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Drew primed for big encore

By Bob Thomas
January 23, 2003

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.

Drew’s second error of the game–he made nine all season–in the top of the 13th inning gave the Hurricanes a 7-6 lead. Then the opportunity to make amends presented itself.

"Drew’s a great player and he’s going to be a lot better," Miami coach Jim Morris said later that Sunday afternoon at Dick Howser Stadium. "He’s a fastball hitter, but he’s also a freshman. We didn’t pitch around him."

Turning on a 1-0 fastball from Miami’s Vince Bongiovanni, Drew delivered a season-altering, walk-off, three-run homer beyond the trees in right. The blast secured Drew’s place in Florida State lore, right beside his All-American brother J.D., and sent the Seminoles on their way to an amazing finish–winning 31 of their final 34 games.

Along the way to collecting Baseball America’s Freshman of the Year honors, Drew batted .402-16-54 and was the Atlantic Coast Conference’s 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 Drew’s 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 Tim’s 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: "There’s 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.

It’s hard to fathom how Drew slipped to the 11th round based on his first year with the Seminoles, but there’s 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 don’t feel good your body doesn’t 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 wasn’t a big league prospect. Brewers scout Doug Reynolds remembers the day well.

"My gut feeling was, ‘Oh my, what has happened?’" Reynolds said. "There wasn’t anything he did that was impressive. About the best thing he had going was he was J.D. Drew’s brother."

A Tallahassee resident, Reynolds scouted all three Drew brothers. "It’s tough to compare anybody to J.D. when he was an amateur," Reynolds said. "His tools were off the charts. I’ve 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. We’re looking for the whole package, and from what I’ve seen so far (Stephen) doesn’t show a weakness."

And that includes his play in the field at his position of choice–shortstop.

"That’s where all the action is," Drew said. "When you’re in T-ball you don’t get a lot of action out in the outfield. The kids can’t hit it that far, so I’ve 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.

"He’s got very good defensive tools," McKnight said. "Good agility, light on his feet, a light body and a live arm. He hasn’t convinced me he can’t play (shortstop)."

More Than A Name

And while Drew’s physical tools all earn high marks, he’s also blessed with something that is difficult to quantify–presence.

"It’s something that does matter," Reynolds said. "I sometimes call it the Chipper (Jones) swagger; the way he carries his confidence."

Drew’s presence is rooted in his passion for the game. Martin likened J.D.’s demeanor to Joe DiMaggio, while comparing Stephen to Pete Rose. "He’s 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 he’s enjoying every minute of it.

"It’s always going out there to see if you can beat the game of baseball for that day," Stephen Drew said. "That’s just the passion you’ve got to have. You’ve got to have a lot of fun in this game, because if you don’t 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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