- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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John Kazanas, the Chicago White Sox's Southwest amateur scout, was at home in Chandler, Ariz., on Thursday afternoon when phone calls and text messages began rolling in from friends in the scouting community. The messages came from all over, and they had a sense of urgency about them.
"I must have heard from two dozen people in the eighth inning," Kazanas said. "I got text messages saying, 'Your guy is dealing.'"
Kazanas flicked on the ESPN TV feed of the White Sox-Rays game just in time to watch Gabe Kapler, Michel Hernandez and Jason Bartlett go down in order in the ninth inning, and Mark Buehrle celebrate the 17th perfect game in major league history.
As invigorating as the moment was for Buehrle and center fielder Dewayne Wise, Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone in the broadcast booth, and 28,036 people in the U.S. Cellular Field stands, Kazanas couldn't help but feel a special sense of gratification. That's always the case for the scout who got in on the ground floor.
In the spring of 1998, two junior college kids in Missouri caught Kazanas' eye while he was following the Midwest region for Chicago. First, there was the Maple Woods Community College shortstop with below-average speed, shaky hands and an unorthodox throwing action, but a penchant for hitting "unbelievable loft bombs" in batting practice.
The kid's name: Albert Pujols. Kazanas turned in a report and gave him a whopping "75" power grade on the 20-80 scouts' scale, but Pujols would ultimately sign with St. Louis after the Cardinals drafted him in the 13th round in the 1999 draft.
The other player, Buehrle, was a third-team All-American at Jefferson JC. He was a wiry left-hander with nondescript radar gun readings, but he sure seemed to have a feel for pitching.
Kazanas passed along a recommendation to scouting supervisor Nathan Durst and scouting director Duane Shaffer. Doug Laumann and Kenny Stauffer of the White Sox's staff also took a look, and they all agreed that the kid was worth a shot. Chicago selected Buehrle in the 38th round as a "draft and follow," and signed him for a $150,000 bonus the following May.
Buehrle made it to the majors by age 21, posted a 19-12 record at age 23 and pitched a no-hitter at age 28. Buehrle is extremely durable, relies on guile and control rather than velocity and has 133 career victories at age 30, so he might be as legitimate a candidate to win 300 games as any pitcher out there.
For a while, Kazanas exchanged holiday greeting cards with Buehrle and bumped into him in spring training. They've since lost contact, but a piece of the crafty left-hander is still with the veteran scout. Kazanas carries around a copy of his 11-year-old scouting report on Buehrle, because it helps serve as a guidepost when he's evaluating similar pitchers.
Among other things, the report praised Buehrle for his mound presence, quick feet, "pitchability" and four-pitch mix.
"With several corrections to his slider and change, he could become a solid No. 3-5 starter," Kazanas wrote in '98.
Some things, like tenacity, are tough to summarize on paper. As Buehrle chatted away in the dugout following the seventh inning Thursday, Harrelson was upstairs in the broadcast booth comparing him with Jim "Catfish" Hunter for his demeanor and approach to the game. That's one heck of a compliment.
"This guy competes," Kazanas said. "He's going to give you what has in his body to help his team win. I love seeing the damn changeup get hitters out, because we're so in tune with guys who throw bullets these days. [Buehrle] doesn't do that, but that changeup is what makes him special."
All told, Kazanas has signed about a dozen players who've made it to the big leagues. The list includes White Sox outfielder Brian Anderson, Texas pitcher Brandon McCarthy and former White Sox pitcher Dan Wright.
In 2003, Kazanas' wife, Chris, died of cancer, and he was left to raise their four children alone. Through the trying times, he relied on the support of the White Sox and his friends in the baseball community to keep going. And of course, there's the perpetual scout's quest to seek out talent and uncover that hidden "gem" in the later rounds of the draft.
With his masterful performance Thursday in Chicago, former 38th-round pick Mark Buehrle helped brighten a baseball scout's day.
"You always root for the people you know," Kazanas said. "You want to do everything you can to make a kid's dream come true. The dream is to get to the big leagues. To get to this point and create history -- that's better than Walt Disney."
10hTony Lee, Special to ESPN.com
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