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The Kid Has Clout Texas-sized schoolboy slugger Jason Stokes is primed for the draft

May 29, 2000
May 29, 2000

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May 29, 2000

The Kid Has Clout Texas-sized schoolboy slugger Jason Stokes is primed for the draft

Like most other institutions of its kind, Coppell Middle School
West can be a nightmarish place. If you're new, it's hell. If
you're overweight, it's hell. If you're new and overweight....

This is an article from the May 29, 2000 issue Original Layout

Jason Stokes remembers everything. His first day...Feb. 12,
1995. The long brown table. The soggy french fries. The adjacent
empty chairs. The mocking gestures and piercing taunts. The fact
that for his entire first week--five long, humiliating days--nobody
would sit next to him during lunch. He was not just the new kid,
freshly removed from the comforts of his old home and school and
friends in nearby Irving, Texas. Jason Stokes was the new fat
kid. He was a seventh grader carrying 245 pounds and a 40-inch
waist on a 5'10" body. "People called me lots of names," says
Stokes, now 18. "Sometimes blimp, sometimes roly-poly. They
always called me a fat s---."

When other members of the Coppell High baseball team are around,
Stokes acts like the typical image-is-everything adolescent,
cracking self-deprecating jokes about his youthful obesity. But
when they are gone--when he is speaking one-on-one in a gentle
Texas twang--there is pain in his voice and sorrow in his green
eyes. "I was never upset enough to want to leave school or try to
beat someone up, but there were days I came home and whined," he
says. "I think about it, and it still hurts a little."

After middle school Stokes's body changed. As a high school
freshman he grew to 6'2". As a sophomore, 6'3". He began lifting
weights. He kept growing but stopped expanding. Now Stokes is a
sculptured 6'5", 230 pounds. He is the first baseman and No. 3
hitter for Coppell High, the state's No. 1 team through Sunday,
with a record of 32-2. He had 24 home runs, 63 RBIs, a .549
batting average, 1.333 slugging percentage and has--on June 5--an
awfully good shot at becoming a millionaire with a glittering
future. "This is the best revenge I could think of," he says.

In the 39-year history of baseball's June amateur draft, only
two first basemen--Ron Blomberg in 1967 and Al Chambers in
'79--have been selected with the top pick. "There's nothing not
to like about him," says Chad MacDonald, an Indians scout who
has seen Stokes play more than a dozen times. "He's an
above-average athlete, he has great size, plus-plus raw power, a
feel for the bat head and, most important, true pitch
recognition. You never see high schoolers who can recognize the
pitch as soon as it's released. This kid can."

The Marlins, owners of the draft's first selection, recently
sent a team of five scouts to work out Stokes. Twenty other
clubs, including the Twins, the Cubs and the Royals (who possess
the next three picks), have conducted similar sessions. Unlike
last year, when Tampa Bay's decision about the top pick boiled
down to two players (the Devil Rays selected Raleigh outfielder
Josh Hamilton, after which Spring, Texas, pitcher Josh Beckett
went No. 2 to the Marlins), this season's crop has personnel
directors checking their lists twice, three times, four
times--then ripping them up and starting all over again. Stokes
is the best pure power hitter available...but is he more
talented than David Espinosa, the speedy, slick-fielding
shortstop from Miami's Gulliver Prep? Espinosa is a find...but
how many catchers come along with the skills of Scott Heard, the
strong-armed backstop from San Diego's Rancho Bernardo High?
Heard is special...but Matt Harrington of Palmdale (Calif.) High
throws 98 mph. Do you pass up that type of heat?

"Obviously, I haven't seen most of the other players scouts are
talking about," says Matt McFadden, Coppell's senior catcher,
"but what I know is this: People come to see Jason play, and they
walk away knowing they've never seen anything like it, and they
probably never will."

At first Stokes's 24 homers (believed to be a Texas schoolboy
record) seem somewhat tainted. The field at Coppell High is
tiny--310 feet down the lines, 330 feet to dead center. Then you
start hearing the stories. Around these parts,tales of Stokes's
blasts have reached near Ruthian proportions. "Man, I saw him
hit one ball that must've gone 600 feet," says McFadden during a
recent practice.

"Naw, not 600," counters Zack Cherry, a scraggly senior pitcher.
"Maybe 540 feet."

"No, no, no," insists McFadden. "Guy hit it 600 feet--at least."

Leaving that disputed clout aside, everyone agrees to the
following:

--He has hit a 150-foot home run over a fence at the Irving YMCA
field--as a six-year-old playing tee-ball. "None of the parents
had ever seen anything like it," says Bobby Stokes, Jason's
father and the owner of Lone Star Ink and Supply, a printing
company. "He might've been a bit chunky, but he's always had that
power."

--He has hit a 500-foot-plus home run over an apartment building
against Trinity Christian Academy-Addison ace David Purcey, a
hard-throwing lefty who has also been heavily scouted. Earlier
this year Coppell coach Dave Curliss had Stokes leading off. In a
March game at Trinity Christian, Purcey's first pitch of the game
was a 90-mph fastball. Thwack! "Purcey threw it 90, Jason hit it
150," says Curliss. "Up, up, up and over the building. Can't
imagine anyone else doing that."

--He has called a grand slam. Playing last summer for the Connie
Mack league Dallas Mustangs, Stokes was on deck with two men on,
two outs and his team trailing by four runs. "Jason walked over
to me," recalls his father. "He says, 'If our next guy gets on,
I'm fixin' to hit a grand slam.'" Thwack! Tie game.

--He has hit numerous batting practice home runs onto the top of
Coppell's under-construction multipurpose indoor athletic
facility, a 20-foot-high building roughly 50 feet beyond the
baseball field's left centerfield fence. "I wouldn't be surprised
if he clears it one day," says McFadden. "He's strong enough."

Stokes isn't one to brag about the shots, preferring to let
others do the talking. Beyond baseball his passions run to
hunting, fishing and country dancing. (To his senior prom, Stokes
wore a tuxedo jacket, black Wranglers and a black felt cowboy
hat.) As a middle schooler he was an equally adept football
player, starring as a defensive lineman until his freshman year.
"It was easy to quit, because I hate football," he says. "The
coaches all told me I was making a big mistake, that I was
throwing my future away."

The coveted baseball slugger, the fat kid who ate alone, smiles
with delight and says, "It looks like they were sorta wrong."

--Jeff Pearlman

COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL The once flabby Stokes, buff now at 6'5" and 230 pounds, has stroked 24 homers in 34 games.COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT CLARKE Batterymates Wheatland (left) and Heard are prospects to keep an eye on.

Take Your Picks

Here's a look at some other prospects who figure to go high in
the June 5-6 draft.

Ben Diggins
Righthanded pitcher, 6'6", 230
UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
Hard-throwing Wildcats righthander has a 10-4 record, 3.83 ERA
and 127 strikeouts in 112 2/3 innings. With all the talent coming
out of high school, he could drop.

David Espinosa
Shortstop, 6'2", 170
GULLIVER PREP, MIAMI
In 1993 Mariners used No.1 pick for smooth-fielding, speedy,
power-packed shortstop out of Miami. Alex Rodriguez has worked
out pretty fair. So should Espinosa (.476, 9 HR, 35 RBIs, 38 SBs).

Matt Harrington
Righthanded pitcher, 6'3", 180
PALMDALE (CALIF.) HIGH
Has signed to play for Arizona State, but a 98-mph fastball
makes Harrington (9-0, 0.57 ERA) the draft's top power pitcher.

Scott Heard
Catcher, 6'2", 190
RANCHO BERNARDO HIGH, SAN DIEGO
Perhaps the best defensive catcher in the draft since University
of Miami's Charles Johnson in 1992. Despite strong numbers
(.284, 8, 30), some wonder if he will hit major league pitching.

Dane Sardinha
Catcher, 6'0", 210
PEPPERDINE UNIVERSITY
School's career home run leader trying to become first Hawaiian
to be No. 1 pick. His stats (.360, 17 home runs, 71 RBIs) say
aloha.

Joe Torres
Lefthanded Pitcher, 6'3", 180
GATEWAY HIGH, KISSIMMEE, FLA.
Were Torres a righthander, would he be a top 15 selection?
Probably not. But his numbers (4-4, 0.38 ERA, 128 strikeouts
in 55 innings)are sensational.

Matt Wheatland
Righthanded Pitcher, 6'5", 215
RANCHO BERNARDO HIGH, SAN DIEGO
His catcher gets the attention, but have you heard the one about
the jumbo-sized enforcer with a 94-mph fastball and
knee-wobbling curve?