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Bush catches Padres' eyes, ears06/08/2004 5:22 PM ET
By Mike Scarr / MLB.com
SAN DIEGO -- It was a phone call that he was going to take.
No matter that he was taking an algebra final at Mission Bay High School -- his cell phone was ringing and he was going to answer it. No need to check caller ID.
"This was a day I was waiting my whole life for, so of course I was going to answer that one," Matt Bush, who admitted to bending the exam's rules by having his cell phone on, said.
At the other end of the line were the San Diego Padres, informing the high school senior that his life had changed. It was the call of calls: a Major League team had not just drafted him in the first round, but taken him first overall.
"I grew up wanting to be a professional baseball player and here I am the No. 1 pick," Bush said at the press conference at PETCO Park announcng his selection by the Padres. "It's pretty amazing."
It was a moment that was connected by two phone calls, one outgoing and one incoming. Just days before the draft, Bush had placed a call to the area scout who signed him, Tim McWilliam, to make his case for the Padres. For the San Diego native, there simply was no second choice.
"I got on the phone and I told Tim the scout that I wanted to be a Padre," Bush said. "I knew the Padres had been looking at me this whole year and they had an interest in me. It all just worked out really well there at the end."
Neither general manager Kevin Towers nor director of scouting Bill Gayton had ever experienced that before in their careers. Phone calls from unknown prospects or lesser-knowns looking for work, sure. But a phone call from a possible first-rounder? Never.
But that one bold step sealed the deal.
Bush had been on the Padres' radar for two years. It's hard to ignore a two-way threat, a player who plays shortstop and pitches. A kid who displayed the talents required of a true shortstop while lighting the gun as high as 95 mph. Someone who also has the baseball IQ and the leadership skills to take him a long way.
And there was one last plus: He played in their own backyard.
"Matt's ability, ceiling and his desire to play here in San Diego -- we felt it was the right fit. To me that is music to my ears," Towers said. "That's why we went out and signed David Wells -- because he wanted to be a Padre. Not too many high school kids would place a call like that a couple of days before the one of the biggest days in their life. When he placed that call, that was enough to put us over the top."
It was a draft pick that caught most observers off-guard. The Padres had focused greatly on three college players, and Towers had said the team's first pick would most likely be someone in college; they would wade into the high school talent pool with their later picks.
But when the asking prices of players like Jered Weaver, Jeff Niemann and Stephen Drew began to escalate, neither Towers nor Gayton felt this was the draft to bet the farm. With a player like Bush already sitting high up on their draft board, the transition was simple.
"Signability always comes into play, not only with amateur players but Major League players," Towers said. "There were some players that we had focused on and we felt their expectations were far higher than where we felt they should be."
The Padres feel they've added a key piece to their system. Shortstop is a position where Gayton has been trying to build depth over the last few drafts, and he believes Bush is a bona fide Major League shortstop.
"On a 20-80 scale, he has an 80 arm. Maybe there is an equal, but there is nobody with a better arm," Gayton said. "He's capable of throwing from different angles as well. So many times kids are locked into one slot so when they have to go side to side and come in on balls they're not making as many plays. He can.
"He's accurate when he throws the ball, he has good speed, he has very, very soft hands. He has outstanding actions. If you put him out on a Major League field right now, he's hard to tell from the other players other than he's not physically mature yet."
Khalil Greene, a rookie who was drafted just two years ago out of Clemson University, is the starting shortstop for the Padres. Both Gayton and Towers were emphatic that drafting Bush does not affect Greene or anyone else in the organization.
"It doesn't impact [Greene] at all. He's our shortstop," Towers said. "When this kid is ready to play, we'll cross that bridge then. Having him doesn't really come into play. I have no intention of trading a Mark Loretta or a Josh Barfield or a Khalil Greene or Sean Burroughs. It doesn't come into play at all."
Bush is listed as 5-11 and 175 pounds, and at 18 he's still got room to grow. In helping the Buccaneers win their second CIF San Diego Section Division III title, Bush posted a .447 batting average with 11 doubles, 11 homers and 35 RBIs. But that was with metal bats.
Bush will be trading metal for wood when he signs and heads over to Peoria in order to get acclimated to pro ball in the Arizona Rookie League. Bush thinks he can be ready for the bigs in three years -- which would make Towers ecstatic -- but he'd settle for a bump to short-season Eugene before the summer is out.
In the end, when it came time to pull the trigger on draft day, Bush represented all the Padres wanted in a first selection. The kid who realized his dream is ready to put it on and wear it.
"It's a dream come true for me to play here in San Diego for my home team, the team I've grown up with and always rooted for," Bush said. "I hope to get out there in a couple of years, just start playing and prove to everyone why I'm the No. 1 pick and show everyone my talents."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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