Call to scout starts rise to No. 1

Updated: June 7, 2004, 10:13 PM ET
Associated Press

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."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press