|Copyright Times Publishing Co. Feb 12, 2002|
Ever since his diving catch in the Class 3A state semifinal game, Denard Span's life has been a whirlwind.
First, there was the workouts with scouts from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Arizona Diamondbacks and Baltimore Orioles right after school let out for the summer. Then, it was off to a showcase at Tropicana Field, which he had to leave a day early to get to the Pan American Junior Tryouts in Missouri.
Impressive enough to make the first cut, Span was kept for an extra week in Missouri where he survived another elimination and was named to the American team. That meant a trip to Cuba for the Pan Am Championships in Camaguey.
Span played 11 games in Cuba. He hit .455 and had a home run, 12 RBI and three stolen bases as the U.S. squad came within a loss to Cuba of winning the Gold Medal. He lost 5-10 pounds because he ate nothing but chicken and rice during the trip.
Back on American soil, Span headed to the pizza stand and McDonalds before jumping on a flight to Wilmington, N.C., for the East Coast Showcase. He was rated the second-best prospect behind Virginia shortstop B.J. Upton.
By that point, Span had seen more airports and cramped airline seats than he could have possibly dreamed about. The only problem was there was one more trip to go - the Area Code Games in California.
"I told my mom I wasn't going," Span said. "I thought I had proven enough in Wilmington, I didn't need to go there. I had opened a lot of eyes in North Carolina, and I was exhausted already."
So, despite his mother having airline tickets in hand, Span stayed home. Plane seats were replaced by the couch, hotel food by home cooking.
"He had so many places to go and when he was in town, he came out here and played a little Legion ball for us," Tampa Catholic coach Chuck Yingling said. "But it was great because of the fact he got so much exposure.
"He's a very quiet kid," Yingling said. "He's not one to go out and tell you how great he is."
These days, Span leaves all the bragging to the publications.
Baseball America has him rated the 10th best high school player in the nation, No. 1 in Florida.
People are so sure that Span will become the 15th Hillsborough County player selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft that there was no scholarship for him to sign on National Signing Day last week.
"I was a little disappointed," Span said. "It was always a dream of mine to sign on signing day."
Yingling said he considered that "an honor" and compared Span to some of the best the county has seen.
"I was an assistant at Jesuit when we had (three) first-round picks, and he's better than any of them," Yingling said. "He's better than Kenny Kelly was when he was here, and I thought he was the best I'd ever seen in high school.
"Athletically and academically, he has all the tools," the coach said of Span. "He needs the poise to be able to deal with the pressure of 25-30 scouts out here everyday because that's similar to what it's going to be like on the next level. But his skills are there from the hitting to the throwing to even having the right growth cycle. His upside is phenomenal."
Span - who finished last year with a .382 average, 6 home runs and 30 RBIs - regularly has 20-25 scouts at his practices.
One day last week, Tampa Catholic was playing at Jesuit but chose to take batting practice at home before heading to the field. Standing behind the batting cage were 37 professional scouts, an astounding number when you consider there are only 30 major-league teams.
"They bring everybody out here," Yingling said. "Assistant scouts, cross-checkers; they all come out. The most Kenny (Kelly) every had was about 15."
The crowds don't seem to bother Span.
"I read a lot of the things people write, and people send me letters with all of it, and sometimes I go on the computer," he said. "I've been waiting all my life for this.
"I just try to stay positive," Span said. "It's been kind of nerve- racking, but I'm concentrating on having fun. This is it. This is my last semester of my last year of high school, and I want to remember it."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
CHRIS CATES, 2B, BRANDON, JR.: A perfect 13-for-13 in stolen bases last year, Cates also hit .410 and will anchor a strong Eagle infield.
CRAIG CORRADO, SS, TAMPA CATHOLIC, JR.: Recorded 29 RBIs for the defending state champions last year while hitting .413.
JUSTIN CRAIG, P, SEMINOLE PRESBYTERIAN, SO.: Set school strikeout record last year while going 13-2 and helping to lead the Lancers to the state tournament.
ELIJAH DUKES, OF, HILLSBOROUGH, SR.: Five-tool prospect, who ranked No. 5 out of 150 prospects at the East Coast Showcase this summer.
CHRISTIAN MADSON, P, BLOOMINGDALE, SR.: Rated 13th high school prospect by Baseball America. His 6-foot-8 size is very attractive to pro teams.
TONY MOSCATO, 2B/P, TAMPA CATHOLIC, SR.: Quietly finished 11-2 last year and threw a no-hitter in the playoffs. Hit .366.
SHANE ROBINSON, OF, JESUIT, JR.: With his speed and bat, Robinson could be the best leadoff hitter in the county.
BRIAN SCOVILLE, SS/P, SICKLES, SR.: Four-year starter for Gryphons at infield, outfield and pitcher. Great fielder with a strong bat.
DENARD SPAN, OF, TAMPA CATHOLIC, SR.: Could become highest Hillsborough County draft pick. Ranked in top 10 in the nation among high school players.
RYAN STANLEY, 1B, JESUIT, SR.: Hit .375 for the Tigers last year and will be a leader on a team expected to go far in the state playoffs