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DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH
Kevin Kerrane
March 19, 1984
In 1981 the author went to an amateur baseball tournament in Johnstown, Pa. to research a book on baseball scouts. As this excerpt reveals, while the scouts discovered their gems on the playing field, he found his own off the field
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March 19, 1984

Diamonds In The Rough

In 1981 the author went to an amateur baseball tournament in Johnstown, Pa. to research a book on baseball scouts. As this excerpt reveals, while the scouts discovered their gems on the playing field, he found his own off the field

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Socko stood up to leave. "There aren't any good side effects of the strike," he said as he trundled up the stadium steps.

At noontime of the third day of the AAABA a dozen scouts showed up at Franklin Field, the roughest and dustiest diamond in tournament use, to watch a game between Brooklyn and Milford, Mass. Most of them came to see Brooklyn and third baseman Shawon Dunston, who had turned 18 in March and still had another year of high school eligibility. Dunston was 6' 1" and 175 pounds, but the scouts had to go beyond the numbers to do justice to his body. They said it was live, springy, wound tight, that it had the loose-limbed grace typical of so many good black athletes, and that it was obviously going to fill out for even greater strength.

The young scouts sat in rickety bleachers along the first-base line; the veterans—Katalinas, Jocko Collins, Joe Caputo, Gray—sat in folding chairs directly behind the backstop. Gray was using a radar gun to time the fastballs of the Milford pitcher, and Katalinas was teasing him by guessing the speed of each pitch and never being wrong by more than one mile an hour. When Dunston came to bat for Brooklyn in the first inning, Gray pulled out a stopwatch.

"If this kid runs too fast for the watch," Katalinas said, "maybe you can time him with the gun."

Dunston took a called strike on an 82-mph fastball that was almost in the dirt. He stepped out of the batter's box and made eye contact with the umpire, but said nothing. His features were broad, strong and open; in my notes I wrote "stylish," because what I really liked was the way he stepped quickly back in the box and assumed a classic righthanded stance, making the bat look like an extension of his lithe body. Dunston jumped on the next pitch and pulled it to deep left, but the fielder, playing back and toward the line, made an easy catch to end the inning.

As he watched Dunston play third base, Katalinas observed, "He's got the reflexes and the hands, so I think he's a shortstop. If he can't play infield, you might project him in leftfield or centerfield, where he could take advantage of that speed."

What Katalinas liked best was Dunston's quick bat. In each of his subsequent at bats Dunston met the ball in front of the plate and drove it with power: a single and another line out to left, and then a triple to left center that allowed us to see just how beautifully he ran. "If you're observant," Katalinas said, "you'll see that a lot of these kids meet the ball back here, almost behind the plate, but the aluminum bat saves them. They hit the ball off the fists and it goes for a hit to rightfield. If they come into the minors and get the pitch on the fists, now the wooden bat breaks and the ball dribbles to the pitcher instead of going over the second baseman's head. But Dunston may never have that problem.

"I never played pro ball," Katalinas said. "I went to Georgetown in 1928 on a scholarship that got me out of the mines, and I played catcher and first base. But I didn't have it. Nobody offered me any money to sign."

"How did you get into scouting?" I asked him.

"I was a high school teacher and coach in Shenandoah, Pa., but I also played county ball, and in 1938 I saw a kid named Al Simononis who I thought was a prospect, so I wrote a letter to the Tigers because I'd known Spike Briggs [the team owner] at Georgetown. When I recommended this kid, Spike sent a scout all the way from Kansas City—the Tigers didn't have anybody in the East then—and he took one look at Simononis and signed him. They sent him out to the Kitty League and he had a heck of a year, but his career was cut short by the service. Then in 1940 Spike asked me to cover a tournament in Bradford, Pa. I did it, and in fact I signed a boy by the name of Marty Tabacheck. I guess I really didn't have the authority to do it, but I signed him on a piece of hotel stationery. Spike called me and said, 'Who gave you the authority to sign that kid?' I said, 'What the hell did you send me up there for?'

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