Major League’s final four is in full swing so here are “Starting Point” snapshots for a dozen players between the American and National League finalists.
Los Angeles Angels
Chone Figgins (Brandon HS, Fla.) — A fourth-round pick in the 1997 draft by the Rockies, Figgins was a third-team All-American in high school. His selection to the 2009 All-Star team made him the first native from the Tampa area since Kenny Rogers (2006). Other All-Stars from Tampa region the previous year were Gary Sheffield (Hillsborough) and Luis Gonzalez (Jefferson). His full name is Desmond DeChone Figgins.
Torii Hunter (Pine Bluff HS, Ark.) — Hunter, a four-sport standout, actually played second fiddle in high school to Basil Shabazz, a baseball teammate and friend who played just one season in high school but was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals. Hunter twice earned All-State honors doing all the things he does for the Angels: rob opponents of homers, steal bases and once, according to his coach Billy Bock, he blasted a 550-foot homer. Hunter also played football – he was a quarterback and safety — basketball and ran track for the Zebras. His idol was Bo Jackson. He was the 20th pick of the Twins in the 1993 draft and signed for $450,000.
Scott Kazmir (Cypress Falls HS, Houston) — Kazmir landed on the national map when he fired four no-hitters as a junior in 2001. As a senior he went 11-2 with 172 strikeouts and a 0.37 ERA in 75 innings. He was also a standout quarterback and heavily recruited by the University of Texas. He and teammate Clint Everts (No. 5 by Montreal Expos) became the first pitching duo from the same high school to be drafted in the first round. The Mets picked Kazmir No. 15.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Casey Blake (Indianola HS, Iowa) — A four-sport standout, Blake was named one of the top-10 high school athletes in the history of Iowa. The 1992 graduate not only starred not only in baseball, football and basketball, but he also ran track. Unlike most on this list, Blake went on to college and was a three-time All-American at Wichita State, hitting .320 with 22 homers and 101 RBIs as a senior.
Clayton Kershaw (Highland Park HS, University Park, Texas) — Teammate of 2009 No. 1 NFL draft pick Matthew Stafford, Kershaw was 13-0 his senior year in 2006 with a 0.77 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 64 innings. He made national news in a playoff win over Arlington Martin HS by pitching an all-strikeout perfect game. He was the Gatorade National Player of the Year.
Jim Thome (Limestone HS, Bartonville, Ill.) —An All-State performer in basketball, he started on the team as a freshman and one season scored 36 points in a triple-overtime championship-game victory. As he junior he played shortstop and belted 12 home runs but at 6-2 and 175 pounds was considered too frail by pro scouts. He wasn’t drafted in high school, instead getting picked the following year after a season at Illinois Central College.
New York Yankees
Johnny Damon (Dr. Phillips HS, Orlando, Fla.) — Damon was also a Division I football talent as a hard-hitting safety and a track sprinter. He actually ran track and played baseball at the same time. His baseball teammate Brian Barber was a first-round pick in the 1991 draft, and that drew scouts to watch Damon. He was the consensus No. 1 prep player in the country heading into his senior season but food poisoning led to a challenging season – “only” hitting .306 with five homers and 22 steals. That dropped him to the 36th overall pick in 1992 by the Kansas City Royals. Though verbally committed to the University of Florida, he signed with the Royals for $300,000.
Derek Jeter (Kalamazoo Central HS, Mich.) — At 6-3, many thought Jeter was going to be a basketball player. He was on the varsity team as a sophomore and one of his fondest memories was drilling a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Portage Central. Because of his size and skill, he was compared to Cal Ripken. His junior year he hit .557 with seven home runs and was on everyone’s radar. An ankle injury hurt his senior year, few even pitched to him, but he hit .508 and was named the High School Player of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches' Association. He rejected a full ride to the University of Michigan and accepted a $700,000 signing bonus by the Yankees who made him the No. six pick of the 1992 draft.
Alex Rodriguez (Westminster Christian, Miami, Fla.) — A-Rod actually began at Christopher Columbus Catholic in Miami, but when he didn’t win the starting shortstop job as a freshman, a friend convinced him to go to Westminster, a private school of 300, which already had a pair of top prospects in Doug Mientkiewicz and Alex Gonzalez. Rodriguez was also a star quarterback in football and set several school marks, twice earning All-State honors. After hitting just .255 as a sophomore, Rodriguez hit .477 with 51 runs and 42 steals as a junior and Westminster went 33-2. He hit .505 with nine homers and 35 steals as a senior, committed to the University of Miami but was the No. 1 pick of the 1993 draft by the Mariners. He signed for $1.3-million.
Cole Hamels (Rancho Bernardo HS, San Diego) — With a 94-mph fastball, Hamels drew scouting interest by the time he was a sophomore. He helped lead the Broncos to three straight league titles starting in 1999. Scouts did back off when he broke his arm as a junior but he bounced back with 10 wins, 130 strikeouts in 71 innings and a 0.39 ERA as a senior. He was the No. 17 pick overall of the 2002 draft.
Ryan Howard (Lafayette HS, Wildwood, Mo.) — Howard’s debut was auspicious, drilling two home runs and knocking in seven runs as a sophomore in 1996. He told MaxPreps’ Joseph Santoliquito all about it. He wanted to play football in high school but his mom wouldn’t let him so he played trombone in the marching band. He had a productive career at Lafayette, but went undrafted, instead getting noticed at Missouri State. Driven by a large family – literally – and supportive parents, Howard persevered to become now one of the game’s best sluggers.
Jimmy Rollins (Encinal HS, Alameda, Calif.) — A four-year letterman at the same school that produced Willie Stargell and Dontrelle Willis, Rollins hit .484 and stole 99 bases in his high school career. He also blasted a home run at the Oakland Coliseum in his team’s North Coast Section championship victory. He was selected in the second round of the 1996 draft by the Phillies, who convinced him to bypass a scholarship offer at Arizona State.
Have stories about a professional athlete who attending your high school? E-mail Mitch Stephens at email@example.com.