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"I wanted to hug [Mark]," Ribaudo says. "We were like two guys who had seen the same UFO."
Hamilton told the bullpen skeptics how he'd offered Cole a first-pitch changeup the first time he faced him. Cole had swung and missed by a mile, and somehow Hamilton had struck him out. "After I got drafted," Hamilton said, "a scout with the Indians visits me and says, 'I was at one inning of one game your freshman year, and I saw you face one hitter. I'm here because you struck out Brian Cole.' "
"All the fish stories you're hearing are true," says Rob Walton, a former Indians scout who is the pitching coach at Oklahoma State. "I watched him five times that year , sometimes just for the experience of it. I told [my bosses], 'This is the reason we drive all these miles. This guy Cole.' I haven't seen a guy like him since."
"That scout didn't see the home run he hit off me," Hamilton says. "That same game, I threw him a slider that slipped out of my hand, and Brian jumped—his feet actually left the ground—and he hit it out to right center. It looked like a dang pitchout, and he hit it 450 feet the other way."
Lottsfeldt saw it. "It was a foot off the plate and a foot over his head," the former Mets scout remembers, his voice falling to a whisper. "I just said, My Lord."
Duquette, then the Mets' assistant G.M., remembers reading Lottsfeldt's glowing reports about Cole. "I asked Lottsy, 'What's it gonna cost us to sign him?' He said, $100,000. I said, 'Why so low? I was thinking he'd cost us a million dollars.' He said, 'He's 5' 8".' "
The Mets picked Cole in the 18th round, and Lottsfeldt drove from Texas to Meridian to sign him. He found Brian living with his dad (Pee Wee and Maudelene had split up in 1988) in a house with more than one missing window. The football recruiters were still hovering—Florida State's Bobby Bowden would continue to call Cole throughout his minor league career—but Brian had always dreamed of providing for his mother, so he deposited his $100,000 signing bonus in the bank where Greg worked and flew to Kingsport. He had to change planes in Atlanta and missed his connecting flight because he went to baggage claim. He didn't know his bags would be placed on the next plane for him. He'd never flown before.
When Cole arrived at Kingsport, he didn't look the part of a minor league prospect. "My cleats weren't cleaned from the night before," says former Mets minor leaguer Brian Jenkins, "and I asked one of the clubhouse kids if he could do it. He was like, 'Nah, man, I just got drafted. I just signed to play with y'all.' That first batting practice, my foot was in my damn mouth. I stood there like, Where's he getting this pop from, man?"
Cole spent less than a season in rookie ball, and the next year he assaulted the South Atlantic League with his lavish Negro leagues style of play—swing hard, run harder. He had 50 stolen bases, 71 RBIs (from the leadoff spot), 18 home runs and 97 runs scored in 125 games.
In 2000, after three absurdly productive months in the Florida State League (.312, 15 home runs, 61 RBIs, 54 steals, 73 runs), Cole was promoted to Double A Binghamton. Double A is where raw talents usually meet their match, and the Eastern League is where Cole met his. He hit .136 in his first 59 at bats. "Pitchers are a lot smarter up here," he confessed to a reporter. "You don't get those 2--0 fastballs that you get down in Single A."