No doubt, Oklahoma high school pitcher Dylan Bundy is still walking on air, and why not? The Orioles just took him in the first round of baseball's first-year player draft, and he stands to become a very rich young man in the next couple of months.
"Right now, he's just enjoying being drafted and knowing what team he's going to be playing with,'' said Orioles pitcher Brian Matusz, who was in the same position three years ago. "Once that feeling settles in for a while, you want to get going."
It must be quite a feeling to have your life's work validated so resoundingly at such a young age, and it happens to a select handful of young men in each big-time professional sport ever year.
"When you know you're going from having nothing to being — this kid's going to be a multi-millionaire — it's pretty life-changing,'' Matusz said. "Your life changes dramatically. Once I got my deal done, I went out and bought my dad a bunch of stuff, a big-screen TV and some other things, which is something I never could have dreamed of doing before. But you still have a job to do."
Fellow Oklahoman Mark Clayton, who was the Ravens' first-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft and just happened to be at Camden Yards on Tuesday as a guest of Adam Jones, described the feeling as surreal.
"You're kind of floating,'' he said. "It doesn't really hit you. It's like, 'Wow, this really happened.' I don't think it really hit me until my first game … until I was actually wearing a Ravens helmet."
Of course, every situation is different. First-rounders are expected to play significant roles right away in the NFL and college baseball players such as Matusz start out on a much faster track than high school seniors, though nobody is ready to rule out the possibility that Bundy will make a quick ascent through the Orioles' system.
The kid clearly is a special prospect, but the routes that Matusz and Clayton have taken to establish themselves at the top level of their respective sports should serve as a reminder that there is no easy road to satisfy the expectations that come with their special draft status.
Matusz moved quickly into the Orioles' major league rotation and appears to be destined for a long career as a top-quality starter, but it hasn't been a smooth ride. He struggled through an 0-9 stretch before finishing strong last year and missed the first two months of this season with an intercostal strain.
Clayton never fully reached his potential with the Ravens, but was having a pretty good year with the St. Louis Rams this past season when he tore his patellar tendon. The point here is that there are a lot of moving parts in a professional sports career and the initial talent evaluation — whether it is accurate or not — is only part of the equation.
If you doubt this, you can also look at the star-crossed career of Ben McDonald and the recentlyinterrupted career of Washington Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg, since the two of them might be the most hyped pitchers in the history of the baseball draft.
"You're talking about a crapshoot — an inexact science,'' said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "So you draft him, hopefully sign him, put him in the system and put it out of your mind. Hopefully, down the road, he will be able to pitch in a major league rotation and hopefully the front end of it."
There is always a temptation to create a timetable for a young guy with the kind of arm that Bundy has displayed during his high school career, but Showalter knows better than to start counting the days until an 18-year-old comes riding to the rescue.
"Everybody likes the kid,'' he said, "but I didn't ask how fast a comer he'll be. Just put him in the system, shake the bag of rocks and see if a nugget comes out."
Matusz agrees. He looks around the Orioles clubhouse and sees a young rotation that has a chance to develop into one of the best in the business. He broke into the big leagues in 2009. Jake Arrieta joined the rotation last year and Zach Britton is flirting with Rookie of the Year numbers this season. Who knows when Bundy or some other prospect might step up to join them, but the organizational emphasis on young pitching is starting to pay off.
"We thought this was something special a couple of years ago,'' Matusz said. "Now, we're getting more experience and more years under our belts. We've got a good thing going. Andy [MacPhail] talks about growing the arms and you're seeing that. It's a lot of fun."
Listen to Peter Schmuck on "The Week in Review" on Friday's at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and WBAL.com.