Scout's honor, Floyd has big-league promise

High schools: With help of his family, coach - and hotline - Mount St. Joe pitcher Gavin Floyd has stayed focused on catcher's target, not the big-league scouts behind it.

May 15, 2001|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

He's just a kid, yet the flock of grown men are back again, having flown in from across the country simply so they can stare at him.

They jostle for position, some in sweat pants, some in silk ties and $300 dress shoes. They stare and they take notes, and then they stare some more. And with every pitch he throws, in unscripted unison, they raise their arms and track the kid with radar, as though he were a jetliner about to land at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, instead of perhaps the best high school pitcher in the nation.

"It seems like the scouts and the radar guns have always been there," says Mount St. Joseph senior Gavin Floyd. "When they first started showing up at games, I thought it was the biggest thing. These days, I don't really pay much attention."

In fact, if there is one thing that Floyd wouldn't mind receiving a little less of these days, it's attention. When he takes the mound today against visiting Calvert Hall in the first round of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference playoffs in perhaps the biggest game of his career, he'll be doing it beneath the proverbial microscope. Every eye - whether it belongs to the random grandmother or to any one of the 50 or so major-league scouts expected to attend - will be focused on him and his 95-mph fastball.

"I don't know how he does it sometimes," says Joe Sargent, Gavin's close friend and teammate. "He just goes out there and none of it bothers him. When he's locked in, all he thinks about is baseball."

It's no secret that after a stellar varsity career at Mount St. Joe, Gavin is projected to be one of the top five picks in the Major League Baseball draft on June 5. And though the No. 5-ranked Gaels' season is just heating up, the battle for Floyd has been raging for nearly a year now.

Just about every week since late July, the Floyd household in Severna Park has received a barrage of phone calls, letters and business cards from the virtually hundreds of agents and scouts who are clamoring to sign Gavin - should he choose to skip college next fall and sign a baseball contract. Though scouts are reluctant to elaborate on his talents, the consensus is that Floyd is a can't-miss prospect, expected to be offered a signing bonus of about $3 million, according to Baseball America.

Most of the commotion doesn't reach him, thanks to his parents, Rodney and Elaine, who have somehow kept the hungry masses at arm's length thus far.

"We were lucky; we were warned by many people," Rodney says. "We got a separate phone line we call the Gavin Floyd Pitching Rotation Hotline. It tells the scouts when and where he's pitching and what the weather is like. That saves us from a lot of work around here."

It also might have given Gavin some semblance of a normal high school life, although he still isn't allowed to pick up the phone at his house. His girlfriend, teachers and friends almost always have to go through the call-screening process of his parents or his younger brother Brendan.

"I don't answer the phone unless I'm the only one home," Floyd says, "and even then I might not pick it up. It's tough. It's not a normal lifestyle, I guess."

Rodney and Elaine never really envisioned their freckled, red-haired son with the fiery temper would grow up and develop the potential to become the next Roger Clemens; it just kind of happened that way. Even as a mild-mannered, polite 14-year-old, Floyd was putting fear into just about every Little Leaguer in Anne Arundel County by throwing in the mid-80s.

"A couple of people that played professionally said to us when he was young that he had the potential, but I don't think I ever took it seriously," Elaine says.

A push toward big time

Once he hooked up with Dean Albany, a part-time scout with the Orioles who runs the Maryland Orioles summer baseball program, any limitations went out the window. Albany taught Gavin better body control and how to become less of a thrower and more of a pitcher, and, from there, he soared.

Floyd followed his older brother Michael's path to Mount St. Joe, where baseball quickly morphed into nearly a year-around affair. He would spend summer and fall with the Maryland Orioles, juggling invitations to the top showcase baseball camps in the country, and spend his spring blowing away batters for the Gaels.

The camps, some as far away as Florida, put him on display like an expensive racehorse. At age 16, he was pitching in front of some 250 scouts.

"After a point, I sat him down a few years ago and said, `Look, you've got a gift, but the best way to show that is with your performance,' " Rodney says. "I told him I didn't want a son with a swollen head in my house."

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