During the first day of the 2001 draft, University of Maine pitcher Rusty Tucker sat by the phone, waiting for the call that he wanted.
It never came.
So the next day, Tucker picked up the phone and called the San Diego Padres.
Eight days later Tucker was in Idaho Falls, Idaho, for his first workout with the Idaho Falls Padres, San Diego’s affiliate with the rookie-level Pioneer League.
Tucker signed a six-year deal with the Padres earlier this week. He flew from Arizona, where he was participating in an extended spring training, to Idaho three days ago.
“Everything happened so fast,” said Tucker, who was heading home from the clubhouse in McDermott Field after practice. “It’s exciting. I’ve wanted the opportunity to show what I can do.”
Tucker figures his contract is worth $30,000-40,000, including a signing bonus, a college scholarship, and incentives. Maine coach Paul Kostacopoulos said minor league players also receive a monthly salary which may be around $1,200 per month.
Tucker could pitch as soon as Saturday night – Idaho Falls opens its season tonight with a game against the Casper (Wyo.) Rockies.
The 20-year-old lefthander from Gloucester, Mass., was the 14th pick of the 21st round (630th overall) in the June 6 draft.
“It’s a good thing for Rusty,” Kostacopoulos said. ” … This is the first step to a point that very few people reach. I’m real happy for him.”
Tucker went 7-2 with a 3.26 earned run average and 60 strikeouts in 66? innings of work. He was named the America East Pitcher of the Year.
Tucker was also a first-team All-America East and All-New England selection. He was the starter for the University Division team in the New England Collegiate All-Star Game, which was held June 1 at Fenway Park in Boston.
Tucker made one postseason appearance for the Bears, a 20-4 loss to Towson in which he gave up 11 hits and nine earned runs in 3? innings of work.
The Padres sent New Hampshire-based scout Rene Mons to talk to the Black Bear standout in the middle of Maine’s season. Tucker said the team scouted about five of his games.
Tucker said he was in close contact with Paul Kostacopoulos throughout the entire process. The two talked almost every day.
Leaving school was all about taking advantage of opportunities.
“Basically this is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Tucker said. “Down the road you never know what’s going to happen. I could get hurt, and not have the chance to do this again.”
Kostacopoulos said Tucker’s departure was expected. The Black Bears will spend the summer looking for another pitcher, but given the success freshmen Mike Collar of Scarborough and Camden’s Mike MacDonald had this spring, the pitching staff may not lose much.
“When you have two freshmen, it does take some of the sting out of it,” he said. “Now they’ll have to step up and take more of a leadership role.”
Tucker may not have gotten the call he wanted June 6, but he did speak with the Detroit Tigers that day. Detroit wanted to pick him in the 20th round but Tucker told the Tigers he wanted 10th-round money. They never called him back.
Don Werner, who spent seven seasons with the Cincinnati Reds and Texas Rangers from 1975-82, manages Idaho Falls. The pitching coach is Darryl Milne, who has also served as a scout in the organization.
Tucker hasn’t sat down yet with his coaches – he doesn’t even know their names yet – so he’s not sure what their expectations are.
“I doubt [the coaches will] change much, maybe some mechanics,” he said. “I had a lot of success this year and I don’t think they’ll want to make many changes.”
Tucker has never been to Idaho before, but he said it does remind him of Maine.
“[Idaho Falls is] a lot like Orono,” he said. “It’s the same climate and it’s in the middle of nowhere.”