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D Rock
01-30-2009, 12:37 AM
http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=y ... &type=lgns (http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=ys-klimapolamalu012909&prov=yhoo&type=lgns)


Polamalu spurned Braves to follow football
By John Klima
6 hours, 25 minutes ago

Two longtime Atlanta Braves baseball men will turn on the Super Bowl on Sunday, settle back in their chairs and watch the one that got away. There won’t be any regrets because they know the player wearing No. 43 for the Pittsburgh Steelers is pursuing his passion.

Yet Kurt Kemp and Paul Snyder know something else. Deep in the Braves’ digital catacombs are three scouting reports from 1998 and 1999 concerning Oregon high school center fielder Troy Polamalu. And those reports still glow after all these years.

Polamalu possessed an intriguing blend of raw instincts and athletic grace, displaying nearly as much potential on the baseball diamond as on the football field at Douglas High School in the small town of Winston.

Kemp scrutinized Polamalu, wrote up the reports and fell in love a little bit, the way an area scout often does with an especially gifted prospect. A former college coach, Kemp was a first-year scout covering the Pacific Northwest for the Braves. His mentor was Snyder, the organization’s longtime scouting director and minor league development czar.


Snyder kept three hard-and-fast rules: All Braves scouts must wear slacks and not jeans, no matter the climate or the conditions. All Braves scouts must search for high school athletes who can swing the bat. All Braves scouts must leave no avenue unexplored.

All Braves scouts who did not comply with the edicts of Snyder, who was in the team’s employ from 1957 until 2006, were not Braves scouts for very long.

Kemp took the job seriously, spending every afternoon at rain-soaked fields. And one memorable day in the fall of 1998, he saw an electrifying athlete sloshing effortlessly across the Douglas outfield. Kemp filed a report that evening, even though he had a feeling the 17-year-old Polamalu’s future was probably in another sport.

His reports noted how Polamalu ran hard after every ball and closed the gaps unusually well. Polamalu’s musculature was forming, and Kemp noted his broad shoulders, thick neck and loose but powerful arms that produced a potent swing. Kemp liked the way Polamalu’s bat sounded when he made solid contact, even though the sound was the awkward clank of aluminum.

“It’s not like I discovered him, but his athletic ability made you pay attention,” said Kemp from Atlanta, where he is beginning his third year as the Braves’ director of player development. “You could see he was a good, strong, stout young man. You could envision him, with the right development, to be a good baseball player. I thought his strength projected very well with the wood bat.”

Polamalu wasn’t a secret for long. Kemp kept up the chase, even though he understood the Polamalu family priorities better than most scouts. Kemp had been an assistant baseball coach at Oregon State in 1987 and 1988 when Troy’s cousin, Joe, a football player for the Beavers, walked on the baseball team and found serviceable at-bats as an outfielder.

Kemp saw Polamalu play baseball twice more after he committed to play football at USC. Kemp diligently filed two more reports because he believed Polamalu’s natural athleticism warranted his curiosity and attention.

“There was nothing so overwhelming that every national scout came in to see him, but he had no glaring weaknesses either,” Kemp said. “There was nothing that told you he couldn’t advance. You look at his aggressive nature in football today and that was already in him.”

In his reports, Kemp noted that Polamalu’s energy was too much to ignore even if he never faced a single pitch in organized baseball. Kemp wasn’t the only scout to pay Polamalu a home visit, and he tried to make his count. He couldn’t walk away until he knew for certain that he had done all he could to evaluate the signability of a player he believed could make the major leagues.

Polamalu worked out for Kemp on a Saturday morning in April, 1999. The scout visited the family afterward and was struck by the player’s honesty. Instead of using his football scholarship as a bargaining chip, Polamalu expressed a love for baseball but a passion for football rooted in his Samoan heritage.

“Troy and his family were very honest about football, which was very nice,” Kemp said.

“They spoke candidly about what football meant to Troy and their family. It was no secret. It’s not like they had you there to see if they could get the right offer. You never felt like you were trying to discover what he really wanted.”

Polamalu spoke calmly and confidently. Kemp remembered Polamalu’s gratitude for considering him worthy of the Atlanta Braves. Every scout has signed a player who never said thank you. Polamalu said thank you simply for looking. He was never drafted by a major league team.

“He was a confident kid and very humble,” Kemp said. “You sure had a good feeling about that young man. You had to do the due diligence, as if football wasn’t a factor. The honesty was uncommon.”

On Sunday, Kemp and his wife will drive to North Carolina to spend the day with Snyder and his wife. Snyder retired a few years ago, but Kemp will enter Snyder’s living room wearing slacks and not jeans.

The two baseball men will flip on the TV to a football game. Kemp and Snyder will watch the Steelers’ safety play a different center field with the distinction he might have brought to baseball. Kemp needs no convincing that Polamalu made the right choice.

“It’s been fun to watch him become not just a good football player, but a great one,” Kemp said. “We wish him well.”

stlrz d
01-30-2009, 12:52 AM
Nice read and thanks for sharing!