What were you doing about three months shy of your 22nd birthday? Better yet, what were you doing in the final days of your senior year of college?
I can't answer either question—don't know the first answer and the second one's not appropriate for innocent eyes (or those of my parents). I'm guessing I'm not the only one.
Ryan Scoma, who hits the double deuce in September, had several irons in the fire.
He had his last final to take in geology. Then he had to actually graduate from UC Davis. Plus, there was the matter of a phone call—not from a particular person, but containing a very particular message.
That's because Scoma had tossed his name into the 2009 Major League Baseball Draft, where he was grabbed by the San Francisco Giants in the 36th round. Franchises spent Tuesday through Thursday analyzing amateur ballplayers and selecting their next generation of stars.
The San Carlos native spent most of the three days waiting to get the good word. Literally. Just lying on his bed and hoping some club would have the good sense to draft him.
"I was nervous," Scoma said. "You try to be optimistic, but you start to worry.
"I didn't care if I was the last pick, I just wanted to get in."
Ah, refreshing isn't it?
As for his anxiety, who could blame him?
The Big League clubs aren't exactly forthcoming with their draft plans. Once you get outside the first few rounds, it's tough to know anything unless you're brought in to be worked-out.
Even then, it's basically only that you're on the radar.
Scoma would know because our beloved Giants brought the kid in as one of their featured outfielders for their showcase event.
The pre-draft workout was for the benefit of the movers-and-shakers of the assessment/decision-making process—national scouts, area scouts, rovers, assistant general manager, you name it.
If you had a shred of a vote, you were there and got an eyeful.
About 20 players (15 hitters) were run through various baseball drills to demonstrate their speed, arm, defensive capabilities, prowess with a bat, and/or stuff from the mound. The audience saw Scoma have a "pretty good day."
I'll get to that later.
In return for the lefty-righty's services—yep, he's one of those made-for-baseball combos that swings from the left and throws from the right—Scoma got minimal insight into the Giants' plans. Which is not unusual.
"You're basically in the dark throughout the process," he said.
Hey, as Scoma acknowledged, it's the business side of baseball.
Just as contract-squabbles and fly-by-potential selections of unproven high-schoolers come with every draft, so do muted conversations and the shroud of secrecy. San Francisco, like any other organization, has its interests to protect from outsiders.
A fact not lost on one of their newest insiders, which is a label Scoma now wears courtesy of his selection in the draft.
Turns out that "pretty good day" for the powers-that-be was sufficient to earn him a place on the Orange and Black draft board. More importantly, it earned Scoma an emotional phone call from one of his ex-coaches.
And an opportunity to eventually make the Show.
Not too bad for a dude who wasn't even the Player of the Year for the Peninsula Athletic League during his senior year of high school (he was runner-up). Think maybe the coaches would like to have that vote back?
In their defense, Scoma got intentionally walked about 20 times after the opposition had enough of being terrorized by the youngster during his sophomore and junior years. Tough to challenge league leaders in the counting statistics when you're getting the Barry Bonds Treatment as a 17-year-old.
A lot of pros don't handle it well.
After graduating from Carlmont High School and facing minimal interest from suitable suitors, he moved on to junior college at the College of San Mateo. Initially, Scoma was told his only future was as one of baseball's contract-killers.
A guy saved for the appropriate offensive matchup who possessed a slick-fielding, strong-armed defensive array. Perfect for the latter innings, but not a regular.
"I was thinking, 'Do I really want to be a defensive-specialist?'" Scoma said. "And, the next thing, I'm playing everyday as the No. 3 hitter."
After two conference titles, two appearances on the Dean's List at CSM, and all-conference honors in 2007 Scoma accepted the only offer on the table—an invitation from Davis to finish up his college career in an Aggie uniform. As icing on the cake, the university gave him a scholarship for his final year.
Once there, the developing-prospect didn't slow down.
He cut a wide swath through college baseball and the Big West Conference—hitting .358 in 215 at-bats covering 54 games with impressive overall stats: 31 Rs, 16 2Bs, 2 3Bs, 3 HRs, 52 RBI, .408 OBP, .493 SLG. His debut season was good enough to land him on the 2009 preseason Brooks Wallace Award watch list.
In an unfortunate coincidence, an injury would test Scoma's newfound and burgeoning reputation almost immediately after he fought so hard to attain it.
A pulled trapezius muscle would take the edge off his swing, but Scoma demonstrated his grit by trying to play through the bite. If you don't appreciate the difficulty in this, try swinging an imaginary bat and then imagine if every move of your shoulders/neck caused substantial pain.
Now imagine trying to hit a baseball under such circumstances. Off a tee—forget from MLB-aces-in-training.
Eventually, the bugaboo would force him to the bench for some recuperation where Scoma found himself in familiar territory—wondering if his shot was over.
"I'm a guy who needs to be in the cage everyday. The injury wasn't major, but it doesn't take much."
The requisite inactivity allowed for the onset of that dreaded "R" word—rust. He struggled to rediscover his stroke without considering defeat. Even in retrospect, Scoma retains a silver lining.
"If [the injury] happened in junior college," he said, "it might have ended my career."
At that stage, the prospect of working his way back with even less light at the end of the tunnel could've been too overwhelming. It might've been off to search for fame and fortune elsewhere.
But make no mistake—it wasn't a picnic at the college-level.
Nonetheless, all the adversity made for a mere speed bump. And a small one at that—Scoma would finish 2009 second on the team with a .309 average and 34 RBI.
He can even say he faced phenom Stephen Strasburg at the height of his legend and came away with contact—"I got a hold of his fastball and never saw it again." True to his apparently humble nature, Scoma was quick to point out he did wear the collar and whiff twice.
But he stared down Strasburg thrice. And I say he emerged with a victory of sorts from those battles—from all we're told by Boras, you're quite the player if you simply survive the ordeal.
Yet another reason to believe in this 21-year-old with resolve and a healthy perspective. Not to mention talent and motivation.
"It'd be nice to be a first round pick...to have the guarantee label, but maybe that's not for me," Scoma said. "I've got nothing guaranteed, I've got to work hard for everything.
"I kind of like being the underdog. It's like they're telling me there are 1,076 guys better than me. And that's just this year. It keeps me hungry."
And hungry he sounds.
The new Giant celebrated his great news by hitting the cage for some work on his swing and then sitting for the aforementioned exam. Some of the first words out of his mouth referenced getting down to the desert to take physicals and start rookie ball on the 21st.
Even when I tried to bait him into visions of grandeur by pointing out how weak the Giants were offensively and especially in the outfield, Scoma was having none of it.
"I just wanna go out there and play my game," he said. "I just concentrate on myself—can't worry about what other guys are doing."
This is a big step toward his dream and a tremendous accomplishment, but it is not the goal.
The crosshairs have already been repositioned on the next big phone call and an eventual shot at the Big Leagues.
And those believers in fate, already swayed by the local angle and baseball tribulations endured by Scoma, should be convinced by this last little factoid—his roommate of two years was also drafted.
By the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Tell me the baseball gods aren't watching.
That's more good news for Scoma because, as he said, there are no promises for him. He's facing longer odds than most to get his MLB ticket—nobody's gonna hand him the chance based on potential or "upside."
Nope, he's gonna have to fight his way onto the premiere stage.
Happily, Scoma's no stranger to such circumstances. He's got the experience for the job, he's got the physical tools, and—most importantly—he's got the mental state to succeed.
"It only takes one person to love you," he said.
Let's hope someone in the game continues to love him.
I'd like to give a sincere word of thanks to Ryan for taking the time out of an obviously cluttered schedule to chat. Especially because there were miscommunications on both sides and it took multiple attempts from both ends to finally connect.
It was a huge week for him and I'm sure he had many better things to do than to talk with some random dude from the Internet. Nevertheless, he was candid and enthusiastic in response to every question and gladly offered extra info (I had no idea about his roommate being drafted).
Here's to seeing him in the Orange and Black someday sooner rather than later.
Damn, I also owe a tardy and equally sincere thanks to Aron Glatzer for hooking me up with the opportunity. I played no part in initially securing the conversation with Ryan.
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