By Mychael Urban / MLB.comVirtually every promising pitcher from Texas must deal with a particular stereotype: If you hail from the Lone Star State, you'd better throw hard.
Rays ace Scott Kazmir has that part down. He's been ticketed for stardom since his days at Cypress Hills High School in northwest Houston, where his rocket-launching left arm also suited him well as a sophomore starting quarterback.
Better still, Kazmir battles as hard as he throws. He proved that much when he was all of 9 years old during a Little League tryout.
With more than 100 kids milling about, the coaches in charge needed to see as much as they could in as little time as possible. And after Kazmir, trying out at shortstop, misplayed a grounder that scooted through his scrawny legs, he showed them all they needed to see.
Kazmir scurried after the ball, tracked it down at the fence in left field and uncorked a frozen rope to first base that left the coaches slack-jawed.
Dave Lymberopoulos, on whose team Kazmir ended up, said it caught his eye because the kids had been told not to chase the balls they missed. He liked Kazmir's spirit as much as his arm.
Kazmir is proud of his roots. He's another in a long line of hard-throwing Texans, and while at Cypress Hills he was often compared to fellow state natives Kerry Wood, Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan.
But Wood, Clemens and Ryan are big, scary right-handers. When Kazmir was establishing himself as a prospect in Houston, he most closely identified with then-Astros closer Billy Wagner, another relatively slight southpaw. So when a local camera crew set up a meeting, Kazmir was thrilled with the chance to pick his hero's brain.
They talked for nearly an hour, and among the things Wagner told his eager young protege was to be patient.
That hasn't always been easy. When Kazmir's older brother, Joseph, started playing organized baseball at age 5, Scott, then 4, finagled his way into the league.
Kazmir's mother, Debbie, remembers the joy her little boy exuded upon reaching first base, throwing his arms skyward as if to signal a touchdown.
Lymberopoulos said Kazmir had no clue how to pitch early on, but the coach knew he had something special on his hands when he saw the boy's left arm in action. Kazmir's ball had a natural tail on it, and Lymberopoulos told the boy's father, Eddie, to expect great things.
All these years later, Kazmir, only 24, has already played for World Series ring.
Mychael Urban is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.