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Familiar Route, Faces For Giants

June 4, 2003
By Josh Suchon

SAN FRANCISCO--Three years ago, the Giants used their 49th-round pick as a courtesy to Nick Conte, the son of their head athletic trainer, Stan Conte. They drafted him again Tuesday, and this time it was legit.

Conte was taken in the 13th round out of nearby St. Mary's College on the first day of the draft.

The Giants didn't have to go far to scout him. Nick is a regular around Pacific Bell Park and accompanied the Giants on road trips last summer, where he was the bullpen catcher, proving himself as Robb Nen and Felix Rodriguez fired fastballs and nasty sliders at him.

"I don't want to brag about my kid, but I might as well," the father said. "This guy can catch and throw. He has a tremendous arm. It's a rocket. He can catch and he can call a game. He's been in major league clubhouse his whole life. He knows what it's all about. He's not intimidated by anything. He loves to catch."

The 5-foot-10, 210-pound Conte hit .331-3-36 in 167 at-bats and was an honorable mention West Coast Conference choice.

"He's a strong kid," said Dick Tidrow, the Giants vice president of player personnel who runs the organization's draft. "He's around the ballpark all the time in the winter. He's got juice in his bat. He can catch and throw."

In the days leading up to the draft, Conte was nervous about his son. He honestly had no clue which club would select him or where he would be selected. The Giants intentionally had no contact with Conte about his son.

Tidrow joked, "What's Stan going to say, `I don't like him' or `he's not good?' or `bad attitude at home' or `doesn't pay for gas.' "

As usual, the Giants went with a pitcher in the first round, taking Rice closer David Aardsma with the 22nd overall pick. The Giants were especially impressed with the righthander in the Cape Cod League last summer, when he went 3-0, 0.68 with seven saves for Falmouth. He held opponents to an .084 average and struck out 45.

It's rare for college closers to become closers in the majors, but Tidrow didn't feel the selection was a gamble.

"Russ Ortiz was a reliever in college," he said. "I think Russ has done fine. We took the biggest body guy with the best arm who can make pitches and had good stuff against wood in the Cape. He dominated the Cape. That's why we like him. We really won't make a decision on whether he's a starter or a reliever until later. For now, he's going to start. Unlike Russ--we had him in the bullpen and then made him a starter--we'll start (Aardsma) as a starter. If he becomes a reliever, so be it."

Aardsma is a college teammate of Enrique Cruz, the younger brother of Giants right fielder Jose Cruz Jr. After a recent trip to see his older brother, Enrique came back to Texas raving about the Giants organization. Aardsma was thrilled to get drafted by them.

He took over the closing role midway through last season for Rice and loves it.

"It's so exciting to come out in the ninth inning and be that last knife in the back," Aardsma said. "You go for one inning, throw your best stuff and get hitters out. Whatever the organization wants me to do is what I'm going to do. If they want me to start, I've done that before and I'll do that again. If they want me to close, I'm doing that right now.

"I don't want to be too anxious to take Robb Nen's job. He's an unbelievable closer and one of the best of all-time. I want to be that guy down the line."

The Giants also took--and won--a gamble during the draft. The organization had targeted Lufkin (Texas) High righthander Craig Whitaker with their first pick, but thought they could nab Aardsma and still grab Whitaker with their supplemental first-round choice, No. 34 overall. The gambit paid off and San Francisco added a 6-foot-4, 180-pound athlete whose fastball has been clocked as high as 96 mph.

The Giants also made one of the more obscure selections in the first two rounds, popping third baseman Nate Schierholtz from nearby Chabot (Calif.) Junior College in the East Bay.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound lefthanded batter hit .400-18-60 with 48 runs scored and 20 doubles in 42 games.

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