06/02/2004 5:49 PM ET
Who's No. 1? Homer Bailey may be
Pitcher projected to be top high school player taken
By Gene Duffey / Special to MLB.com
La GRANGE, Texas -- One of the three cute girls standing by the desk in the office at the high school announced
"Super Star" as Homer Bailey walked by. He smiled, but didn't stop to acknowledge the compliment.
Bailey, projected to be the No. 1 high school player taken in Monday's draft, has grown accustom to such adulation.
"Pretty much everyone knows who I am," he said of living in this town of 4,400 in
central Texas, 100 miles west of Houston.
"Sometimes it's a good thing. Sometimes it's a bad thing, because people who you never met decide you're best friends.
"There's always a jealousy factor in a small town. A lot of people don't
see the hard work and dedication it takes."
When you're a 6-foot-4 right-hander with a 94 mph fastball, a 13-0 record and 0.57 ERA, people know who you are, from near and far. Coach Ralph Ferguson said 43 pro scouts attended Bailey's first game this season. And that was a scrimmage!
High school pitchers sometimes compile outrageous statistics against overmatched hitters, particularly in Bailey's case when you're playing at the 3A
high school level.
But it's his nearly immaculate control that catches your eye. In 78 2/3 innings this season Bailey has struck out 180 and walked only 12. That's right. Just 12 walks.
"Throwing strikes is easy," he said. "I've always had decent control. You
go after batters. If I want to throw a strike, I can."
Opponents are hitting a measly .089 against him.
"When they hit the ball, people (from the other team) cheer," Ferguson said.
"Base hits are like they scored a run."
Bailey has allowed only 27 hits all season.
There's nothing fancy about him. He throws a fastball, curveball and occasional changeup.
"I live with the fastball and curveball," he said. "I can't really throw a
changeup that much playing high school baseball. It's the only thing they can
Frankly, the competition during the regular season can be lacking. La Grange won several games by the 10-run rule.
"Three-A baseball is not where I'm really challenged," said Bailey, who plays for the more competitive Houston Heat in the summer.
He was born to pitch.
His father, David, pitched at San Jacinto (Junior) College, which produced Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, and the University of Houston.
"Dad's always been my coach, not just with baseball, but with life in general," Homer said.
"Me and my dad are very close."
His parents are from Houston and moved to La Grange the year before Homer was born to get into the contract egg producing business.
As a freshman in high school Homer merely wanted to make the varsity. He ended up pitching the La Grange Fighting Leopards to the state championship.
Bailey proved he was something special in the state tournament. He threw a complete game in La Grange's 7-1 win in the semifinal.
Then, with two on and one out in fifth inning and the scored tied in the championship game the next day, Ferguson called on Bailey in relief.
"He didn't have a high pitch count (in the semifinal)," Ferguson said. "He
was so composed on the mound as a freshman."
Bailey retired all eight hitters he faced, La Grange won, and finished the season 13-1.
"You're the little guy, you're the freshman," he said. "You think these older guys are going to knock the ball around, and they really didn't.
"A lot of people saw a freshman who just hit 88 (mph), 14 years old, that
drew a lot of attention."
By his senior season Bailey went from everyone's radar screen to everyone's radar gun.
The attention off the field can make him uncomfortable. After playoff games there are often interviews to do and autographs to sign, which he doesn't mind.
"We want to get something to eat and get home," he said. "It feels awkward,
all my friends are getting on the bus. It's usually a two-hour drive to our
playoff games. We're not talking a charter bus. The yellow dog bus."
"I think they accept that," Ferguson said of Bailey's teammates. "They
realize he's ranked as the top high school pitcher in the nation."
Recently he and his friends went to a concert in nearby Giddings. The next issue of the Giddings weekly ran a headline on the front page:
Homer Bailey attends Lee County Fair.
"You've got to be kidding me," laughed Bailey. "Giddings must have a real
lack of news."
Bailey signed to play next year at the University of Texas, but there is little chance of him being a Longhorn.
"If I get drafted lower than I expect, and the money factor is a big part, yeah I probably would (go to Texas)," he said.
"But I don't foresee that happening. I want to go play professional baseball.
"There's been a lot of talk (where I'll be drafted), top 10, top five
maybe. You don't know until June 7 when they call your name. I think I deserve
to be in the high first round. I just want what's fair."
He is more than a guy with a golden arm. He played varsity basketball as a freshman and sophomore before giving it up to concentrate on baseball and he bats fifth in Ferguson's lineup, hitting .436 with 30 RBIs.
Homer Bailey seemed mature beyond his years in some ways and like a typical small town, high school kid in others.
He knows he will need to develop a third pitch in the pros, probably a slider.
"A slider puts a lot of strain on the arm and I just turned 18 (May 3) and haven't physically developed," said Bailey, still somewhat thin at 190 pounds.
He realized that a month from now that he could be anywhere in the minors.
"People don't understand, especially some of my friends, in a few weeks there's a good chance you guys won't be seeing me for a while," he said.
"I'm going to be away from home and I'm ready for that."
Bailey talked and acted like a kid who won't forget his friends or where he's from, a country boy at heart.
He loves to hunt, wild boar in the summer and white tail deer in the winter with his dad. He prefers country music, everything from Willie Nelson to the Bellamy Brothers.
Lance Schramm has been Bailey's catcher since they were 10. Schramm, 6-3, 220, is La Grange's leading hitter with a .471 average and 10 homers. He signed with Texas State, formerly Southwest Texas State.
"He makes my job a lot easier," said Bailey, polite enough to answer questions with
"yes sir" and honest enough to admit he probably won't sleep the night before the draft.
He claimed the money won't change him.
"I'll probably buy a horse, and throw the rest in a bank," he said. "I'm not going to buy a Porsche or a bunch of jewelry. I'm still going to be the same person who wears jeans and T-shirts and boots everywhere he goes.
"In the offseason I'll be here. I'll still live with my parents."
For the moment he was still enjoying being a high school hero.
"He's been a little bit of a prankster all his life, and still is," Ferguson said.
Life can be good in La Grange.
|Homer Bailey played varsity basketball as a freshman and sophomore before giving it up to concentrate on baseball. (LaGrange HS)
Gene Duffey is a contributing writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.