To properly understand the forces that shaped Dylan Bundy, and the journey that molded him into the best high school baseball player in the country, it's best to begin by talking about the red Oklahoma soil and the father's hands that toiled in them out of love.
A decade before the Orioles selected Bundy with the fourth pick in the 2011 amateur draft, he was a stocky 8-year-old kid growing up in the tiny, no-stoplight town of Sperry, Okla. His family lived on 20 acres of dry, flat land, land that could have been farmed but was not. Instead, Dylan Bundy's father, Denver, who worked for Ford Motor Company in nearby Tulsa, looked at his vast backyard one day, and where some men might have envisioned rows of corn or cotton, he pictured a pitching mound.
"He got his tractor one day and plowed a bunch of dirt into a pile on the back of our property," Dylan Bundy said. "My brother, Bobby, and I started helped him tamp it down until we got it right and we could pitch off of it. He told us one thing that's still true today: Keep the ball down and you'll have success."
In time, the makeshift pitching mound was surrounded by an entire field. Denver Bundy had his two boys drag dirt in wheelbarrows until they had spread enough around to map out a family diamond. Bobby and Dylan chopped down pecan trees with axes until their hands were sore and blistered, but they left one designated row to be their imaginary outfield wall.
"If you hit it into the trees, that was considered a home run," Dylan Bundy said. "My brother and I, we spent a lot of hours just playing in the pasture."
Before long, Denver Bundy was using the family field to organize and coach practices for Sperry's youth baseball teams. Bobby, then 11, quickly blossomed into an impressive young pitcher, but Dylan's prodigious gifts took a bit longer to emerge.
"When I was 8, I'd never really pitched in a real game before," Dylan said. "I was playing shortstop in a game, and the pitcher that was on the mound wasn't throwing strikes. My dad called me out to the mound, and he said, 'Dylan, can you throw strikes?' I looked him straight in the eye, and I said, 'Yes, sir.' He kind of had this look on his face like, 'Did you really just say that?' But he believed in me. And I went out there and I threw strikes for him. We didn't get the win, but I threw strikes."
The work ethic and bravado Bundy showed his father as a boy still exist, nearly a decade later. Those qualities are two reasons the Orioles will likely end up giving the powerful right-hander millions of dollars to keep him from playing college baseball at Texas next year.
"You really don't see the type of work ethic this kid has, especially these days," said St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Ryan Franklin, a family friend of the Bundys' and 12-year major league veteran. "I'm old school, I guess. It used to be hard work came first, and it just seems like the new generation doesn't work as hard. This kid seems like he's carved from the old school. He works harder than anybody I've ever seen. ... And he has the good kind of cockiness."
But work ethic and confidence are only part of the equation.
"On top of that, he has the most ability of any kid I've ever seen," Franklin said. "I got to work out with him once this past offseason, and I was totally impressed by both his ability and by what kind of kid he was. He has so much raw ability and such a live arm, but he also has the ambition to get better. I've been talking to him about pitching, but I don't know how his stuff can get any better. The ability he has to command both sides of the plate and throw four pitches for strikes is pretty amazing."
The stocky Oklahoma boy who learned to throw fastballs, changeups and sliders on his homemade pitching mound grew into a young man many scouts believe will be an elite pitcher in the major leagues. As a senior at Owasso High, Bundy went 11-0 and struck out 158 batters while walking only five in 71 innings. He allowed only 20 hits the entire year and went 56 consecutive innings at one point without giving up a run.
Bundy, who is a muscular 6 feet 1 and 200 pounds, has a compact motion, command of four pitches and the ability to hit 100 mph on the radar gun. If he does join the organization, he has the potential — barring injury — to be a huge piece of the Orioles' future. Even whispers before the draft that Bundy might ask for the biggest signing bonus given to a high school player in the history of the draft — somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million — didn't scare the Orioles away. His brother, Bobby, whom the Orioles drafted in 2008, is already part of the organization, pitching for the Single-A Frederick Keys.