As the Major League Baseball first-year player draft marched briskly towards its conclusion on Saturday afternoon, the notion that he might go unselected became a greater part of Kurtis Kostuk‘s reality with every passing pick.
The 17-year-old Yale Secondary senior attempted to distract himself by working on a history project, but his ear was keenly attuned to a streaming broadcast of the draft.
And then, out of the blue, he heard his name. He’d been picked by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
In that moment, it mattered little that he had to wait until the 38th round of the 40-round talent lottery, or that 1,139 players had been selected before him. A big-league team wanted him.
“I’m freaking out right now,” an ecstatic Kostuk told The News in a phone interview. “It’s unbelievable.
“I was getting disappointed towards the end there. But when my name got called, my mood changed big-time . . . my mom hugged me and started crying.
“This has just been my lifetime dream. Everything I’ve done, it’s been all for this.”
Kostuk had given a verbal commitment to the baseball program at Northern Kentucky University in case the draft didn’t pan out, but within an hour of being selected, he’d agreed to terms with the Diamondbacks.
He’ll to fly down to Arizona on Sunday to begin his pro career, but not until he finishes off that aforementioned history project – a 2,000-word essay on the United States’ justification for using napalm strikes during the Vietnam War.
“I’m working on it right now,” he said with a chuckle.
“It’s going to be awesome going there,” he added, noting that he toured the Diamondbacks’ facilities during a baseball event in Arizona last fall. “They have unreal facilities. They were the nicest ones I’ve seen, and it’s real warm there.”
Kostuk’s prodigious right arm is what has the Diamondbacks intrigued.
Corey Eckstein, his coach with the Abbotsford Cardinals of the B.C. Premier Baseball League, said that Kostuk possesses possibly the best outfield arm in Canada. From his centre field spot, he rockets the ball back to the infield at 94 miles per hour.
Kostuk, who measures 6’2″, 205 pounds, also pitches, and his fastball hits 90 mph.
Asked where he got his cannon, the youngster gave a tip of the cap to his father Kevin.
“Long toss every day when I was little, that’s it,” he said. “He actually coached me for a lot of my years growing up . . . It’s a big accomplishment (being drafted), not just for me, but for everybody.”
In the preseason, Eckstein said Kostuk’s draft stock would hinge on whether he could supplement his throwing prowess with a level of consistency at the plate. He’s certainly accomplished that – he leads the Cardinals in hits (21), home runs (2) and RBI (16), and is second on the squad in batting average (.318).
His performance drew the attention of the Canadian junior national team (it doesn’t hurt that Eckstein is an assistant coach with Team Canada), and he’s been summoned for trips to Orlando, Fla. and the Dominican Republic in recent months.
Whatever happens in his career from this point, the unadulterated joy of draft day will stick with Kostuk for a long time.
“There’s so many kids who would love to be there (drafted),” he marveled. “But it was my name that got called, and I was just going nuts.”