MOUSTAKAS SHOWING HE HAS WHAT IT TAKES.
This is supposed to be the year.
The time when Mike Moustakas can no longer be the kid who just goes out with his friends, plays baseball all afternoon and does his homework at night.
Life is supposed to get more complicated now. There are big, adult decisions just around the corner and plenty of big adults waiting close by to help him make them.
Super agent Scott Boras is now among his trusted advisers. Major league scouts fill the rows just behind home plate at every one of his games, dissecting his every move.
The USC coaching staff waits breathlessly, fingers crossed, that he honors the letter of intent he signed with them last fall.
This is heavy stuff. Millions of dollars are at stake.
But you want to know what Moustakas says is the only thing he cares about?
It's not the state home run record (47) -- he needs just five more to break -- or whether his fastball is going to hit 97 mph on the radar gun like it did in LasVegas earlier this week.
"I really only have one goal this year and that's to win a City championship at Dodger Stadium," he said. "That's all I'm thinking about right now."
You want to believe him, but the cynic in you has heard that story too many times, so you ask again.
"No, really, that's what I'm focused on," he said. "Whatever happens with the draft in June happens. If I go first round, that's awesome. But either way, I've got an unbelievable option in USC, so I'm not thinking about that stuff too much right now.
"It's my senior year and if you can't find a way to enjoy your senior year of high school, what else do you have to look forward to?"
He says this matter of factly. Not in that rehearsed way in which you can tell someone has coached him to say that line.
He says it in a way that akid whose only cares in the world are playing baseball and finishing his homework would say it.
He says it in the same way he cracks a joke to his teammates after striking out two straight at-bats.
"Here he is, scholarship to USC, draft coming up. This is a time he could be nervous, but he's not at all. He's just having fun," said Tom Robson, his uncle, who was an assistant coach with the New York Mets from 1997-2002. "A lot of guys panic when something goes wrong. Mikey doesn't.
"He'll strike out three times and it's no big deal. That's just how he is."
Here's a little secret ... that's how all the best athletes are. Fans like to see passion, even anger from their sports stars.
They like it when a slugger breaks a bat over his knee or a manager kicks dirt on an ump. Makes 'em look like they care.
But that's not what makes a star. The best athletes, particularly in baseball, are even-keeled. They forget about strikeouts before they even make it back to the top step of the dugout. They crack jokes, play pranks, goof off. They get serious when they need to, but they never forget they're playing a kid's game.
Moustakas learned all this at a young age. Robson used to invite him out to Dodger Stadium to be the Mets' batboy when they played the Dodgers.
Veterans such as Edgardo Alfonso and Robin Ventura took him under their wing. Manager Bobby Valentine played jokes on him.
"Yeah, this one time, Valentine tells me to go ask the Dodgers for the keys to the batters' box," he said. "I didn't even know what that meant, so I go running over to their dugout and say, 'Hey, where are the keys to the batters' box? Bobby Valentine really needs them.' The whole dugout just started rolling. It was pretty funny.
"I thought all major leaguers were cocky, but that whole experience just showed me how much fun those guys were. I mean, it's baseball. If you can't have fun playing baseball, you shouldn't be out there."
So no, he isn't worried about which team will pick him in June's amateur draft. He isn't losing sleep at night, debating whether he should go to USC or turn pro.
As for the Boras stuff, he understands why it gives some people pause. But no, he's not worried about it.
"He might have a bad rap, but it's all false," Moustakas said. "Mr. Boras is an unbelievable guy. He's funny and down to earth. You know how most people shake your hand the first time they meet you?
"Well, the first time I met him, he comes up and gives me a hug. We talked for like 45 minutes and barely even talked about baseball.
"So if someone doesn't like me because I'm with Boras, that's their problem. If someone's interested in me, they shouldn't care who my advisers are."
To be fair, his parents, MikeSr. and Connie, have spent a fair amount of time worrying about this end of the bargain. They're the ones spending time on the phone with scouts and reporters.
"My dad tells me who to call and when to call them," Moustakas jokes. "I don't do anything. All I have to worry about is baseball and getting my homework done."
You get the feeling though, that's all he'd be doing anyway. And you just hope he never loses that.
Chatsworth High's Mike Moustakas is focused on winning the City championship.
Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Apr 7, 2006|
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