Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on April 22, 2004.
Yovani Gallardo spent his childhood doing everything his father did. Mainly, that meant playing baseball.
It could be an informal game among friends. It might be a more serious, semi-pro game. Or just a little running and hitting in a park. It didn’t matter. If Dad was off playing somewhere, Yovani was sure to be nearby — his little legs turning as fast as they could, running to pretend bases wherever he imagined them.
“He was always with me, wherever I was,” his father, Jorge Gallardo, said. “Ever since he was little, maybe about 4. He just played, even if it was only with a little plastic ball.”
Yovani’s father learned the game in Mexico. Actually, everyone in his family learned the game in Mexico. Jorge Gallardo, a welder for Trinity Industries, is one of eight brothers and sisters who spent their childhood Sundays immersed in afternoon-long games.
He smiles at the memory.
“People always used to wonder how it was that baseball took hold of us when it didn’t our father, “ he said. “But in Mexico, it was the only sport you played. That was our Sunday afternoons. That was how we started playing.”
Yovani might outdo them all. The Trimble Tech senior is one of the fastest-rising pitching prospects in the country, averaging more than two strikeouts an inning. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound right-hander is No. 8 on Baseball America’s list of the top 50 high school prospects. It might mean he could be a first-round pick in Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft in June.
He would face a choice then. He has signed with TCU, and no one in his family has played college baseball in the United States (an uncle played college baseball in Mexico). It is a point of pride for his family that Gallardo has earned a scholarship.
But a first-round selection could mean a signing bonus in the millions. The Rangers paid No. 9 pick John Danks a $2.1 million signing bonus last summer.
“Going pro, that’s the main goal I’ve had since I was little,” he said. “I’ve told my parents since I was little that this was something I’ve wanted to do. So they’ve helped me out a lot.”
Gallardo has had a while for everything to sink in. The scouts started coming around last summer, watching his select-league games with the Texas Blackhawks, because of a fastball that started popping into the 90-mph range.
TCU moved quickly, signing him to a letter of intent in November (Gallardo said he wanted to be close enough that his family could watch him play).
But this spring, the attention from the pros intensified. In March, he struck out 25 in an 11-inning game against North Side. Six scouts attended a game against Western Hills on April 15 in which he struck out nine in six innings with a 92 mph fastball and an 82 mph cut fastball. Last week, he moved from No. 24 to No. 8 on the Baseball America chart.
“Obviously, he’s got a good arm. We wouldn’t be here if he didn’t,” said one scout, who did not want to be identified.
“I don’t think about whether he’s going to play pro,” Yovani’s father said. “I hope so. But I don’t want to form an opinion about whether he’s going to make it or not. If he does, that’s good. If not, that’s OK, too. What’s important is that he does well in college.”
Gallardo said the attention made him nervous last summer. Now, he treats it as part of the game. But a decision looms, and that is something he doesn’t want to think about yet.
“I’d like to play ball at TCU. They have a great team and a new stadium,” he said. “Maybe once the season is over, I’ll start thinking more about it. This is my last year in high school. I’m just looking to have fun right now.”
Gallardo is 4-3 with a 1.12 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 50 innings entering tonight’s District 7-4A game against Southwest. He does not have many high school starts left. The Bulldogs are in fifth place, two games out of third and a possible playoff berth with two games to go.
“I told him at the beginning of the year, the scouts aren’t worried about the score, and they’re not worried about your teammates making mistakes behind you,” Trimble Tech coach Michael Frick said. “I said, ‘They’re worried about you.’ They know what they’re looking for.”
His father confesses to wondering what kind of numbers Gallardo could put up on a different team, district leader Arlington Heights, for example. (Left-hander Matt McGuirk, a summer teammate and fellow TCU signee, is 10-0 for the Yellow Jackets). Even Gallardo’s teammates, proud of his success, wish they could do more for him.
“It’s hard to believe, but it’s true,” catcher Antonio Vital said. “It feels good to have somebody who you can say, ‘I played with him.’ We can look back one day and say, ‘Yeah, that’s him, ‘ and think, ‘Hmm, what stories am I going to tell people?’”
Gallardo wants to disappoint no one. His prospect status is still relatively new, and no one in his family has experienced anything like it. Only the baseball is the same.
“It’s business as usual, “ Vital said of his friend. “Baseball is his life. It revolves around that. Every day of the week.”
The Gallardo file
Height: 6-2 Weight: 195 Throws: Right Bats: Right Record: 4-3 ERA: 1.12 Innings: 50.0 Strikeouts: 117 College: Signed with TCU What scouts like: Good size, with potential for growth and more strength ... smooth delivery ... fastball reaches 92-94 mph ... breaking ball has a heavy sink.