<
>

Call to scout starts rise to No. 1

6/7/2004 - San Diego Padres

SAN DIEGO -- Forget for a minute that the San Diego Padres like Matt Bush's strong arm, hot bat and his willingness to take a lot less money than a handful of college stars.

The kid's got bravado, too.

San Diego made the local high school shortstop -- and lifelong Padres fan -- the top pick in Monday's draft in part because of a phone call he placed to scout Tim McWilliam on Friday night.

"I told him how much I wanted to be a Padre," Bush said at a
news conference at Petco Park. "I knew how much the Padres were
looking at me this whole year, that they had a lot of interest in
me. Everything worked out really good right there at the end, and
here I am."

The Padres had narrowed their short list to Florida State
shortstop Stephen Drew and pitchers Jered Weaver of Long Beach
State and Jeff Niemann of Rice.

"As the process wound down, we came to the conclusion that the best player was right here in our backyard," general manager Kevin Towers said.

And just like that, as of Monday -- the same day Bush took two final exams at Mission Bay High, just a short drive from Petco Park -- he and the Padres were close to finalizing a deal for a $3.15
million signing bonus.

Both Drew and Weaver were believed to be asking for
significantly more than Bush, and Towers said the Padres didn't
feel they were worth that much.

"Ultimately, you've got to put value on a player," Tower said.
"We really broke down Matt's ability, tools, his ceiling and his
desire to play here in San Diego. We felt that was a right fit.
That's the reason I went out and signed David Wells, because he
wanted to be a Padre.

"For a high school kid to place a call like that a couple days
before one of the biggest days of his life and tell a scout he
wanted to wear a San Diego Padres uniform, I'd have to say that
when he placed that call, that was enough probably to put us over
the top."

McWilliam said he had trouble hearing Bush's message on his
answering machine.

"I actually called my wife over and said, 'Could you tell me
this guy's name?' And she said, 'It sounds like Matt Bush.' And I
said, 'That's what I thought.' "

McWilliam called him back, "and we just had a little
conversation and he just came out and expressed his interest in
becoming a San Diego Padre. He wanted to keep the lines of
communication open, because I think that he had read that we were
pursuing other players and he just really wanted to talk about
it."

Intrigued by Bush's call, an entourage of Padres officials, led
by Towers and scouting director Bill Gayton, went to Tony Gwynn
Stadium at San Diego State on Saturday to watch him lead Mission
Bay to the San Diego Section Division III championship.

The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Bush went 4-for-5 and scored four runs. He finished the season hitting. .447.

McWilliam said he got the feeling the Padres could easily sign
Bush.

"I think he has a tremendous amount of character for doing
that. Because in this day of greed and the agents, we saw two
players right now who were supposed to be high picks that slid to
lower slots in the first round," McWilliam said, referring to
Weaver and Drew. "That comes down to just their expectations, and
expectations are so high that people just walk away from them.

"This kid, I think his thought process was, 'I'm not trying to
milk the system, I just want to go out and get a fair offer and get
this going."

Agent Jeff Moorad and his assistants, Kenny Felder and Greg
Genske, spent most of Sunday shaping a deal with Towers.

"My adviser, Kenny, called me up and said, 'It's done, 3.15, do
you want to take it? Is that good?' " Bush said. "You can't ask
for nothing more. It's the best.

"Just the possibility of being No. 1, why would you ask for
more money?" Bush said. "You're going to be the No. 1 player,
kind of going down in history. My whole feeling the whole time,
was, whatever money was going to be right for the position I was
at, I was going to take it. I just wanted to get out and start
playing. That's how it happened."

The Padres won't need to rush Bush to the majors if rookie
shortstop Khalil Greene continues to play well.

"I mean, I'm a great shortstop and I know that," Bush said.
"Kevin Towers probably feels that I'll be ready in a couple of
years. When it happens, it'll happen, and if it's playing
shortstop, that's great and I love it. And if it's playing second
base, that's great and I love it."

He plans to hang it up as a pitcher, even though scouts clocked his fastball at 96 mph on Saturday.

Bush was taking his algebra II final when it was McWilliam's
turn to call, to say the Padres were drafting him. His teacher let
him go out in the hall to take the call on his cell phone.

"This was a day I was waiting my whole life for," Bush said.
"Of course I was going to answer that one."