Video: Nolan Gorman featured on WeNext
First-round hopeful helped O'Connor win a state title last month.
When Nolan Gorman
stepped to the plate for O'Connor (Phoenix)
, time seemed to stop. Heads turned. Cell calls were dropped. The baseball diamond went silent.
Until Gorman, a smooth-swinging 6-foot-1, 210-pound left-hand-hitting third baseman, attacked innocent baseballs with a bat.
The continuous loud pinging sound was unmistakable. So was the buzz of fans and fellow players as one ball after another left the yard.
"The (home run) I remember most was the one at Grand Canyon," said catcher Jake Vesecky
. "I've seen him hit them for years, but to just watch that ball soar high into the night and over the fence was really unbelievable."
For the record, Vesecky's reference was to Grand Canyon University and not the national park. But there seemed no baseball facility that could contain his power.
"Our sophomore year, we had a Final 4 game against Hamilton," said teammate
. "We were down two late and he hit a homer almost over the scoreboard. It was amazing. I've never seen that from a high schooler."
Gorman was the home run king of prep baseball, a high school Hercules if you will.
In 277 career at-bats — about a half season total for a Major Leaguer — he drilled 32 homers to go along with 115 runs, 116 hits and 118 RBIs.
Showcased on all-star teams and for USA Baseball last summer, he won at least three home run derbies, including the MLB All-Star Game in Miami, along with contests at Wrigley Field in Chicago and Petco Park in San Diego.
"Awesome," Gorman described each experience. "Hitting in front of 50,000 people (in Miami) — awesome. … Getting to play and hit at Wrigley Field and be in the locker room — where all those legends played — awesome. … It felt like were in the Big Leagues playing on those fields."
It's a feeling he should get used to.
On Monday, Gorman is projected to be selected to be one of the top 10 picks in the 2018 Major League Baseball Draft. Baseball America has the University of Arizona commit going No. 5 to the Reds.
When it happens, it will be the culmination of a lifelong dream for a lad named after Nolan Ryan — his father is a lifelong Mets fan — and who patterns himself after Nolan Arenado. It's not the 120 homers and 393 RBIs that the Rockies' slugger has produced the last three season that Gorman appreciates most.
It's the professionalism and attention to detail that Arenado displays, traits Gorman's parents taught him growing up.
"He's such a competitor," Gorman said of Arenado. "Every day he goes out and tries to get better. It shows. What he does on the field is pretty amazing."
O'Connor coach Jeff Baumgartner can connect the dots between the Nolans. He's watched Gorman progress as a Little Leaguer to a budding prep star, never wavering from his rigorous daily regimens or grounded personality — even with 30 to 70 professional scouts attending his every game as a senior.
"He's handled it all great," Baumgartner said. "He could have easily been a prima donna, but instead he's the hardest working kid we've got and the most humble player I've ever seen considering all the attention gets.
"When he was a sophomore, I remember the seniors wondered how a kid with so much hype stayed so grounded. You don't act like you're too good for us. To us, he's just Nolan. We don't think of him as a superstar. It's a tribute to his parents. They obviously raised him right."
That sophomore year was when Baumgartner knew Gorman was going to live up to all the hype.
In a game at Sunnyslope (Phoenix), "The wind was blowing probably 70 mph straight in," Baumgartner recalled. "A ball hit in the air would come right back at you. It was silly. I instructed the guys to hit nothing but line drives. No one was going to hit a home run."
Except Hercules. In his second at-bat, Gorman launched one out threw the gale-force wind.
"I knew we had some very special then," Baumgartner said. "There was no way I thought that was possible. Then, there's no way I thought he could hit one 400 feet with a wood bat. Or hit one like he did at Grand Canyon. That was mammoth. You think he can't do it, but he steps up and does it.
"Believe me, as a coach over 16 years, I've step backed and learned how to appreciate it. There's 70 scouts out there watching him take BP and that's pretty cool. … As coaches, we're not afraid to step back and say, ‘Oh man, that was awesome.' With every majestic home run, you have about 5-10 seconds to really appreciate it."
What Baumgartner appreciated equally was Gorman's attention to detail. Like bunting. Bat control. Swinging at strikes. Being a team guy for the program's first state championship team.
Gorman walked 46 times as a senior — about half intentional — had an on-base percentage of .640 and slugging percent of .896.
"He was still our best bunter as a senior," Baumgartner said. "He really works at it. He takes pride in it. Everyone watches the 400-foot home runs, but when they put on one of those Major League shifts, he's able to get a bunt down. … It's pretty impressive. … That's a wow factor for me. That and the way he interacts with teammates."
Said Vesecky: "He's one of the best people I've ever met. He's always there for you. We've had countless conversations about life. He's always there. He always knows what to say."
Said Easley, who is also expected to be drafted: "He's caring. He's worried about how I'm doing as a person. He's as good as it gets."
That's why, when Gorman's name is called on Monday, Baumgartner and entire O'Connor program will burst with pride. As much as they did winning their first state title last month.
"I know how hard he's worked," Baumgartner said. "The effort and all the pressure he's been under … it's not been easy. The kid set out to chase a dream and achieved it. There will be great satisfaction that he did it. There will be joy and jubilation this kid signed and will be part of the next generation of great players."