Suns' Lopez remembers that draft day feeling

June 02, 1999|By BOB PARASILITI

A year ago, Felipe Lopez's life went from fiction to fact.

Until then, the 19-year-old had spent his formative teen years chasing a dream of becoming a professional baseball player.

All those years of daydreaming changed with a simple, short phone call, just like it did for the new names of Josh Hamilton, Josh Beckett and Eric Munson on Wednesday.

Lopez's life made a change for the better last June, when he became the surprise first-round choice of Toronto in the 1998 baseball amateur draft.

But that 30-second call ended a day of nervousness and ecstacy that go with the news that your destiny has just been decided by a bunch of guys sitting in a board room ... much like the feeling Hamilton, Beckett and Munson must have felt on Wednesday when the major leagues held the 1999 version of the draft.


"You feel good after you get the call," Lopez said. "It's a feeling of accomplishing part of something you wanted to do. It means a lot ... it shows that all the work I did in the offseason paid off."

And paid off in a big way. As the No. 8 pick overall, Lopez not only earned the status of one of the top young players in the country, but there was also a small matter of a signing bonus which doesn't hurt the financial future.

Not a bad payoff, especially since Lopez was exiled from his parents' Apopka, Fla., home on the day of the draft.

"My family and my agent wouldn't let me in the house," Lopez said. "They didn't want me getting on the phone and getting nervous. They just told me to go out with friends."

The baseball draft has much more uncertainty and a lot less glamour than some other drafts. Both the NBA and NFL have made their selection processes television extravaganzas. And in both, top players are on site waiting for their name to be called.

But in baseball, players are at the mercy of Ma Bell, Sprint and MCI.

"I found out where I was going about a half-hour after the draft started," Lopez said.

The call wasn't a shock as much as who was on the other end of the phone. Lopez expected to hear "The Star-Spangled Banner," not "O Canada" on the muzak when he was put on the hold.

"I didn't even know the Blue Jays were looking at me," Lopez said. "Seattle and Cleveland had been looking at me, so I was shocked when I didn't hear from them and heard from Toronto."

The call changed the course of course of Lopez's baseball life, bringing him to Hagerstown this year as an integral part of the Suns and a building block in Toronto's future in the next century.

"It was all something else," Lopez said. "You sit there with the feeling that 'This is my future,' but I was pretty calm waiting around. Being a first-round draft pick changed my life a little bit, but I still plan to work hard, just like I would have if I hadn't been drafted and went to college."

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