Bob Elliott's excellent adventure

BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:44 PM ET

CHICAGO -- Mike Medici is steering his silver 2007 Scion TC through the darkness with his left hand.

Two fingers of his other hand are checking the best route through Chicago on his GPS.

Medici's fingers move as quickly as they did when he squatted with a runner on second, catching for the Niagara Purple Eagles.

The route set--I-294 South to Indiana--the second-year Blue Jays area scout turns down Toby Keith, plugs an adapter into the radio and says "let's see how we're doing?"

Suddenly from the radio comes the voice of Jays announcer Jerry Howarth.

"The 2-2 pitch from Hector Noesi ... J.P. Arencibia a line drive to left ... and Aaron Hill SCORRRES!! The Jays lead the Yankees 7-2."

Man, we just passed O'Hare. Has The FAN-590 suddenly boosted its signal for Jays-Yankees games?

Living the lonely life of an area scout, covering 30,000 miles a year, to evaluate players Medici likes to stay in touch and be on top of the situation whether it's watching The Weather Channel, getting updates via text a change in the starting pitcher, or, in this case, a phone app called MLB At Bat.

On his smart phone he can track every team and listen live to any broadcast. The application has a pitch-by-pitch game tracker and shows box scores.

"Basically it's the closest thing to following the Jays when I'm on the road," Medici said.

Yeah, but we'd like a little warning, I was looking in the back seat for Jerry and Allan Ashby.

* * *

Leading up to the June draft I was supposed to go with Blue Jays regional cross checker Tom Burns for four days.

On the schedule were two top rated high school prospects in Illinois and Michigan, plus two days at the Mid-American Conference tournament championship in Chillicothe, Ohio, where Kent State Golden Flashes lefty Andrew Chafin, a late first-round pick, was the featured attraction.

Chafin threw his first competitive pitch in 16 months after Tommy John surgery last fall when the Golden Flashes played the Ontario Blue Jays. He threw the first eight pitches for strikes-- all fastballs, all above 94 mph--and on the ninth pitch, a ball was dribbled down the third base line.

Chafin came that close to striking out the side on nine pitches.

So two high schoolers and a day at the tourney was the plan.

MONDAY: PEARSON AIRPORT

Waiting for my American Airline flight the phone rings.

It was Burns. His Harrisburg-Chicago flight has been cancelled, due to weather.

He would now fly to Detroit and we'd meet later that night in Benton Harbour, Mich.

Medici would meet me at the National rent car lot at O'Hare.

I told Burns that Medici could recognize me wearing my Expos visor.

Getting off the National shuttle a young man sat on a bench as businessmen scattered to start their engines. I put on the Expo visor and Medici jumps up, as if a Sergeant yelled "ten-HUT!."

When general manager Alex Anthopoulos gave scouting director Andrew Tinnish the green light to hire 18 new scouts, upping the total to 34 amateur scouts after the 2009 season, Medici was one of the new hires.

Medici from Albany, N.Y. caught for coach Mike McRae at Niagara University from 2002-06 with Moose Jaw's James Avery, now at double-A in the Cincinnati Reds system and Thornhill's Josh McCurdy, who turned pro with the Baltimore Orioles.

He also played alongside a number of Canadians: Calgary's Vince and Matt Ircandia; Andrew MacNiven of St. Catharines, PEI; Surrey B.C.'s Mike Radanovic, Peterborough's Mark Wilson, Hamilton's Chris Leendertse; Reed Eastley of Brandon, Man.; Oakville's Kyle Nicoletta and Vaughn's Mike Alati.

"Nicoletta and Alati have season's tickets at the Rogers Centre--mine," says Medici.

In a way Medici is a lot like Anthopoulos, who turned down a $40,000 a year job with Fidelity Investments in Toronto to sort Expos fan mail at $7 an hour in 2001.

Medici, 26, took a $40,000 cut to leave Sentry Insurance in Albany to get back into baseball as the assistant coach at Canisius College in Buffalo. Besides coaching, he recruited in Canada and worked part-time at UPS from 2-to-8 a.m.

When the Jays called asking to interview him they asked for an early morning meeting. He said he couldn't leave Buffalo until after he got off work at 8:30 a.m.

"I'm probably best at evaluating catchers, they say I'm too hard on them, especially lazy ones who don't move to block balls," Medici says. "Pitching? I'm still learning. Best advice I was ever given? Trust your own instincts."

The Jays didn't draft any players from his area (Illinois and Indiana) last June as high school right-hander Mike Foltyniewicz went in the first round to the Houston Astros.

This year ... well hope beats eternal in a scout's heart.

Outfielder Charlie Tilson 6-foot-1, 165 pounds Bats: left. Throws: left. new Trier High School, Winnetka, ill. Letter of intent to University of Illinois.

Like any good scout, Medici is there early to see Tilson take batting practice before the New Trier Trevians play the hated Mundelein Mustangs at Ron Klein Diamond in Northfield, Ill.

Tilson takes his first round of BP swinging a thin metal pipe. Tony Fernandez, known as Mr. Gadget, would have approved.

With a regulation bat in his hand he hits one line drive after another.

As he heads to the field he stops by Medici, shakes his hand and says "thanks for coming out, sir."

"I was here a month or so ago, it was freezing cold and rainy, he said the same thing," Medici says.

During pre-game Tilson shows a strong, accurate arm.

Tilson improved his stock last summer at the Area Codes Games in Long Beach, Calif. Scouts compare Tilson to Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury. He's an opposite field hitter, can hit lead-off and shows plus speed, running a 6.54 60.

Besides the Jays, two Oakland A's scouts, including a national cross checker, and an Arizona Diamondbacks scout are watching.

Tilson leads off and grounds out and is clocked to first in 4.1 seconds; drops a drag bunt for a single and is clocked in 3.8 and bounces out as the Trevians win 6-1.

And we we're off, past O'Hare, through Indiana on the three-hour drive to Benton Harbour.

Burns is there when we check into the hotel and he has a change of plans.

Over at the Mid-American Conference tournament championship in Ohio, top-seeded Kent State, who was opening Wednesday against No. 8-seeded Bowling Green, announced they would not pitch Chafin in the opener.

Chafin started three days later: A complete-game shutout against Eastern Michigan in the semi-final game. Nick Manno is working the tourney, Burns would make an adjustment.

Medici was to head back to Naiperville, Ill. where he lives and take a morning flight to Tampa for the Big East tourney in Clearwater.

I figure I'll still drive to the tourney solo to meet another Jays scout.

TUESDAY: ON THE ROAD

Burns, 56, is 30 years older than Medici, and as Atlanta Braves scout Paul Snyder used to say "a lot of our people have grey hair --it's a sign of wisdom."

Burns has that. He coached Bishop McDevitt High Crusaders in Harrisburg, Pa. from 1988-1994 and got to know Anaheim Angels area scout Tony LaCava, who hired him in 1995 to work for the Angels until 2003 when LaCava, who joined the Jays, hired him for Toronto.

In 2009, Burns was responsible for 12 states--Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia and Virginia, plus New York City-- driving 45,000 miles a year.

Now in his second year as a regional cross checker he supervises five area scouts: Bobby Gondolfo, Mike Pesce, Jamie Lehman, Manno and Medici. He's "down to 30,000 miles per year" because he flies too often.

Gandolfo has Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey and D.C.; Pesce has New York city, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire; Lehman's area is Canada and upstate New York and Manno has Ohio, Michigan and West Virginia.

Over the years Burns signed future majors leaguers Scott Schoeneweis and Mike Colangelo with Angels 1997, who both wound up with the Jays:

Schoeneweis in 2005-06 and Colangelo was at triple- A Syracuse in 2003. With the Jays, Burns signed lefty Brett Cecil, who led the Jays in wins last year.

Distinguished and gentlemanly are words that could be used to describe Burns, who wears a 2002 World Series ring from the Angels.

Yet, one of his baseball favourites was the fiery Billy Martin.

"I never cared much for him with the Twins or the Tigers," Burns said.

"He had so much passion. I liked Billy Ball, the way he'd bunt, steal and use trickery."

Burns coached American Legion Post 1001 and each summer took his team to a game at Yankee Stadium.

"One year we had a guy whose favourite player was Babe Ruth." Burns said. He promised to take the team to Ruth's grave in Hawthorne, N.Y. in 1991.

"We get to Ruth's grave and there are baseballs and whiffle bats people have left behind," Burns said. "They told us at the office Martin's grave wasn't far. I went over and left my business card."

Some three months later Burns received a package from Martin's widow, Jill. Besides a letter inside was a video of Martin's final interview with ESPN before his death.

Catcher-third baseman Eric Haase.

5-foot-11, 175 pounds Bats: right. Throws: right.

Divine Child High School dearborn, Mich.

Letter of intent to Ohio State University.

Burns watches Haase take batting practice before the doubleheader.

Burns, plus two Baltimore Orioles scouts, two Cleveland Indians scouts and one from the Boston Red Sox watch as Haase plays third.

In the opener he singles and grounds out against the Bishop Foley Ventures.

In the second game, again at third, Haase pops out twice in another lopsided loss.

"A good day," says Burns even though he does not see Haase behind the plate.

Good days for scouts are when they see prospects who impress or when they get answers on players. Burns doesn't say which kind of a "good day" this is.

We jump into the rental car and begin the three hour ride back to Benton Harbour.

Over dinner Burns is in the middle of telling what it was like meeting Anthopoulos for the first time when his phone buzzes.

"Let's see how we're doing?" and he checks his phone. Every time there is a change in the Jays score his phone buzzes.

The Jays are leading 4-1 in the eighth.

Every scout has his horror story. Burns remembers a year he headed west for the Angels pre-draft meetings. It should have been a five-hour Harrisburg- Los Angeles flight.

Burns had a lay-over in St. Louis, one delay followed a cancellation. He arrived in Anaheim at 3 a.m., the end of a 17-hour day.

"And our meetings started at 8 a.m.," Burns said.

It's now 4-3 Toronto in the eighth.

Ohio is showing bad weather too. I call my travel agent and tell him never mind the Cincinnati-Chicago- Toronto flight, I'll take the Chicago-Toronto portion. He says it can't be done.

Burns suggests a Wednesday trip to Chicago since he would not mind another look at Tilson.

Frank Francisco is on now for the Jays ... soon it is 4-4 on a Curtis Granderson single ... then 5-4 Yanks on a Mark Teixeira single.

We drive to Benton Harbour, where there is a message from the travel agent ... I can fly back from Chicago.

WEDNESDAY: WHERE ELSE? ON THE ROAD

The forecast is awful for Tilson's game in Chicago, "80% chance of cancellation," according to a text from Medici.

Burns is used to adjusting on the fly. He says he'll drive to Detroit.

I plan on getting a rental car and going to Chicago.

Later word comes that the games in Chicago have been cancelled.

So, we're off to Detroit. An hour down the road the games in Detroit are rained out.

"Let's see how we're doing?" Burns asks as he checks his phone.

It's 7-1 Yankees in the sixth. He's asked about the frustration of scouting, working so hard for a year and in one day seeing players from a scout's area go two or three picks ahead of the Jays choice.

"In 2008, a year after we took Cecil in the first round, I didn't have a guy until the 25th," Burns said. "I was still the same scout."

Burns calls his travel agent and grabs a seat on a 5:30 p.m. Detroit-Harrisburg flight. I call an audible and catch a cab at the airport for the VIA train station in Windsor.

It worked out to a total of 12 hours driving over three days for Burns to see a catcher play third.

He'll fly home and then to Toronto for meetings and workouts at the Rogers Centre.

"Draft day is a little like Christmas for scouts," Burns said. "You get some things you really wanted, other things you wanted, you don't get."

On the train ride home an email arrives from Burns.

His Detroit-Harrisburg flight was cancelled.

So he flew to Baltimore and drove the final 100 miles.


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