`Train' brings it, and the scouts are taking notes

Baseball: South Carroll's Jason Tourangeau, who ran over tacklers in football, throws by batters at 90 mph-plus from the mound. Is a pro career near?

May 16, 1999|By Rich Scherr | Rich Scherr,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As a football fullback, South Carroll's Jason Tourangeau earned the nickname "Train" for his propensity to plow over would-be tacklers in pursuit of the end zone.

This spring, the 6-foot-4 senior said he's kept pretty much the same attitude.

As a pitcher on the Cavaliers' county-championship baseball team, he uses a fastball clocked as high as 91 mph to plow through opposing lineups. His pursuit -- a possible pro career.

Though his son already has signed to play at East Carolina next season, Michael Tourangeau said that could change depending upon what happens at this year's amateur draft, which begins June 2.

"College is a very important thing for us right now, and we don't really want to miss it," said the elder Tourangeau, a chef who was his son's longtime coach. "But if there's a number that comes out that we can't turn down, because he would be financially set for the rest of his life, it's something we'll take a hard look at."

In recent weeks, scouts have flocked to the Winfield campus to look at the 17-year-old senior, who has posted some strong numbers while helping South Carroll to a 16-4 mark.

The right-hander is 4-1 with four saves, 68 strikeouts, and 21 hits allowed in 34.2 innings. His earned-run average is 3.84, but take away one stint during which he allowed 12 earned runs in three innings, it's 1.55.

His biggest improvement has come at bat, where he's hitting a county-best .532 with four home runs, five doubles, two triples, 22 RBIs and 22 runs. He's also walked 15 times and stolen seven bases.

Though he attributes his success to a newfound determination to go with pitches and hit line drives, the crown jewel of his season came April 14 at North Carroll. That day, he hit three home runs and had eight RBIs in a 23-0 win over the Panthers.

"That game really jump-started him," said South Carroll coach George Richardson. "It set the offensive tone for him this year."

It's a tone that actually began years ago.

Tourangeau moved frequently as a child as his father relocated for work. He began pitching at age 8 and quickly found he could throw faster than most.

Michael Tourangeau, himself a former high school standout who says he passed up college ball for culinary school, has made it his mission to help his son improve.

He spent the better part of a decade coaching Jason on Mount Airy recreation teams and the Carroll County Rangers travel squad, frequently attending coaching clinics to learn how to better teach kids.

"I think he benefited, because there are so many coaches trying to teach the old ways -- things that they taught back in the 1950s and 1960s," said the elder Tourangeau.

"Baseball has changed a lot with kids nowadays in terms of developing their arms properly and teaching them how to throw so they don't get injured."

Being coached by his dad was sometimes a double-edged sword, Jason said, explaining: "Sometimes it was frustrating, with him always sitting there, yelling at me, trying to get me to do everything better. But in the end, he really helped me out a lot."

His 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame has been helpful, too. It's his size for his age -- he started school a year earlier than most kids -- that has scouts drooling.

"He has a tremendous body, and that's God-given," said Richardson. "His arm strength is excellent. He has an unlimited ceiling. He has the talent. Now, all he has to do is refine it."

In anticipation of the draft, the New York Yankees have invited him to a personal tryout on May 23 at Yankee Stadium.

Jason said the key to his recent mound success has been the addition of a third pitch, a change-uphe learned last fall on coach Dean Albany's Maryland Orioles.

"I've become a lot more of a pitcher," he said. "In the past I was more of a thrower, just going to the mound and throwing the ball as hard as I could. [The change-up] just sets the batters up so that I can get my other pitches by them, or get them to hit the ground ball."

Tourangeau's bread and butter, however, remains his heater.

"He definitely believes in his fastball," said Richardson, who added that Jason throws a lot like his idol, Atlanta Braves' fire-baller John Smoltz. "They're both aggressive, power pitchers."

On a South Carroll team loaded with college-bound pitchers, he said it's been tough at times to stay sharp, because work is sometimes sparse. Height helps, he said, because he's capable of throwing the ball down to most hitters.

And when all else fails, he's still got the attitude.

"Playing football helps a great deal with baseball, because it makes you more competitive," said Tourangeau, who rushed for more than 1,400 yards the past two seasons. "It makes you want to be on the mound with the ball. You also get a lot of your anger out."

A lot of hitters, as well.

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