Borowiak, Alvarez turned into draft's pleasant surprises

Sunday, June 8, 2003

The amateur baseball draft Tuesday and Wednesday was a perfect example of why I could never be a talent evaluator.

Sure, I knew Southeast Missouri State University shortstop Zach Borowiak was a good player. And I thought he'd be drafted again after going in the 49th round following his junior season last year.

But the 14th round? Never in my wildest dreams did I figure Borowiak was held in such high regard by professional scouts. He evidently was, however, and the Boston Red Sox took him in the upper third of the 50-round draft.

And I knew Southeast left-hander Tim Alvarez was a good pitcher. All you had to do was look at his sensational statistics to figure that one out. But I also know that pro scouts love hard throwers, and Alvarez, for all his success, can't even fire his fastball 85 miles per hour on a consistent basis.

I was skeptical that Alvarez would even be drafted, despite his phenomenal numbers. And if he was picked, I figured it's be in the last round or two. But the San Francisco Giants liked him enough to take him in the 36th round.

I'm glad I was wrong about both players. And I'm glad they're going to get a chance at playing professional baseball.

Borowiak and Alvarez, who like virtually all the Southeast players I've covered over the last few years are truly class acts, certainly face a tough road as they begin professional careers that they hope will some day lead to the major leagues.

The odds are stacked against them, as it is against any young athlete who attempts to reach the highest level of their sport. But baseball is one sport where it seems like as many middle-to-low-round draft choices make the major leagues as high-round bonus babies.

Here's wishing Borowiak and Alvarez the best as they begin their pro careers in the next several days.

Alvarez is the third Southeast pitcher to be drafted in the past three years, following Brandon Smith (18th round) in 2002 and Todd Pennington (46th round) in 2001.

That's a testament to the kind of excellent work Southeast pitching coach Jeremy Tyson does, especially when you consider that he helped turn Alvarez into a pitcher after the junior-college transfer was recruited to Southeast as a first baseman last year.

A lot of people might have been stunned when Southwest Missouri State's baseball team won a regional title last weekend. But the draft showed that the Bears' crown maybe wasn't very surprising after all.

SMS had a whopping seven players drafted, including three pitchers in the top eight rounds and four hurlers in the top 20 rounds.

The Ohio Valley Conference is not very highly regarded as a baseball league, but the OVC had seven players drafted, which is fairly impressive.

In addition to Borowiak and Alvarez, two players each from Austin Peay and Eastern Illinois were taken in the middle to late rounds and Eastern Kentucky outfielder Josh Anderson -- the league's player of the year -- went in the fourth round.

Good luck to my good buddy Chris Rushin as he prepares to start his first season as the radio play-by-play broadcaster for the Billings (Mont.) Mustangs, a Cincinnati Reds minor-league affiliate that competes in the rookie Pioneer League.

"Big Rush," as he is affectionately known, played football at Southeast in the late 1980s and was the voice of Indians football and basketball for three years in the early 1990s before getting out of the business.

While living in his hometown of Poplar Bluff the past decade or so, Chris has continued to broadcast sporting events on a part-time basis and got the itch to once again get into play-by-play full-time and see where it might take him.

For right now, it's taken him to rookie ball -- the Mustangs begin their season June 17 -- but it could end up taking him to a much higher minor-league level and perhaps even to the majors someday.

Big Rush is one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet, and I know I'm not alone in wishing him all the best.

While still on the subject of best wishes, here's some to Chris Janet, who is stepping down as Notre Dame Regional High School's athletic director to pursue other business opportunities in order to spend more time with his family.

I've gotten to know C.J., a former Southeast baseball standout, well from just about the time I moved to Cape Girardeau in the mid-1980s and hold him and his family in high regard.

Southeast football star Willie Ponder and track standout Heather Jenkins both received votes in the recent balloting for the OVC athletes of the year awards for 2002-2003.

Eastern Illinois track/cross country star Kyle O'Brien won the male award and Austin Peay basketball star Brooke Armistead captured the female honor.

Voting was done by the OVC's athletic directors and sports information directors.

A couple of thoughts on the Sammy Sosa corked bat fiasco:

First, I believe he knew he was using that particular bat. But who knows how many other times he went to the plate with the illegal piece of lumber?

Second, there is a logical explanation as to why none of Sosa's other bats were found to be corked. While he didn't demonstrate much intelligence in using that bat to begin with, do you think he would be dumb enough to have more than one corked bat, knowing that if he ever did get busted all his other bats would be inspected?

And third, I have no idea how much an advantage there is to using a corked bat, but there must be a significant one or else why would any player risk being caught?

I still think the Spurs will win the NBA championship, but the Nets have at least made the finals interesting by splitting the first two games in San Antonio.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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