Van Proyen struck out on Albert Pujols

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Van Proyen struck out on Albert Pujols

Glen Van Proyen was a professional baseball scout for 46 years. He signed Ron Kittle and Mike Marshall. And by his own admission, if he hadn't made "the biggest mistake I ever made, maybe the biggest of all time," Albert Pujols would have been a Dodger, not a Cardinal.

Van Proyen, who retired as a special assignment scout for the Cubs in 2000, was scouting for the Dodgers in 1999 when he saw Albert Pujols playing for his junior college team, Maple Woods Community College of Kansas City, in a tournament in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

"He was the best I ever saw. I didn't recognize it then," Van Proyen said.

Pujols, who had graduated from Fort Osage High School in Independence, Missouri, only a few months earlier, was playing in a doubleheader against Jacksonville (Florida) Junior College.

"I watched him taking batting practice, then talked to him before the first game and my hand disappeared when he shook my hand," Von Proyen said. "He had a good swing but he didn't hit the ball. He had a great body but he can't hit so he can't play, I said to myself. And he was playing shortstop with size 16 shoes. There's no way he could play shortstop in the big leagues."

In the first game, Van Proyen watched as Pujols struck out four times and made no contact. In the second game, he struck out the first three times at bat. Then he came to the plate for the fourth time...

"I had already made up my mind that I didn't want him," Van Proyen said. "He hit a low fastball, a knee-high fastball against the center field fence. He hit it so fast. Bam-Bam. I had second thoughts. But his body and position still bothered me. And he had only one contact."

So, when all of the Dodgers scouts gathered to make their recommendations before the annual June draft, Van Proyen placed Pujols in the 13th round. "I didn't put a high recommendation on him," he said.

The Cardinals, picking ahead of the Dodgers, chose Pujols in the 13th round, the 402nd pick in the 1999 draft.

"If I had it to do all over again, of course, I would have signed Pujols," Van Proyen said. "It was the biggest regret of my life."

Van Proyen didn't miss on former Joliet Catholic pitching whiz Bill Gullickson. But he didn't sign him, either. The experience made for the Van Proyen's favorite scouting story.

In 1977, Van Proyen had targeted Gullickson, a hard-throwing right-hander, as a can't-miss draft choice. He asked Bert Wells, then the Dodgers' Midwest cross-checker, to make his own evalution.

After Gullickson threw his first pitch, Wells turned to Van Proyen and said: "Let's go get dinner."

Van Proyen was stunned. "You don't like him?" he said.

"When we pick, he won't be there," Wells said, obviously impressed at what he had seen in only one pitch.

Wells was right. Future White Sox star Harold Baines was the No. 1 choice in the 1977 major league draft. Gullickson was the No. 2 pick by the Expos. Interestingly, future Hall of Famer Paul Molitor was the No. 3 selection by the Brewers.

The Dodgers didn't do badly. Picking 20th, they signed pitcher Bob Welch, who went on to win 211 games in a 17-year career with the Dodgers and Oakland A's. He was a 27-game winner and won the Cy Young Award in 1990.

Van Proyen was a pretty good baseball player himself. Born in the Roseland community on Chicago's South Side, he graduated from Pullman Tech in 1948. He attended Western Illinois and signed with the St. Louis Browns after his junior year.

In an era before the invention of the radar gun, Van Proyen was a pitcher with only a 70 mph fastball but a devastating 12-to-6 curve ball.

"At that time, scouts looked for the same thing--pitchers missing bats and throwing strikes," he said. "I didn't even know I was being scouted. Scouts were hiding behind fence poles and light poles. They didn't scout in clusters. They tried to keep a prospect a secret."

Van Proyen said his biggest exposure to scouting was when the Cubs invited him to attend a month-long camp at St. Bede Academy in Peru, Illinois. "They talked about signing me," he said.

He never made it to the majors. In four years in the minors, he had a 22-22 record. He also was a pretty good hitter, batting .253 as an outfielder when he didn't pitch.

After he left the game, he began teaching and coaching at Fenton High School in Bensenville, then moved to Maine South in Park Ridge. He coached Maine South's baseball team to second place in the 1966 state tournament, then was hired to scout for the Dodgers.

Van Proyen and every scout who ever held a radar gun is always looking for a five-tool player--an athlete who can run, hit with power, throw, hit and field. But they can count on one hand the number of five-tool players they have uncovered in their scouting careers...players like Gullickson, Kittle, Marshall, Greg Luzinski, Dave Kingman and Cliff Floyd.

"If a guy has at least one-plus tool and two average tools, he is a big-time prospect. Hopefully, that one-plus tool is hitting, a guy who makes solid contact," Van Proyen said. "And the second best tool is his glove. Then a good arm would come with that.

"Pitching and hitting is the name of the game today. Speed isn't as important as it once was. The game has become more offensive-minded, more runs being scored. To be a good hitter, you must learn the strike zone. Great hitters have a natural thing. If you have strength and good eyes and good hand-and-eye coordination, you should be able to improve your hitting."

Van Proyen said he also looked for kids who loved the game, who really wanted to play and had ability. He always arrived at the park early to see who showed up early and who showed up late.

"If I saw kids come in late, the last kids on the field, I didn't like their attitude," he said. "In my mind, they weren't trying to be the best they could be. I'd even wait until after the game to see what a kid did after the game. Some would ask the coach to take extra batting practice or hit some ground balls. That's what I wanted to see."

As Van Proyen looks back on his years in the scouting profession, he notes two things have changed.

Area scouts don't have as much say in the evaluation of a prospect as they once did. In many cases, the cross-checker has more input than the area scout.

"I don't think that is a good thing," he said. "The cross-checker only sees the kid once while the area scout lives with him."

And there's always the question of signability. "Kids didn't used to ask how much they would get to sign, they just wanted to play. But now the first thing that a family asks is: 'How much will you give us?' A signing bonus is a big thing in signing kids. Some kids used to sign for 1,000 or 1,500. They just wanted to play," he said.

"But today, if a a kid has a good high school education and has a chance to go to college, the parents want their son to go to college for one or two years. There is so much talk about what the money is and what the college situation should be that parents are well-informed about the process. If they aren't bent on their son going to college, the kid always wants to sign."

That is one of the talking points for the scouts. Major league teams want to sign promising prospects as soon as possible so they can become acquainted with their system sooner than later.

"They have to realize that the window of opportunity is small," Van Proyen said. "On any given day in any given year, there are only 750 major league players in the world. If you want to be one of them, you have to jump at the chance. Teams would rather train a kid from 18 years of age on rather
21 or 22.

"Remember, there are only two chances to get into professional baseball. You have to be asked, you can't just apply. A college kid gets two or three years in the system to show what he can do. A high school kid gets a minimum of four or five years.

"Don't downplay the decision of a high school kid to go pro or to go to college. He needs to do some soul-searching. The decision has to be based on certain things. Do I feel I am ready? Am I confident I am ready? If not, he probably should go to college."

But some things haven't changed at all. Van Proyen thinks high school coaches in the Chicago area do as good a job as any coaches in the country who don't get to recruit.

Andrew Shaw ready for new chapter with Marc Bergevin, Canadiens

Andrew Shaw ready for new chapter with Marc Bergevin, Canadiens

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Andrew Shaw and Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin go back a few years.

It was Bergevin, when he was assistant general manager with the Blackhawks, who signed Shaw to his entry-level contract. And now they’re together again.

“He likes the rat in me, the work ethic,” Shaw said on Saturday via conference call. “He enjoys watching me play and dealing with him on my first contract was exciting for me as well. I owe him a lot.”

Shaw has run the gamut of emotions over the last day or so. The forward, who so fervently wanted to stay with Chicago, never got the deal to remain here. Instead he was sent to Montreal, where he’s reunited with Bergevin and will help the Canadiens increase their grit level. With Shaw and Brendan Gallagher together on that team, the pest factor will truly be high.

“Me and Gallagher, we have had some fun battles,” Shaw said. “Now I’m excited to be on his side to annoy people together, I guess.”

Still, the last five years with the Blackhawks, which included two Stanley Cups, will stay with Shaw forever. Shaw thought he and the Blackhawks were “pretty close” to a deal, but it never came to fruition.

“They have cap issues and it’s tough to get around, especially this time of year with the draft, free agency coming. It was tough. I thought we were close. Just have to move past it,” Shaw said. “Got a fresh start with a new team and I’m excited about that. It’ll be fun. Excited to meet the guys and get in that room. On the other end, I’ll miss my friends and teammates in Chicago as well.”

What contract Shaw gets from the Canadiens remains to be seen. Darren Dreger tweeted Saturday that talks between the two camps are going well, and Shaw could get “a 5-7-year extension in the days ahead.” The Blackhawks weren’t in a position to offer a lot of money or a lengthy term.

So Shaw turns a page in his career. His years with the Blackhawks were special to him but he’s reuniting with the man who helped bring him to Chicago in the first place.

“It’s a business. I knew the options that were coming my way. I just sat back and was patient and let that unravel. There’s not much I can do personally. Obviously five years in Chicago, two championships and a lot of friends, but I’m ready to move on and start a new chapter,” Shaw said. “I’m excited it’ll be with Montreal, and I hope everyone else feels the same way.”

Todd Frazier's late RBI single lifts White Sox past Blue Jays

Todd Frazier's late RBI single lifts White Sox past Blue Jays

The White Sox haven’t had much success with runners in scoring position of late. Todd Frazier hasn’t had much all season long.

But Frazier’s two-out RBI single in the eighth inning Friday night broke a tie and the White Sox held on for a 3-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in front of 27,196 at U.S. Cellular Field. The victory was the fourth in five games for the White Sox, who improved to 37-37. Frazier’s hit was the only one with a runner in scoring position in 14 tries for a team that entered the game hitting .245 in those situations. He finished 2-for-4.

Though Frazier has provided the White Sox with plenty of thump, he’s had a trying season with runners in scoring position. He entered his eighth-inning at-bat with Jesse Chavez just 9-for-61 with two home runs and 23 RBIs with runners in scoring position, including a third-inning ground out. But Frazier got a 1-1 fastball from Chavez and ripped it into left field to put the White Sox ahead and end a frustrating night for the offense, particularly the bottom of the order.

The White Sox had left a man in scoring position in all but one inning up until that point. They tied the game at 1 in the fourth inning on an RBI groundout by Avisail Garcia and pulled ahead in the fifth on a solo homer by Melky Cabrera, who went 3-for-4 against his former team.

Prior to Frazier’s single, Cabrera grounded out to first as Edwin Encarnacion made a spectacular stop and fell down in foul territory. Tim Anderson, who doubled and went to third on a fly ball, didn’t advance on the play. But Frazier made it all moot.

Carlos Rodon had another strong outing, though he surrendered the lead right before he exited.

Rodon struck out eight and tamed a red hot offense for 5 2/3 innings. The left-hander fell behind 1-0 in the second inning and looked as if he may be in trouble before escaping the jam with a strikeout of Junior Lake to strand two. That began a stretch in which Rodon retired 11 of 14 batters and allowed the White Sox to rally for a 2-1 lead.

But Rodon couldn’t hold it, in part because of a sixth-inning balk call by first-base ump Angel Hernandez that earned pitching coach Don Cooper an ejection. Rodon hit Michael Saunders to start the sixth and he advanced on the balk and tagged up on a fly out to center. The extra 90 feet became critical when Kevin Pillar’s infield single tied it. Todd Frazier made a diving stop on the play at first base and Rodon took one too many steps to tag first base just behind the slide of Pillar.

Rodon allowed two earned runs and six hits with two walks.

The White Sox bullpen picked up the slack. Matt Albers, Nate Jones and Zach Duke combined for 2 1/3 scoreless innings to get the ball to Robertson. Robertson then pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam for his 19th save in 21 tries.

Sky: Delle Donne's 31 points not enough in loss to Liberty

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Associated Press

Sky: Delle Donne's 31 points not enough in loss to Liberty

NEW YORK (AP) — Not even a broken nose could slow down Tina Charles.

She had 21 points and 13 rebounds to lead New York to an 80-79 victory over the Chicago Sky on Friday night for the Liberty's sixth consecutive win — their longest streak in six years.

"I do what my teammates need me to do," Charles said. "I know how much my team relies on me especially not having (Epiphanny Prince) here."

Charles was sporting a clear mask after she broke her nose Wednesday in a double-overtime win over Atlanta.

"It was the first time in my life that I had to wear a mask," the reigning AP player of the week said. "The situation is what it is. It's a contact sport and injuries do happen. I'm just happy that the Hosptial for Special Surgery and our medical staff was able to give me the mask so I could play tonight."

Charles leads the league in scoring and rebounding and had 12 points in the first half to help New York build a 50-40 halftime advantage.

Sugar Rodgers added 13 points for the Liberty (10-4), who are third in the AP power poll. It's the first time since 2001 that New York has won 10 of its first 14 games.

The Liberty led by 11 midway through the fourth before the Sky rallied to 78-77 with 2:24 left. Neither team would score again until Sugar Rodgers hit an acrobatic backdoor floater with 39.5 seconds remaining. Elena Delle Donne answered with a tough pullup nine seconds later.

Chicago let New York run down the clock on its next possession before Charles missed a hook across the lane. Delle Donne got the rebound setting up one final chance for the Sky with just over 2 seconds left, but her jumper from the wing missed.

"Couple things went wrong and we didn't run it to the way we were supposed to," Delle Donne said of the last play. "Things got a little crazy and had to throw up a desperation shot. We wanted more of a post up and that just didn't happen."

She finished with a season-high 31 points to lead Chicago (6-8). Cappie Pondexter added 20 for the seventh-ranked Sky, who have dropped four of five.

Both teams wore warm-up shirts in honor of Orlando club shooting victims. The Liberty donated $10,000 to the OneOrlando fund that was set up to support the victims' families and survivors.