On July 15 at Healdsburg’s Rec Park, Brandon Poulson threw his first pitch and the dozen Major League Baseball scouts in the stands looked at their radar guns. Then they looked at each other, peeking over each other’s shoulders to see the other electronic numbers. Then they looked back at their radar guns. Nah, they all assumed. Must be a glitch. A sun spot probably. Or a cell phone with its ringer on loud. Something caused it. It happens.
But the radar read-out was the same for all of them: 96 miles an hour.
“And it was only a warm-up pitch,” said Elliott Strankman of the Minnesota Twins. “I’ve never seen a 96 warmup pitch.”
The scouts now were leaning forward, intrigued. Poulson certainly looked the part of a power pitcher. He’s 6-foot-7, 230 pounds of lean meat, his body shape perfectly proportioned to deliver the five-ounce product — big shoulders, narrow hips, long arms and legs, every inch a pitching catapult.
But it was going to take more than one pitch for the scouts to think Poulson was the real deal. If Poulson was such a hot prospect, why wasn’t he drafted? Why was he pitching for the Healdsburg Prune Packers, a developmental team for aspiring high school and college players? Poulson didn’t even make Piner’s baseball team as a freshman. He became so discouraged Poulson stayed away from the game for most of the three years after his 2008 high school graduation. At 24, Poulson was pitching for Academy of Art University in San Francisco. The Urban Knights have yet to make it to the College World Series.
The hitters for the Nevada Big Horns stepped in, swung and soon stepped out. Poulson’s fastball hit 99 miles an hour; four times he did that on Strankman’s gun. The ball was over the plate, not bouncing off screens or catcher’s shin guards.
Poulson’s fastball never dipped below 96. The scouts went silent. They chase rumors all the time. Their radar guns are their weapons, ready to bring down rumors. They are a skeptical lot. To keep their jobs they need to be.
When Poulson finished that inning July 15, the scouts lined up, one behind the other, each one asking the same question, as Poulson remembers.
“What is going to take for you to sign with us?”
The Yankees, said Poulson, started with a $50,000 bid, increasing it to $100,000. The Phillies started at $70,000, went to $110,000, finally to $150,000. The A’s, Poulson said, went to $105,000, the Giants to $138,000. The Twins came in at $225,000. The Braves said they couldn’t beat $225,000.
Poulson said he heard the Red Sox, Astros, Nationals, Marlins and Cardinals wanted to schedule a tryout. The day after the Healdsburg performance the Twins called Poulson and said they could go up to $250,000. Poulson told Minnesota he felt he could get a $350,000-plus offer if he wanted to extend the bidding war.
“The Twins told me I had 30 minutes to make up my mind,” Poulson said.
There was one problem: Poulson was sitting in a patient’s chair at the office of Santa Rosa dentist Dr. Vicente Chavez. He was about to have a tooth extracted. The dentist and his assistants were ready to go to work. Poulson put up his hand as a stop sign. Wait, please. He could tell they weren’t pleased.