Showcase | Story | 6/17/2013

Metrodome encore for Kopech

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

MINNEAPOLS -- They remember it well, the highly ranked prep right-handed pitcher and his lawyer father from Mount Pleasant, Texas. It was only a year ago this week, after all, that 2014 righty Michael Kopech and his father, Michael P. Kopech, were right here inside the Metrodome, making their Perfect Game showcase debut at the 2012 PG Junior National Showcase.

The memories of that event that remain for the young right-hander (to be referred to as Kopech in this article) and his father (to be referred to as Michael) differ in their perspective. Kopech remembers the other players in attendance; Michael remembers only his son.

"That was the first big showcase I did so it was pretty exciting, "Kopech said Sunday. "I was most amazed at how the other kids did. I was a pitcher-only so I got to sit there and watch batting practice and I see a kid go upper deck (at the Metrodome), and I didn't think people our age were supposed to do that. It was a lot of fun, though."

Michael's memories were much more isolated.

"It was one of the greatest moments of my life if I died today; I'd remember this probably with one of my last breaths was when he walked off the mound at the (PG) Junior National (last year)," Michael said. "He came walking up the steps and there were about 50 or 60 college coaches and scouts following him -- he looked like the Pied Piper or something going up the steps.

"I couldn't get near him because they were all there and talking to him, and it was one of the most proud moments I've ever have, I believe."

The Kopechs returned to the Metrodome last week for the Perfect Game National Showcase, the desired destination for any young ballplayer who spent the previous June at the PG Junior National Showcase. Kopech, the top-ranked 2014 prospect in the state of Texas and ranked No. 9 nationally, was a must-see in his one appearance Sunday night.

His fastball reached 94 mph while sitting 91-93 in his two innings of work, and he complemented that with a 73-76 curveball; he struck out six of the seven batters he faced (one batter reached on a dropped third strike).

"I'm very excited; this is an unbelievable event to be a part of," Kopech said before he took the mound on Sunday. "You've just got to go out there and do your best because you can't expect anything when everyone here is the best in the country. You can't expect to be better than the other kids here; it's just unbelievable, honestly."

This was only the third Perfect Game event that Kopech has participated in, with last year's Junior National being the crown jewel until the National. He enjoyed a fine junior season at Mount Pleasant High School, finishing 6-4 with a 1.74 ERA after giving up only 39 hits while striking out 105 and walking 24 in 60 1/3 innings. The Mount Pleasant Tigers were a disappointing 9-16-1 but Kopech accounted for two-thirds of their victories.

"In high school I felt like I did OK, but I could have done better," Kopech said. "You get into the summer and you start doing this stuff and it makes you feel a lot better about how you did in the spring."

The summer is when it all starts for Kopech. He will go on the road with the Dallas Tigers Vanlandingham for select events and has been invited to a return trip to the Area Code Games; he will also take part in the Tournament of Stars in Cary, N.C., this week. A Texas kid since birth, Kopech feels like he gets plenty of opportunities to face the best talent in the land.

"The best competition I've seen in baseball is in Texas and California," he said. "I grew up playing in Texas so playing against (that level of competition) has helped everyone get better."

Baseball is the only sport Kopech has ever played competitively -- "I played basketball in junior high, but I don't count that," he said with a laugh -- and has always been a pitcher and a shortstop. He still plays shortstop for his high school team when he isn't pitching but he's achieved the level of recognition he has because of his prowess on the mound.

His father was the only coach Kopech knew from the age of 4 through age 15. "If he does something right, God gave him that ability; if he does something wrong, that's my  fault," Michael said with a laugh. "I'll live with the results right now; he's been showing pretty good progress. I've loved the game since an early, early age and I played to the best of my ability. God didn't give me the ability he gave my son and I'm absolutely fine with that."

Michael actually marvels at the progress his son has made.

"It's a dream come true, I think, for any parent to see their child excel in something that they want to excel in," he said. "I told him since he's been 4 years old that if you don't want to do baseball and you want to play the piano, we'll throw away the bats and the gloves and the balls and we'll go buy a piano. He never took me up on that offer, and this has really been his dream. It's hard to really believe it but this really has been his dream since the time he was 4 years old."

Michael called his son's progression in the game "phenomenal" especially when recent history is taken into consideration.

"We used to practice in what was probably just one step above a pasture," he said. "We didn't have fancy facilities, we didn't have high-paid coaches or things like that. We got a baseball and a glove and a bat and we learned how to play -- and I say 'we' I mean I had a little team and he was a player on that team -- and they all have excelled and I'm proud of all of them. To watch him go through each progressive step has just been phenomenal."

Kopech, who stands a rangy 6-foot-4 and weighs in at 195 pounds, has not committed to a college yet. He counts any Big 12 or SEC school among those he's interested in, while also mentioning Rice, Stanford, Arizona, Miami and Notre Dame among his favorites. Kopech carries a 3.5 GPA.

"A lot of schools came up to me pretty early and wanted to talk to me, so I have a wide variety (of choices) right now," he said. "I'm just letting it coast right now."

It doesn't seem possible that Kopech coasts at anything, but let's take his word for it for the time being. He does admit that his life has become much more intense over the last couple of summers.

"I've loved the past two years of my life because of this," he said, speaking of the scene surrounding the PG National and last year's PG Junior National. "It's been great; my freshman year I was throwing mid-80s and the next year I came back and I topped out at 94, and it changed my life. Everybody started looking at me like, 'This kid's got what we need' and everything like that."

Michael smiles easily, at least when he's away from his lawyering duties and comfortably entrenched at the ballpark. "When I have the time, I have a law practice," he said with a laugh. "I like to tell people that I have a part-time practice right now and I'm fulltime baseball trying to keep up with him and all his needs, but I wouldn't trade this for anything in the world."

And then, more than two hours before his son would make his PG National Showcase debut, he expounded on that thought.

"The ride is incredible," Michael said. "It's unbelievable from a parenting standpoint to get the kind of exposure that he's gotten. That's the other thing I'm so proud of as a parent is that he hasn't let it go to his head. He hasn't all of a sudden become the kid no  one can stand on the team.

"I told someone the other day that I think it cost about $700 to go to the Perfect Game Junior National (Showcase)," he continued. "I told them it was the best $700 I ever spent in my life because that really was the springboard for him to get into the national scene and national limelight. Now he's been there and he's handled it pretty well."

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