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One summer morning in 1991, Dick Groch was driving to a baseball game in Battle Creek, Mich., when he made an unplanned detour to a high-school field in Mount Morris, somewhere between the state’s thumb and forefinger. Groch, a scout who covered the Midwest for the New York Yankees, decided he’d stop by a “talent identification” camp there. He didn’t expect to see anything special; the event, he figured, was just a way for some local coach to make a little extra money. Besides, the Yankees were considering Jeffrey Hammonds, an outfielder from Stanford, and Jim Pittsley, a hard-throwing right-hander, as possible picks in the next draft. But Groch thought, why not break up the day?
At the high school, a coach was conducting infield drills when he fungoed a ball into the hole between third and short. It looked as if it was going to dribble through to left field, when a wispy shortstop sprinted to his right, backhanded it, leapt into the air and, while leaning backward, contorted his body into a single, fluid throwing motion that culminated with the ball’s whistling into the first baseman’s mitt. “I said, ‘My God, that’s a major-league play,’ ” Groch recalled recently....
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