Jeff Baker's parents grew up in Mansfield, Ohio, about an hour from Cleveland, and they rooted for the team that chose their son Wednesday in the fourth round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft. Baker's maternal grandfather has listened to Indians games on the radio for decades.
"Everyone was just so excited," said Jeff's mother, Dawn, who still has family in Ohio. "We couldn't have asked for anything better."
So add sentimentality to the list of emotions the Bakers are juggling while trying to decide whether their favorite shortstop should attend NCAA power Clemson University on scholarship or sign a professional contract with Cleveland and pocket a substantial signing bonus.
These are heady decisions for a guy who graduates June 18 from Gar-Field High School -- home of the Indians, no less -- and will not turn 18 until three days later.
The Bakers met for more than three hours Friday night with Chuck Ricci, the Germantown, Md.-based Indians scout who tracked Baker all season. The meeting was more of a conversational one. Ricci will return Monday night with a contract offer, a figure the Bakers are braced for being on the low end, likely prompting further negotiations.
Clemson is keeping close tabs on the talks -- Dawn Baker said the Tigers called their home three times Friday.
"We told them from the beginning we have to hear both sides so we can make a sound decision," she said. "Once you sign that contract or don't sign that contract, that's it. The Baker family is very high on education, whether it's before professional ball or after. It has to be there."
The Bakers are certainly receiving an education about the Indians. The day after the team drafted their son as the 137th of the eventual 1,474 players chosen, the family received an informational team videotape to watch and a blank contract to study. Those touches and Ricci's professionalism have made for pleasant wooing.
"Cleveland is a first-class program, no doubt," Dawn Baker said. "The thing that impresses us is the player development. It doesn't appear that the kids drafted are disposable. For some, the only objective is to come in and sign you and walk out the door.
"We've had some scouts come and all they want to know is how much money and what round. Jeff got a call from a scout who said, `If we pick you in the first round, will you sign?' Jeff said, `You haven't given me anything to sign.' Then you never hear from them again."
The Indians had no first-round pick this year, losing it to Baltimore as compensation for signing free agent Roberto Alomar. So only Will Hartley, a catcher from Stark, Fla., and Western Carolina University outfielder Eric Johnson, better known as a football player, were higher picks than Baker, who this season hit .537 and slugged 12 homers. Hartley is bound for the University of Florida if he spurns the pro offer.
One plus to Baker signing with the Indians would be geography. Cleveland's minor league teams are in Burlington, N.C.; Niles, Ohio; Columbus, Ga.; Kinston, N.C.; Akron and Buffalo. High Class A team Kinston is a member of the Carolina League and annually plays 10 games or so against the Potomac Cannons at Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge.
The Bakers are being assisted in the negotiations by Ivan Schwartz, a sports agent who at this point can serve only as an unpaid adviser. If Baker goes pro, Schwartz will be his agent.
Schwartz also represents Hylton graduate Mike Colangelo, a Class AAA outfielder with the Edmonton Trappers, an Anaheim Angels affiliate. During the offseason, Baker worked out with Colangelo and Gar-Field graduate Brian McNichol, who pitches in the Chicago Cubs organization.
Potomac Coach Mike Covington was surprised that his two star players -- catcher Danny Lopaze and shortstop Jose Pabon -- did not get drafted until the 16th and 19th rounds, respectively. At this point, he thinks they probably would be better served using their scholarships to Virginia Commonwealth University to improve their draft standing for after their junior seasons.
"These guys are top 10-round picks if I've ever seen one, and I've seen plenty of them," said Covington, who in the past five years has had two of his players drafted in the top 10 rounds. "They're going to get bigger, stronger and faster, and [in college] they'll get to play one position and practice it all the time."
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays have already made an offer to Lopaze that Covington said was far short of what Lopaze is asking. Pabon has not yet met with the New York Mets.
Covington thinks the players -- projected by Baseball America as two of the top nine prospects in Virginia -- might have dropped in the draft because of position uncertainty. Lopaze is an ex-infielder who this season played catcher for the first time. He shows potential at that spot but lacks polish. Pabon has played shortstop and catcher this season. Both players also pitch.