SAN DIEGO — Starling Marte stood still in left field Monday as the pale California sun sank low in the sky. Baseballs whizzed past, to his left and right and over his head, and rattled around Petco Park. The rest of the best players in the game were taking their swings. Who was he to spoil the show? By and by, a line drive screamed his way and Marte sprung toward the gap to snare it.
Marte, a first-time All-Star for the Pirates, believed he belonged here all along, but he needed help securing a spot on the National League’s roster alongside closer Mark Melancon. After he lost a fan vote for the final spot Friday, Marte smiled, shrugged and said, “Next year.” The next morning, he learned from a post on Twitter that he would replace injured New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
Rene Gayo, the Pirates’ director of Latin American scouting, could not have imagined Marte an All-Star when he saw a skinny, 18-year-old kid try out for a fifth time and finally signed him for $85,000. Marte could not have imagined this, either, when, two weeks earlier, his tryout with a Chicago White Sox scout was aborted after a former buscone, a Dominican street agent, showed up with a handgun.
“It all started with some kid from Villa Mella in the Dominican, with pigs running around in a field that is very far from the major leagues — and not just geographically,” Gayo said Sunday by phone.
The secret of scouting is simply to see things where others don’t. Even as baseball becomes more and more mathematically driven, Gayo said, “If you’re a scout, you’re a prophet.”
Long before Marte reached this step, before he batted .316 with 30 steals by the All-Star break, Gayo sensed the boy was a little different, a little better, in about every little way. There was the swing, the speed and smart instincts in the outfield that would win him a Gold Glove in 2015.
“There’s a quote by Grantland Rice,” Gayo began, explaining why signing Marte was a risk worth taking. “He said, ‘It’s hard to define ‘class.’ It’s in the flick of a thoroughbred’s hoof. In the swing of a slugger’s bat. In the flick of a quarterback’s wrist. But once you see it, you’ll never forget it.’
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