TAMPA - By now, it's all but a rite of summer for Billy Reed, Hillsborough High's longtime baseball coach. If this is June, then Reed and his school of professional baseball must be about to graduate another student. The Terriers' latest major-leaguer in the making is a fleet-of-foot, switch-hitting outfielder, Carl Everett.
When the first round of major-league baseball's amateur draft commences Monday at noon, Everett is expected to be among the chosen few. Rated one of the nation's top five high school prospects by Baseball America, Everett is a lock to become Hillsborough High's fifth first-round pick in 10 years.
The first-round roll call reads Vance Lovelace (1981), Dwight Gooden ('82), Gary Sheffield ('86), Kiki Jones ('89), and now, Everett.
"Playing at Hillsborough was the greatest thing that ever happened to me," said Sheffield, a second-year third baseman with the Milwaukee Brewers. "The exposure was tremendous. People like Lovelace, Gooden and (pitcher Floyd) Youmans made it a lot easier for the guys who came after them."
"All I'll say is these last 10 years I've been fortunate," says Reed, the
modest man behind the Terriers' amazing assembly line of prospects. "We've had some good athletes come through here. I was in the right place at the right time. What the '90s hold, I don't know."
If it's anything like the '80s, Hillsborough High will remain one of the nation's foremost hotbeds of hardball. In the amateur draft's first quarter-century, the Terriers have produced more draftees (20) than all but two schools _ Lakewood (Calif.) High (36) and Los Angeles-Fremont (20).
"I remember in 1981, there must have been five or six guys off that team that should have made it," said Gooden, still the Terriers' highest draft pick ever (fifth overall in 1982). "A lot of talent from that area never got noticed. Now, coming from that school definitely helps your chances. That's where it all started. That's where it all took off for me."
Last year, Hillsborough dominated draft-day news like never before. With five players chosen, the Terriers fell just shy of the national one-draft record of six, set by Springfield (Mo.)-Hillcrest High in 1967.
"You have to think there's something going on over there," said Lou Garcia, an area scout for the Chicago Cubs. "They've had Gooden, Sheffield, (second-round pick) Youmans, Lovelace, Jones and Everett. If people say they've got a player at Hillsborough, people think he's got to be a good one. Every year they come up with somebody."
This year, that somebody is Everett, a three-sport standout who has scouts raving over his lithe, well-muscled physique (6-foot, 190 pounds) and sprinter's speed (he once ran a 10.5 in the 100 meters).
A natural right-handed batter who learned to switch-hit three years ago at Reed's behest, Everett hit .519 with 16 stolen bases for the Terriers this season. Blessed with deceiving power, Everett once hammered two home runs and two triples _ one of each from each side of the plate _ in the same game.
"He can run, he can throw, he can field and he can hit. So what else you looking for?" Garcia asks. "He has some learning to do, but I think he's comparable to the rest of those (Hillsborough) guys."
Everett is flattered by the top 10 billing, but he keeps any ego in check.
"When I saw it in (Baseball America), I just looked at it and laughed," said Everett, whose older brother Albert was the Minnesota Twins' 21st pick out of Hillsborough in 1981. "It was a shock to me. I think they expect more out of players that come out of here than anywhere. But I didn't feel any pressure this year. Like I've said before, I'm me and I don't try to be no one else. They can say what they want."
In one of those quirky twists that can sometimes help launch a career, Everett was probably the only person in America who benefited from this year's major-league spring training lockout. With dozens of bored baseball officials on hand, hungry for a game, many found their way to Hillsborough High and snuck a peek at Reed's latest prodigy.
"That gave all the organizations' top people a chance to see him," Reed said. "They didn't just have to take the word of their scouts."
But it is the scouts who have been wearing out a path to Hillsborough for years. In the 1970s, players like Rich Puig (1971, first round), Mike Heath (1973, second round) and Jose Alvarez (1978, eighth round) starred for the Terriers. Then the Gooden, Lovelace, Youmans and Sheffield era put Reed's program on the baseball map.
"I think the thing that really stamped Hillsborough was when Dwight came out of here and went up there as a 19-year-old," Reed said. "That really put the mark on us."
These days, donning a Hillsborough uniform guarantees a long look from the scouts. Last year's haul of five draftees on a 16-man roster was directly attributable to the media/scouting spotlight that shone on Kiki Jones, the current Dodgers farmhand who was labeled the nation's top high school prospect.
"I told them all this year, this is the Carl Everett show," Reed said. "But you play up to your potential and the scouts will see you because Carl ain't coming up to bat every time. They've got to sit there and watch the game."
Nobody proved that theory any better than Mike Taylor, a left-handed pitcher who transferred to Hillsborough from Tampa Bay Vo-Tech for his senior season in 1989. Despite Jones hogging the headlines, Taylor went 7-0 with a 0.68 ERA for the Terriers and wound up going in the ninth round to Toronto.
"You can sort of feel the tradition at Hillsborough," said Taylor, currently with the Blue Jays' extended spring training program in Dunedin. "It makes you get pumped up and want to go out and do something yourself. I knew I wouldn't get seen at Vo-Tech. I put that together on my own."
"Hillsborough is the place to play high school baseball," said Jones, who pitches for the Dodgers' Class A Bakersfield (Calif.) club. "Everything Coach Reed taught me prepared me for the big leagues."
The farm-system-for-the-pros tag, however, can wear a little thin on Reed. Besides inviting charges of recruiting, the Terriers' big-league success stories, he says, drown the rest of what he has accomplished in 18 years on the job.
"Believe it or not, my main purpose is to steer these kids to college," Reed said. "I've got two lawyers downtown that played for me. I'm just as proud of those guys. But athletics get the headlines. Every kid that comes in here wants to play pro baseball. We're just like Notre Dame. We just draw people."
What: 26th annual baseball free agent amateur draft.
Who: High school seniors, junior college players, four-year college juniors and seniors.
Results: First round is released immediately. Rest of draft is announced in several weeks.
NO. 1 TRADITION
Hillsborough High's first-round selections in the first 25 years of the June major league amateur draft.
Name (Pos.) Yr. Team
Rich Puig (2B) 1971 Mets
Vance Lovelace (P) 1981 Cubs
Dwight Gooden (P) 1982 Mets
Gary Sheffield (SS) 1986 Brewers
Keith Jones (P) 1989 Dodgers