The mole crickets were swarming everywhere. The night was cool and crisp and the fans were out to see a good baseball game.
So were the scouts. Lots of them. More of them at one baseball diamond than Pasco County has seen in a while.
They were there, most probably, to see River Ridge star T.J. Tucker. And they were there for good reason. Tucker, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound right-hander with a 90-mph-plus fastball and a muscular bat, is emerging as a top Major League Baseball prospect.
Tuesday night, at the diamond on the compound of Land O'Lakes High, the number of scouts in attendance was proof of that. Tucker's performance was proof of that.
What was impressive was not just the fact that more than 20 scouts were there watching Tucker's every move and timing his every pitch, but the fact some of these guys were more than just scouts. Some of them were directors of scouting. These were bigwigs coming to see a big prospect and that is usually a big sign.
Here's a given: Tucker is going to be selected high in the upcoming major league draft. The only question is where, or, more important, how high? The first two rounds? The next five rounds? The five after that?
No one has more control over that than Tucker himself.
If you were a major league GM and saw what Tucker had to offer, you most certainly would consider drafting him.
The thinking by some experienced observers is that Tucker could scare off some teams because he continues to say how much he wants to kick for the University of Florida, which signed him to a scholarship. The big fella has said that he will sign a baseball contract only if the money is good, very good.
Essentially, what Tucker is saying is that he will sign only if he is drafted in the first couple of rounds, where the bonuses are usually very good.
However, you can hardly blame any interested general managers from posing these questions: Why should we use a top pick on a kid who so desperately wants to play football? Won't that kid be too difficult to sign?
Remember the tale of Charlie Ward?
Remember how at the end of his senior year of football _ the same senior year in which he led the Florida State University Seminoles to a national championship and captured the Heisman Trophy _ Ward's performance on the field had silenced nearly all doubts about his size and made him a sure NFL prospect.
Remember that in the upcoming basketball season, one where he also excelled, Ward began talking about playing in the NBA.
Remember how folks told him that being an NBA prospect would enhance his negotiating power with the NFL.
Remember how wrong they were. And how the NFL clubs, realizing the difficulty they might have in signing him, passed over Ward like a squashed bug.
Point here, folks, is that no club is going to want to use a first-, second- or even third-round pick on a player it thinks it'll have difficulty signing.
Tucker already has the football scholarship in the bag. The Gators aren't going to pull it back. So why not turn efforts toward getting the best baseball offer?
The idea here is to think football during football season and baseball during baseball season. Get the best offers possible and then pick which one you want. But playing one against the other could be dangerous.
Tucker should probably be thinking all baseball. And judging from his recent performance, that seems to be the case. He should probably convince the scouts how badly he wants to play baseball. At least, that's what I would do.
Of course, in reality, Tucker has the world at his fingertips. He can play both baseball and football for the national champion Gators and still make it to the major leagues. Either way, he's going to be fine.