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Sam Hughes, an area scout for the Chicago Cubs, liked outfielder Buck Coats from the start. Coats played for Valdosta High School in Valdosta, Georgia. He was not a known commodity; only Hughes had shown any interest. But, at six-foot-three and almost 200 pounds, Coats was athletic and well-built. In the days leading up to the 2000 draft, Hughes visited Coats and his mother in their home. Coats told Hughes that he was planning to attend Valdosta State College.
Hughes could see that Coats and his mother did not have an easy life. He tried to be helpful. Hughes told Coats that if he enrolled at Valdosta State, the Cubs would follow his progress and keep him in mind for the draft after his junior year. Another option, the scout suggested, was for Coats to play for a junior college team coached by a friend of Hughes. Hughes also mentioned a third option—if Coats wanted to turn pro, the Cubs could draft him, but Hughes would not be able to offer any more than $37,000.
After meeting with Coats, Hughes drove from Valdosta back to Atlanta. When Hughes got back to Atlanta, he found that Coats had left a voice mail message on Hughes’s landline phone. The message said, “Mr. Hughes, call me as soon as you get this message.” Hughes returned the call. Coats told Hughes, “I want to sign. I wanted to hurry up and call you because I didn’t want you to change your mind. I really wanted to run you down in the parking lot of my apartment.”
The Cubs selected Coats in the 18th round of the 2000 draft. Four days after the draft, he signed for $37,000. Coats made it to the major leagues in 2006. Though never a household name, he spent parts of three seasons in the majors with the Cubs, Reds and Blue Jays. He hit his only major league home run in his rookie season off Aaron Harang.
Hughes has always felt a special affinity for Coats. He says, “That’s what it is all about—to get a phone call from a kid who didn’t have much in Valdosta, Georgia and who didn’t sign for much and yet grinded his way through our system and then you get that phone call from him and he tells you that he’s been called up to the big leagues. That’s what scouting is all about, finding those diamonds in the rough, the ones who aren’t as sexy as others but you saw something in them and you feel like you, as the scout, are in the same boat with the player and then they make it all the way up.”