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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

This Gordon no 'flash' in the pan

Jeff Dahn        

MINNEAPOLIS - Nicholas Gordon was in Fort Myers, Fla., the evening of June 1 getting ready to participate in the 2012 Perfect Game Sunshine East Showcase which was scheduled for the next two days. While riding in a car with his father, former big league pitcher Tom "Flash" Gordon, fate forced an unexpected change of plans.

Nicholas said he was asleep in the family car with his seat slightly reclined when he was awakened by the sound of his dad yelling.

"I looked behind us and I saw that we had got (rear-ended), but nobody got hurt, so thank God for that," Nicholas said Tuesday, adding that he did experience some soreness in the back of his legs the next day. The Gordons decided to skip the Sunshine East Showcase and come to the this week's Perfect Game Junior National with Nicholas at full strength.

"I was disappointed I couldn't compete (at the Sunshine East) but everything happens for a reason," Nicholas said. "If I would have (participated) down there I might not have been here today, and I'm really glad I'm here."

Nicholas Gordon, the No. 4-ranked national prospect in his high school class of 2014, is one of more than 130 top underclass prospects - most in the class of 2014 with a handful of top-level 2015s thrown in - that kicked off the 2012 Junior National's two-day run Tuesday morning at the downtown Metrodome. The players took part in a morning workout session and three games were played the remainder of the day.

"I'm very excited to be here," Nicholas said. "There is a lot of good competition out here and I get to challenge myself, which is good. I like the competition. I expect to play against the best and then do the best I can, but I really can't expect too much because there is a lot of good competition out here."

Tom Gordon was with his son at the Metrodome (Mall of America Field) Tuesday and was even helping coach the PG Red team Nicholas was assigned to. Tom has spent the last couple of years coaching Nicholas with his Florida Flash travel ball team and feels fortunate to have been able to watch Nicholas' development as a ballplayer from such a close perspective.

"What's been really key is that every day it seems like Nicholas has learned something about himself," Tom Gordon said. "The progression of his brother (Devaris "Dee" Gordon) and the way I got a chance to play the game and the people I was around, Nicholas is starting to understand that the game is played on the field every single day.

"For  the most part, baseball is year-around now, and for him, he's embraced that with open arms. To me, anytime a player does that with the ability that he has, it can turn out to be a great thing."

Nicholas will be playing fulltime this summer with powerhouse FTB Mizuno and head coach Jered Goodwin. He will also still be playing with his father's Florida Flash 16u team, or at least when the Flash might need him to throw a couple of innings or fill-in at shortstop.

"I'm really looking forward to (playing with FTB)," Nicholas said. "There's a lot of good kids and great competition and hopefully we can go out there and compete. Coach Goodwin is a great coach and I've always wanted to play for him, so I finally asked my dad and he gave me the opportunity."

He does not in any way want to diminish the experiences he had playing for his father and all the guidance "Flash" has provided and continues to provide to this day.

"It was great, because having my dad there - he knows me best and helped me with everything I needed to do - but I think sometimes he likes it better just watching me," Nicholas said. "I've learned a ton from him - pitching, infield; he played the infield, too, so he helps me with that."

Nicholas, a 6-foot-1, 165-pound junior-to-be at Olympia High School and a resident of Windemere, Fla., splits his time between pitching and playing shortstop; the 16-year-old possesses a 90 mph fastball and also exhibits considerable skill as a middle-infielder. During the morning workout session, he threw across the infield (short to first) at 89 mph - tied for the fourth best effort of the session - and ran a more than respectable 6.79-second 60-yard dash (tied for 15th).

At the moment, Nicholas isn't sure if his future is in the field or on the mound.

"Later down the line I hope somebody will make that decision for me, but right now I'm just going strong at both," he said.

Tom Gordon isn't sure which direction to point his son either.

"From the pitching standpoint, I'm home with him a lot and he understands and picks up a lot of that ... and it's so hard for me, even though I played for so long, to say whether he's going to be a middle-infielder and a leadoff hitter or whether or not he's going to be a starting pitcher," Tom said. "For me, Nicholas has the ability to do whatever he wants to do."

Flash Gordon accomplished a lot during his 21-year Major League career. A starter early in his career and closer in the twilight of it, he compiled a 138-126 record with 158 saves and 1,928 strikeouts in 2,108 innings. He played his first eight seasons with the Royals, and then hopped around to the Red Sox, Cubs, Astros, White Sox, Yankees, Phillies and Diamondbacks.

He recorded 46 saves for the Red Sox in 1998 and came back eight years later to notch 38 for the Phillies – at the age of 38. He made his debut in 1988 and retired early in the 2009 season after pitching in 890 games.

His oldest son, Dee Gordon, was a fourth-round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008, made his big league debut in 2011 and hit .304 in 56 games that season. He's played in 57 games this season for NL West-leading Dodgers playing shortstop and batting leadoff, and is hitting .234 (52-for-222) with 17 stolen bases and 28 runs scored.

"We're really proud of him," Tom said of Dee. "He does a great job coming home and getting together with Nicholas and working on the infield while I work on the pitching aspect of it."

Nicholas has not made a college commitment  yet - not unusual for a kid who will be a junior in the fall - and on Tuesday morning it didn't sound like one was necessarily imminent. He carries a 3.6 GPA so his college options are probably limitless.

"Nicholas is one of the smarter kids in our area," his father said. "He's been introduced now to a few Ivy League schools and other (prestigious) academic schools because he has some abilities in the classroom, as well."

On Tuesday morning, father and son seemed to be enjoying themselves under the recently resurrected fabric roof of the Metrodome. Flash Gordon pointed out that showcase events like this one weren't around when he was Nicholas' age but was grateful his son was able to enjoy the opportunity. This is Nicholas' 11th Perfect Game event.

"These are beneficial to every kid that gets the opportunity to come out here and showcase their talents," he said. "What I've always enjoyed about Perfect Game is that not only do they bring everyone in, but they bring in the best talent and also the kids that want to be seen and get an idea of where they are with their talents."

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