Nick Madrigal talks about his role models, the MLB draft and Oregon State
Mike Parker is in his 20th season calling baseball on the radio for Oregon State, and he's asking listeners to bare witness to something special.
"I’ve been saying on the broadcasts to savor these last games, because we won't see a guy like Nick again," Parker said. "I’m starting to miss him already."
That would be Nick Madrigal, slight of built and immeasurably titanic in this sport otherwise.
The second baseman out of Elk Grove High School is at the forefront of the Beavers' College World Series hopes and is projected as a top-three pick in Monday's Major League Baseball draft. Madrigal could be the highest drafted regional player in any of the major sports (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL). Bill Cartwright of Elk Grove was the No. 3 pick of the Knicks in 1979.
And, depending on whom you believe, he would either be the shortest player picked that highly since the June draft began in 1965, or an inch from the record. Oregon State lists him as 5-foot-8; his father says he's 5-7. Mike Madrigal, after all, was there for his son's premature birth 21 years ago, when Nick arrived at just under 4 pounds alongside his slightly heavier twin, Ty.
"Nick's been small his whole life, but that has never ever slowed him down," Mike Madrigal said. "He was so small at birth, I could put the twins in the palm of each hand. As soon as Nick was old enough to walk and hold a Wiffle ball bat, he did. He'd rather do that than ride a bike."
Madrigal will be in Corvallis on draft day, on a couch, if not in the OSU batting cages, where he often winds up even after a three-hour practice. He will be in the rented house he shares with scores of teammates located barely a relay throw from campus. Family and friends will pack in, but no media, despite inquiries from across the country.
This is typical of Madrigal's low-key nature.
"Genuine class and humility is what I think when it comes to Nick Madrigal," Parker said, poring over game notes and looking out from the Goss Stadium press box, eyeing the prized infielder.
OSU coach Pat Casey is also big on his leader, a three-year rock of reliability in the field, in the lineup and as an example of never being satisfied. The Beavers have one captain this season: Madrigal, which speaks of his team-wide reputation. Madrigal is batting .395 with 27 RBIs despite missing 26 games with a hand injury. He has struck out just five times in 119 at-bats.
"He's unbelievable," Casey said. "He's going to be a big leaguer in a short period of time. He's going to play the game for a long time. His instincts are off the charts. I give him a ton of freedom because he's a thoroughbred and you've got to turn him loose.
"Who ever drafts him will get an absolute jewel of a player. If you had a blueprint of a baseball player, Nick's picture would be there. That's all you'd need – Nick."
Casey said Madrigal's skills trump any question of size. MLB evaluators suggest the same thing.
"Size isn't a problem because the kid can flat-out play," said a National League scout who requested anonymity.
According to Baseball Reference's records back to 1965, the only middle infielder drafted in the first round at 5-8 or shorter was Joey Cora, who at 5-7 went 23rd overall to San Diego in 1995.
Further proof that players can perform regardless of height: Dustin Pedroia at 5-9 won the A.L. MVP in 2008 (and The Bee's 2001 Player of the Year award at Woodland High). Jose Altuve of the Astros and Ozzie Albies of the Braves have also enjoyed MLB success at 5-8 or shorter.
"Just a driven kid. He knows what he wants," Mike Madrigal said. "At age 8, 10, 12, 13, he knew what he wanted to be. His brother Ty wanted to be a fireman (and is a pitcher at Saint Mary's now). Nick wanted to be a ballplayer. Scouts tell me he's compared to Altuve. He's going to be a big leaguer. Wow."
Baseball executives have picked his brain on his son, he said. What makes him tick, and just how competitive is he?
"One asked me who won in ping pong between me and Nick," Mike Madrigal said from the OSU stadium seats. "I took a deep breath and told the truth: Nick. My son's paddle was broken, ball ruined, and that's how competitive he is."
After a recent series against UCLA, Nick Madrigal reflected on how far he's come. He admits the draft is on his mind, especially given the media attention, but he still refers to it as, "If I'm fortunate enough to get drafted."
"I remember sitting in a room as a little kid, watching baseball, and I just knew that's what I wanted to do with my life," he said. "Some people wish and hope but I set goals and I try to hold myself to them. I'll never stop working."
Madrigal counts Jake Rodriguez, a former Elk Grove High and OSU standout, as one of his role models. He was inspired by Rodriguez's ability to handle pressure situations and how seriously he took the sport.
Now on the OSU coaching staff, Rodriguez heaps praise on the pupil.
"He's by far the best player and person I have been around," said Rodriguez, an All-Pac-12 honorable mention catcher/infielder in 2012. "He is the ultimate teammate and handles success and failure with the utmost class. His play on the field speaks for itself. He has the best baseball IQ I’ve seen from a player in my time as a ballplayer and coach."
Rodriguez added, "What's so special about Nick is his willingness to treat everyone with dignity and respect. He will sign every autograph and take every picture."
Mike Madrigal could have envisioned a lot of autograph signings ahead for his son after he received his first scholarship offer. It was from OSU well before Madrigal played an inning of high school baseball.
"We thought, 'An offer in eighth grade? You kidding? This is unreal.' Then I started to think, what is this? Is Nick going to be another LeBron James or Bryce Harper?' You have to catch yourself. He's not one of them," he said. "He's just going to be the best Nick he can be."
Nick said they were unsure of how to handle the early offer, but that he wouldn't change a thing.
"It was unheard of and it was a surprise to get that offer," he said. "But once I visited here, I fell in love with the program. It's all worked out perfectly – everything."