculated that teams passed on the superstar hurler due to "signability" concerns, not lack of talent. Porcello is being advised by superagent Scott Boras, who is known for bare-knuckle negotiations.
"It was a great feeling," said Porcello of being drafted. "We didnít know what was going to happen. It got a little emotional for a while and it was nerve-wracking. It definitely kept us on the edge of our seats. But it was a great experience and it is an honor to be drafted by the Tigers."
The Tigers, who have mined gold in the last three years by signing top picks, pitcher Andrew Miller last year, outfielder Cameron Maybin in 2005 and reigning American League Rookie of the Year, smoke-throwing righty, Justin Verlander, in 2004.
"As far as signability goes, my stance as well as the organizationís, has always been weíll take the best player and Rick Porcello was the best player available and that is the direction we took," said David Chadd, Vice President, Amateur Scouting for the Tigers in a press conference after the first day of the draft.
"Weíve been scouting Rick heavily since last summer. The draft is so unpredictable, so we just had to be prepared for anything," Chadd added. "He (Porcello) is obviously a very talented young man. As far as his upside goes, it will obviously be determined by his hard work. We are very excited about Rick and we are ready to start the process of getting him into a Tigers uniform. We couldnít be happier."
It has been reported that Boras will seek a signing bonus anywhere from $6 to $8 million and possibly ask the Tigers to sign Porcello to a Major League contract like they did with Miller last year. Miller, who is not represented by Boras, inked a four-year deal in August for a reported $5.5 million with a $3.5 million bonus.
Porcello also has the option of continuing his career at the University of North Carolina, where he signed a letter of intent to play for coach Mike Fox and his national powerhouse Tar Heels. Porcello, who has been compared to Verlander and current Boston Red Sox ace Josh Beckett, has to make up his mind by August 15 under the new draft rules implemented by MLB. If a team does not sign its first- or-second round pick by the deadline, the player will go back into next yearís draft pool and the team will receive a compensation pick in the first round again.
When Porcello signed with the Tar Heels, Fox knew there was a very good chance he would be a very high draft pick and may never pitch on Tobacco Road. Fox said in December, "He is a kid with great character and comes from a fine family. He is also very mature in the way he has handled all of his success. Rick could have gone to any school in the country, so we are excited he chose the University of North Carolina."
So where will Porcello bring his high-90s fastball, wicked curve, nasty slider and tantalizing changeup?
"The process is going well. It is a long one and my family and I will sit down and make a decision by the end of the summer. The deadline is definitely good because it will allow me to get started either way. Iím glad I donít have to make the decision all on my own. It is an adjustment dealing with the business side because you have to think about more than just playing baseball. That is where my father really helps out. He has always helped me with baseball and with everything. But it is a win-win situation for me."
Porcello is not the first Seton Hall Prep product to be drafted in the first round, and coincidentally, the 27th pick overall. Former Pirate phenom Eric Duncan was selected by the New York Yankees in 2003. The slugging first baseman was hitting .242 with five home runs and 21 RBI for Triple A Scranton-Wilkes Barre of the International League before being placed on the disabled list June 7 with a sprained thumb.
"We havenít talked recently, but I have talked to him a couple times. He has been very helpful and told me what to expect," said Porcello.
And what is expected at Seton Hall Prep are wins and championships. Coach Mike Sheppard Jr. has built the Pirates into a national titan and the squad finished the season ranked No. 2 in the country by Baseball America.
"Rick has such a high level of poise and maturity on the mound," Sheppard said when Porcello was named Player of the Year. "He doesnít get rattled, no matter whom he is facing, and no matter what the situation is. He is the consummate hard worker and his greatest attribute, honestly, is his personal makeup. He possess tremendous integrity and humility."
But it just wasnít "The Rick Porcello Show," either, this season. Teammate Evan Danieli, a 6-9 righty, was drafted in the 33rd round by the Minnesota Twins and is committed to Notre Dame. Center fielder Steven Brooks is headed to Wake Forest and rightfielder Nick Natale is going to Rice University in Houston.
"I have great teammates. We all worked hard and we were focused on our senior season,í said Porcello, who added that the Pirates would play video games in the locker room to help relax before games. "We wanted to come in and win a conference, county and state championship, and we did.
"I loved playing there and it was a great place to be," added Porcello, who sported an outstanding 3.9 grade-point average and was a member of the National Honor Society and Spanish Honor Society. "It was one of the best decisions Iíve made."
Porcello guided the Pirates into the Essex County Tournament championship game by firing a 77-pitch perfect game in a 2-0 win over Newark Academy in the tourney semifinals on May 12. He also fanned 12 and fired 63 strikes and just 14 balls.
"I had done it in Little League, but that really doesnít count. It was a great feeling," Porcello said. He added that he only saw highlights of Verlanderís recent no-hitter, saying, "He is someone I can look up to. He is a great pitcher."
Now, Porcello said he will spend the summer working out, playing golf and consulting with his family and the Tigers about making his choice. He said he hopes to one day play in the World Series like his late maternal grandfather, Sam Dente, did with the Cleveland Indians in 1954. Dente, a shortstop, was a career .252 hitter for five teams from1947-1955.
"My family is very important. We are a very close nit family and they have always been there for me and so have been my friends. They all have been very supportive in the whole process and it has been great sharing it with them."
So for now, all the ball Porcello will be playing will be in the familyís backyard in Chester with his siblings, which can get very intense, he said.
"We like to play wiffleball in the backyard and compete against each other," said Porcello, a self-described animal lover who has three cats and two dogs. "When my brother Jake beats me, he runs inside and tells my mom that he just beat the best player in New Jersey," he added laughing. "I donít let him win. Heís good and he is tough, too."
Well, if things go to plan, the next time Jake is able to pull off a win in the backyard, he might have to update his brotherís status to "Starting Pitcher for the Defending American League Champs."
# # #