The waiting game began Monday morning for Hudson Catholic talented senior Chris Lugo of Hoboken, when the Major League Baseball free agent amateur draft began in New York. When the draft began, Lugo didn't know what to expect.
"Initially, there was a lot of confusion," said the talented pitcher/second baseman, who was 7-2 on the mound for the HCIAA Coviello Division champions, posting a 2.04 earned run average and compiling 77 strikeouts in 55 innings, while batting .580 with five homers and 30 RBI. "I was told that I could go in the sixth round, then the 10th round, then the 18th round. I had no idea what was going on. The confusion led to some frustration."
The baseball draft isn't exact science. Players can be told one thing, then another takes place. Many times, a player is projected to become a draft pick, but then, for some reason that is never divulged, the call never comes.
Lugo, who is considered a major pitching prospect, because of his fastball that has been clocked this season at 91 miles per hour, as well as owning perhaps the finest high school curveball ever displayed in Hudson County, was beginning to wonder if he was going to be one of those draft casualties, someone who has high hopes and dreams, only to have them shattered and torn by the unforgiving organizations of the Major Leagues.
"They were all giving me little reasons why I wasn't getting drafted earlier," Lugo said. "I didn't know what was happening."
So the first day of the draft and the first 18 rounds came and went with Lugo not receiving a call. He followed the draft on the Internet and never saw his name come up. Instantly, he started thinking of his options, to go to junior college in Florida, get bigger, stronger and better and come back next year with a better chance of getting drafted higher and a better frame of mind.
"If I have a year of college under my belt, then I might have better opportunities," Lugo said. "Maybe if I play a year or two in college, I can move up."
When the remainder of the draft continued Tuesday, Lugo resituated himself in front of the computer, watching the rounds pass by on the Internet.
His head coach, Derek England, who is also a teacher at Hoboken High School, watched the proceedings in his classroom.
"I was listening on the computer in my classroom," England said. "I kept paying attention, but I didn't know what was going on as the rounds went by."
Finally, in the 28th round, as the 838th player taken overall, the name Chris Lugo was announced, taken by the Montreal Expos. A dream had been fulfilled - for now. Chris Lugo was well on his way to becoming a professional baseball player.
"I'm just happy to get drafted," said Lugo, who became the first Hudson Catholic product to be ever drafted out of high school. "It was absolutely amazing to see my name up there. When I saw and heard my name, a rush went through my body. It's a dream come true."
There wasn't a hint of disappointment of how far down the draft pile Lugo fell.
"I'm very excited about it," Lugo said. "There was some frustration, but I'm glad now that it's over and I know where I'm going."
"I don't know if there are mixed emotions," England said. "I'm just really happy and excited for him. He now has a decision to make. I personally think he's better than a 28th round player. You want your kid to go as early as possible. The scouting game isn't an exact science, so you really never know what they're thinking. Chris has not reached his potential. He needs to gain some arm strength and improve his velocity and command."
England, who was once a college coach at Columbia University, knows the way professional scouts act and think.
"He's throwing 91 (MPH) now, but he can continue to improve, tap out at 94 and throw 91 consistently, then he'll be a better pitcher," England said. "When you think he's among the top 1,000 players in the entire country, Canada and Puerto Rico, it's a great accomplishment."
England had no idea that Lugo was the first Hudson Catholic product to be drafted out of high school. Ironically, the last Hudson Catholic graduate to get drafted was Brian Ellerson, who was taken in the 16th round out of Montclair State University two years ago.
And what team took Ellerson? You got it, the Montreal Expos.
Ellerson is currently playing with the Brevard County Manatees in the Florida State League (Class A).
"If the Expos like Hudson Catholic, then I'll tell them to keep looking," England said.
"I hope I get a chance to play with Brian," Lugo said. "I've never met him, but I know his brother (Shawn, a former Bayonne High School standout, currently playing at Montclair State). Hopefully, I get to know him pretty well."
England said that Lugo was an absolute joy to coach.
"He's been tremendous to coach," England said. "He was fearless and dedicated. I hope to have more like him."
Lugo doesn't know what he's going to do. The Expos' scouting staff will pay a visit to the Lugo home in Hoboken within the next few days, hoping to get Chris' signature on a contract.
"I'm going to sit and listen and see what they have to offer," Lugo said. "Actually, my main concern is college. If they want me to sign, I have to have college as part of my deal, because I want to go to college when I'm done playing baseball. If they offer enough and they include school, then I'll sign. But I want to play. I want to get in there and show what I can do."
The draft was just another accomplishment in what has become a year of marvelous achievements. Lugo learned that he was also selected to The Star-Ledger's All-State team. He will participate in the New Jersey Scholastic Baseball Coaches' Association's All-Star Classic this weekend and has been selected as the Hudson Reporter's 2004 Most Valuable Player.
"It's been one amazing season," Lugo said.
Which would only be capped with a professional baseball contract.
As for Gil Zayas of West New York, who was the other major league prospect from Hudson County, he didn't receive a call and will head to St. John's University on a baseball scholarship instead. Major league teams usually frown upon drafting players who are deemed "unsignable" because of their college scholarship status. That is what more than likely kept the teams away from taking Zayas.