Commissioner meets with prep stars, heralds opportunities MLB brings
By Mark Newman
NEW YORK -- Commissioner Rob Manfred, meeting at a luncheon with several top prospects whose names he may read hours later in the MLB Draft, made a case for why baseball is the best opportunity for young athletes, and he invoked the name of retired Yankees great Derek Jeter as an example to follow in their careers to come.
"If you remember anything that I say to you today, I hope you'll remember this," Manfred said. "I hope all of you guys are going to have long Major League careers, but decisions like you made today, to be here, to help promote the game, are the kind of decisions that pay huge dividends for you going forward. People like Derek Jeter, who always did the right thing when it comes to promoting the game, get tremendous dividends for that.
"I hope that as you go on in your career and your time will become more tight -- as it's very demanding to play Major League Baseball -- you will keep it in your mind that it's really important for all of us who care about the game to take time out of your schedules and remember it's all those 74 million fans who come to watch Major League Baseball live each year. We've got to take care of each one of them, and you guys are off to a great start by being here today."
In attendance at tonight's Draft and being given a grand tour of the Big Apple all day are four high school players: shortstop Brendan Rodgers of Lake Mary, Fla.; right-hander Mike Nikorak of Stroudsburg, Pa.; right-hander Ashe Russell of Indianapolis Cathedral; and outfielder Garrett Whitley of Niskayuna, N.Y.
Also in attendance throughout the day and night's activities is Jason Boulais, who played at the University of South Carolina at Beaufort and was invited by MLB as a special guest. Boulais is being honored for his selfless act of voluntarily donating bone marrow to save the life of a 5-year-old boy in France with a form of blood cancer that can be fatal.
"It's our 50th year, this is an event that we're trying to grow and make it a bigger event each and every year, and really the key to that is the ability to attract high-quality players to come and join us for the Draft," Manfred told the prospects. "People want to see on TV, just like when they turn the game on, they want to see players. I really appreciate you all being here."
Manfred, speaking to the prospects' families as well, also took the opportunity to tout baseball's opportunity for all young athletes, especially citing the longevity of careers and the sport's safety.
"I do believe that Major League Baseball is a great opportunity for young people," he said. "If you look at guys who are as athletic as you are and had an opportunity to play other sports, over the long haul, our players earn guaranteed dollars unlike players in a lot of other sports. We have very long careers compared to athletes in other sports, and we have a really safe game for the players.
"It is also a young man's game right now. If you look at the teams that have won recently, Kansas City maybe being the best example of it, you have the opportunity to come a long way really quickly. You look at Houston's roster with all those top picks that they've had in recent years and how well they're playing, and how quickly they turned that franchise around."
Rodgers said he appreciated what Manfred had to say.
"He was there just to give us good advice," Rodgers said. "He told us to remember, and I'm going to remember that for a long time, what he said."
The five players and their families and friends hopped a tour boat to travel around the island of Manhattan. In addition to learning about the Big Apple, they had the opportunity to have their picture taken together in front of the Statue of Liberty.
After the subsequent luncheon on Park Avenue, they took a trip up to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and a peek inside the home team's clubhouse. From there, it is back across the Hudson River to their hotel for dinner and then over to MLB Network to settle in for the big night.
"It's a dream come true," Rodgers said on the boat as the Empire State Building loomed behind him. "I've waited for this moment for months and months and months, and it's finally here. I'm like shocked and in awe. I'm just really excited."
Whitley, a Red Sox fan who lives just upstate near Albany, said what mattered was being around other expected top picks.
"It's pretty amazing, to be honest. It always felt like Draft day was so far away when I was doing all the showcase stuff last summer, and now that it's here, it's kind of unreal," Whitley said. "I don't have that many people back home to talk to who know what this is like. It's cool to be here and talk about it."
The 2015 Draft will take place through Wednesday, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Monday at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 75 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of Day 2 begins with a live Draft show at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, with exclusive coverage of Day 3 beginning at 1 p.m. on Wednesday.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 200 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of over 1,700 Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker, and you can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.