Drew primed for big encore
By Bob Thomas
TALLAHASSEE, Fla.Playing just his sixth game last year after missing 28 with a broken foot that required surgery, Florida State freshman shortstop Stephen Drew was rusty in the field as the Seminoles closed out their three-game series at home against rival Miami.
Drews second error of the gamehe made nine all seasonin the top of the 13th inning gave the Hurricanes a 7-6 lead. Then the opportunity to make amends presented itself.
"Drews a great player and hes going to be a lot better," Miami coach Jim Morris said later that Sunday afternoon at Dick Howser Stadium. "Hes a fastball hitter, but hes also a freshman. We didnt pitch around him."
Turning on a 1-0 fastball from Miamis Vince Bongiovanni, Drew delivered a season-altering, walk-off, three-run homer beyond the trees in right. The blast secured Drews place in Florida State lore, right beside his All-American brother J.D., and sent the Seminoles on their way to an amazing finishwinning 31 of their final 34 games.
Along the way to collecting Baseball Americas Freshman of the Year honors, Drew batted .402-16-54 and was the Atlantic Coast Conferences tournament MVP.
So much for struggling to live up to the reputation of his major league brothers J.D. and Tim Drew, who were first-round draft choices in 1997. In actuality, the youngest of David and Libby Drews sons from Hahira, Ga. was merely making good on a promise.
A Little Luck Never Hurts
Pirates scout Mark McKnight remembers visiting the Drew home during Tims senior year to discuss the signability of the hard-throwing pitcher. Just 14 at the time, Stephen walked into the room when his father said to McKnight: "Theres your next one right there."
"He may turn out to be," said McKnight, whose Pirates drafted Drew in the 11th round out of Lowndes County High in 2001.
Its hard to fathom how Drew slipped to the 11th round based on his first year with the Seminoles, but theres little doubt that fate smiled on FSU coach Mike Martin when Drew performed poorly before a host of scouts early in his senior season. Few people knew he had been battling an extended illness.
"I was really sick, probably for three weeks," Stephen Drew said. "When you dont feel good your body doesnt function right. The scouts kind of got turned off, I guess."
One American League scout said at least 15 teams walked away from a game convinced Drew wasnt a big league prospect. Brewers scout Doug Reynolds remembers the day well.
"My gut feeling was, Oh my, what has happened?" Reynolds said. "There wasnt anything he did that was impressive. About the best thing he had going was he was J.D. Drews brother."
A Tallahassee resident, Reynolds scouted all three Drew brothers. "Its tough to compare anybody to J.D. when he was an amateur," Reynolds said. "His tools were off the charts. Ive never seen anyone with his package."
After watching Stephen throughout his freshman season at FSU, Reynolds believes he "may end up as good as J.D. Were looking for the whole package, and from what Ive seen so far (Stephen) doesnt show a weakness."
And that includes his play in the field at his position of choiceshortstop.
"Thats where all the action is," Drew said. "When youre in T-ball you dont get a lot of action out in the outfield. The kids cant hit it that far, so Ive been playing shortstop since I was a little toddler. My parents always say I was playing in my diapers with J.D. and Tim outside."
The countless hours fielding grounders off the bat of J.D. as Tim pitched paid off with a .961 fielding percentage last season.
"Hes got very good defensive tools," McKnight said. "Good agility, light on his feet, a light body and a live arm. He hasnt convinced me he cant play (shortstop)."
More Than A Name
And while Drews physical tools all earn high marks, hes also blessed with something that is difficult to quantifypresence.
"Its something that does matter," Reynolds said. "I sometimes call it the Chipper (Jones) swagger; the way he carries his confidence."
Drews presence is rooted in his passion for the game. Martin likened J.D.s demeanor to Joe DiMaggio, while comparing Stephen to Pete Rose. "Hes more vocal, more animated than J.D." Martin said. "J.D. would go around you to accomplish his goal. Stephen will go through you."
And hes enjoying every minute of it.
"Its always going out there to see if you can beat the game of baseball for that day," Stephen Drew said. "Thats just the passion youve got to have. Youve got to have a lot of fun in this game, because if you dont have a lot of fun it eats you up."
Bob Thomas has been covering Florida State baseball for the (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union since 1995.
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