|Dylan Bundy: Progress In The Work|
Dylan Bundy's prodigious talent is almost freaky, but it's a family-instilled work ethic that has him poised for greatness
By Dave Lomonico
This is utterly unbelievable.
The scene playing out in the Oklahoma County boy's mind is about as likely as a 37-year-old has-been with a self-made bat knocking the cover off a baseball. But Dylan Bundy is just 19. He's allowed to dream, at least until the coldhearted realities of pitching in the majors settle in.
See, this big-armed right-hander from Sperry, Okla., a town of less than 2,000 people, has a grand vision in which he's pitching in Game 7 of the World Series. His team is up by a run, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. The cameras are flashing. The crowd's going nuts.
At the plate is the game's most feared hitter, and the kid starts him off with a pair of nasty off-speed pitches to get ahead, 0-2.
Now comes the defining moment.
Can he handle it?
The young hurler holds the weight of his organization, which hasn't developed a true ace since before he was born, which hasn't produced a winner since he was in diapers, which hasn't won a World Series since 1983, on his svelte, broad-shouldered frame.
It's a lot for a 19-year-old to handle, but the hazel-eyed kid with the old-school crew cut exudes an aura of confidence as he leans in for the sign.
His specialty. Bundy has been hitting triple digits with that pitch since his senior season at Owasso High in Tulsa County.
"April 16," he said decisively in his southern drawl. "It was a Saturday, noon. We were playing Edmond North."
He rocks back slightly; grips the ball right across the red stitches; whips his arm around in a compact, three-quarters delivery and fires a high heater … strike three. Game over.
Maybe it's a bit idealistic. Maybe Bundy, the No. 4 overall draft pick in 2011, won't reach his potential. Maybe he's just another overhyped high school flamethrower who ends up flaming out.
"To be the best," Bundy said, "you have to beat the best in the biggest moments. That's what I want."
The Baltimore Orioles' prized pitcher is now the No. 1-rated prospect by Baseball America. He made eight starts for the Delmarva Shorebirds this season before being promoted to the Frederick Keys, and was named to the Carolina League All-Star team.
Jim Palmer started pitching for the Orioles when he was 19 years old and made it to the Hall of Fame. He remembers a former Orioles top draft pick named Mike Adamson, who, in the words of Bruce Springsteen, "could throw that speedball by ya, make you look like a fool."
"So [catcher] Andy Etchebarren tells this story about how he comes out to the mound and asks Mike what he wants to throw to this particular power hitter," Palmer said, "and Mike says, 'Fastball.' Well, according to Andy, the last they saw of Mike's fastball, it was still traveling over the Citgo sign [in Fenway Park] 400 feet away in center field. Needless to say, he didn't last very long."
According to those in the industry, Bundy is no Adamson. His mound presence, confidence and focus, coupled with an arsenal similar to Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander's, have him on the fast track to the big leagues.
"I have seen some very, very talented high school pitchers who are pitching well in the majors right now," said a scout that has seen Bundy pitch multiple times, "and Dylan is incomparable. He's the best I've seen so far."
Bundy's repertoire, which includes that 100 mph fastball and three above-average off-speed pitches (curveball, changeup and slider) is certainly impressive, but that's not what baseball people initially mention when discussing the 6-foot right-hander.
Rather, they rave about his unrivaled penchant for hard work.
"Most high school kids coming up these days have never had a hard labor job," Frederick Keys pitching coach Blaine Beatty said. "But Dylan did. His dad, Denver, made sure he knew what work really was."
Denver instilled in Dylan and his brother, current Orioles Double-A pitcher Bobby, the same laborer's mentality he needed as a Ford Motor Company worker in Tulsa.
When Bundy was just 8 years old, Denver had his boys do push-ups and sit-ups between innings of Atlanta Braves games. During the day, he would have them yank fence posts out of the ground, cut down trees sans chainsaw and lug wheelbarrows filled with dirt around the family's plantation-sized land.
Then there's the YouTube video, with more than 60,000 views, of a 14-year-old Bundy pounding a punching bag over and over and over again.
"My dad has taught me so much, but the one thing that I've held on to is to always outwork everybody," Bundy said, "and I think that's one of the main things I have going for me -- my work ethic."
Larry Turner, Owasso High's baseball manager, said Bundy slaved like no player he had ever coached before. A couple of years ago, Owasso was playing in a daylong tournament, and by the time the team returned home, it was near midnight. By 5:30 a.m. the next day, Bundy was back in the team's weight room, ready to work.
"The Bundys are just a very disciplined family, all the way down to their dog," Turner said. "I remember one time Denver brought their dog out to the park without a leash. He told that dog to lay down in the grass until they were ready to go, and I'll tell you, he didn't move one inch. There were kids running around, balls all over the place, and that dog didn't move. Then Denver says two words, 'Let's go,' and that dog gets right up. I mean, that's just the way the Bundys are. They just get it; they know what has to be done."
Today, the Bundy boys have advanced to flipping tires, swinging army ropes and other unique athletic workouts at Dynamic Sports Development in Tulsa. Bundy also abides by a strict nutrition plan that consists of protein shakes, lean meats and plenty of vegetables. He said he ate grilled chicken, rice and green beans every single day of last offseason.
"I'll have a turkey burger once in awhile," said Bundy, who spent the first paycheck from his $4 million signing bonus on fruits and vegetables. "But that's about it. People ask me if I've ever had McDonald's before, and I'll tell you, I can't say that I ever have."
"Yes, he has," Turner said, laughing. "But when we'd go there as a team, we'd have to get him a salad."
But even though Bundy was a little different from his teammates, he was never ostracized. Sure, he rarely said much, nor did he spend his nights partying, but he wasn't an introvert, according to close friends.
"A lot of people don't understand Dylan, because he is so quiet, and can come across as intimidating," said former teammate Archie Bradley, who was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks three picks after Bundy and has know him since the two were 8. "He really is a great guy, but he only opens up to a certain amount of people. That's not a bad thing, and I think that's the reason he's so successful. He doesn't let outside distractions get in his way."
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Issue 175: July 2012