Braves draft Mich. high school player

WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. -- Eddie Dewalt leaned against the backstop and looked at his phone.

His nephew, West Bloomfield's Dazon Cole, was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 29th round of last week's amateur draft, the first high school baseball player selected from Michigan.

Uncle Eddie, as everyone calls him, turned and told the rest of his family. Everybody screamed and smiled and hugged and clapped, sitting in lawn chairs. They had waited three excruciating days for this moment — expected to be drafted higher — but the celebration was tempered because of the situation on Saturday afternoon. Cole was playing in the regional championship at Novi, and his Lakers were losing against Brighton.

A few minutes later, the game ended and Brighton beat the Lakers, 2-0.

Out in leftfield, in an emotional team huddle, Cole broke down. The seniors stayed on the field, hugging and shedding tears, not wanting to leave. Their high school careers were done, and so was the dream of a state title. Cole was stuck in a weird place. He was dejected from the loss but excited to get drafted.

"This was a close team," Cole said. "We were like a family."

The draft is a crapshoot. Most players don't make it. And for the most part, baseball fans don't have a clue who their team has selected. You see a long list of names and hope for the best. You forget there are families behind those names and stats. There are friends and teammates and amazing stories on how they got there.

For the last three months, I've had an up-close view of the best high school pitcher in the state — at least in the eyes of the Atlanta Braves. My son Jake played with Cole for West Bloomfield this season after Cole transferred from Pontiac. In fact, Jake was his catcher.

One day, Jake came home from a game and was watching the Tigers on TV. "Dazon hit 93 miles per hour today," Jake said. "Rick Porcello is only throwing 92!"

So let me be honest. I'm biased. I love this kid. I saw nearly every game he played. Dazon Cole is quiet, humble, respectful, a great teammate and he doesn't have an ego. Not even a hint of an ego. The Braves got a steal. They picked a kid from a single-parent home, a kid who is focused and driven and works hard and was raised in a tough situation. His father wasn't around.

Last summer, Cole needed to go to a high-profile showcase event in Florida, but his family didn't have enough money for airfare, so Uncle Eddie went to a recreation center and asked for help. Several people pulled together enough money for Dazon to go.

This is one reason there are so few black players in the majors because it's so expensive to play travel baseball and it costs money to get noticed and get the best training, even somebody with a golden arm.

"Everybody gave me a little something to help pay for the ticket and get me down there," Cole said. "I'm so thankful. I want to come back and help the city."

These are not empty words. It was more of a vow.

More than anything, it has been incredibly interesting to watch the whole process through the eyes of a player, seeing the scouts come and go, hearing the rumors, and watching a kid perform with the pressure of a contract hanging over his head. Cole is blessed with a cannon for an arm. But he is short by major league standards. He is just 5-feet-11.

High school baseball players from Michigan are at a distinct disadvantage. First, I swear there is a bias against Midwestern baseball players. And the cold, wet weather this spring forced countless rainouts. One time, 15 scouts were supposed to attend a game against Farmington Hills Harrison that was rained out. "It is what it is," Dewalt said.

In the pre-district tournament, Cole led West Bloomfield to a stunning victory over Birmingham Brother Rice, a team loaded with future college players and ranked in the nation.

Quick note to the rest of the state: You're welcome!

This epic, emotional battle started on Tuesday, May 27. It was suspended by rain and finished on Thursday, May 29. That's also the day that Cole was invited to attend a private predraft workout in Milwaukee. He skipped it for the state tournament. He would never leave his team. "There's nothing you can do about that," Uncle Eddie said.

Two days later, the Lakers played for the district championship — a day that Cole was invited to a private tryout with the Texas Rangers.

I'm not making excuses for why he wasn't drafted higher. I'm just trying to point out how complicated this is. How one thing affects everything.

Some scouts viewed Cole as a pitcher. Others saw him as a middle infielder or an outfielder. He was told that he could be drafted anywhere from the second round to the sixth, but Baseball America did not have him listed in the top 500 players. When he slid into the third day of the draft, he was frustrated.

"I knew all along that Atlanta wanted him for pitching," Uncle Eddie said. "They were always enamored with his arm."

But could signing with Atlanta hurt him long term? Would it be better if he went to a team that wants him to play a position? He could always switch back to pitching. Or would it be better to go to college to improve his stock? He has accepted a scholarship to Central Michigan.

Just 18 years old, Cole is facing questions that will affect his entire life.

"I really don't know what is going to happen right now," he said.

The Braves have asked Cole to play on a summer-travel team so that their scouting director can see him before they make an offer. "I will have to go out there," he said, "and show them what I have."

I know I'm biased, but I'm rooting for him.

(Detroit Free Press)


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