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Druley: MLB drafts change, but waiting remains the same

Published: Tuesday, June 3, 2014 8:05 a.m. CDT

Recalling the fanfare – or lack thereof – when the White Sox selected him 26th overall 20 years ago this month, Cougars manager Mark Johnson admitted "the public hardly knew about" the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

"I had a good idea I was going to get picked pretty high, but we just stayed at the house and waited for the phone to ring," Johnson said. "We didn't really have cellphones, anything like that, so we just sat in the garage and got together with some friends and family and waited on getting a phone call, and that was it."

Johnson's players often pick his brain about his experience as a Major League catcher, although they often skip straight to that part. Turns out their skipper also can relate to the infant stages of pro ball, even as the modern-day draft, a three-day event beginning Thursday, becomes a TV and Internet production.

Forget what mid-90s pop culture predicted for the future; technology has yet to help anyone drop much wait.

"It's pretty low-key," said reliever Zak Hermans, a 30th-round pick of the parent Cubs in June 2013. "Just sitting around waiting for the online stream … and I finally got called, thank God. It was a good experience, though. Nerve-racking, but fun."

A Princeton product, Hermans went from Ivy Leaguer to a hopeful co-steward of Wrigley Field's ivy. That wait, however, is not assured, he knows, and certainly will require more time and anxiety than a few late spring afternoons.

Naturally, the first of what prospects hope are many career payoffs makes it easier to forget those initial butterflies. A year after the Cubs selected him in the 11th round out of Austin Peay, infielder Jordan Hankins grins about the scene inside his family's Wentzville, Missouri, living room.

"Next thing you know, you just see your name on the screen, and it was pretty cool," Hankins said. "It was an experience of a lifetime. I'll always remember it."

It's conceivable some MLB correspondent would have descended on Johnson's native Warner Robins, Georgia, had his draft day been Doc Browned to the present. Future Major League slugger Russell Branyan (seventh round) emerged from Warner Robins, too, along with a third high school senior from the town, Jason Sikes (fourth round).

The '94 Draft produced its share of big leaguers, including A.J. Pierzynski, Scott Podsednik and Kyle Farnsworth, who all went on to play on either side of Chicago.

Pierzynski and Podsednik were third-rounders, while Farnsworth was taken in the 47th round. Twenty years later, the draft airs on cable as well as the internet, and there are 58 fewer rounds, but you don't need a hyperlink to connect players of both eras.

Good, old-fashioned thumb twiddling does the trick just fine.

Recruiting panel on tap: Learning Ascent Tutoring, 720 N. 17th St., St. Charles, will host a free panel discussion Thursday featuring college athletes sharing insight on the recruiting process.

Deanna Gage, owner of St. Charles-based Aspire Soccer Consulting & Resources, will serve as moderator for the 7:30 p.m. event.

While admission is free, RSVPs are encouraged. Those interested can call (630) 740-8741 or log on to www.aspiresoccerconsulting.vpweb.com.

• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or kdruley@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kevindruley.

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