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On Opening Day last year, the youngest player in the Major League was the $11.5 million kid Rick Porcello. When the ink from Porcello's pen hit the paper, his contract with the Detroit Tigers became the most expensive a high school baseball player had signed in league history. Yes, high school. The deal included a $3.5 million signing bonus, so the expectations were sky-high. Porcello's talent matched with his agent Scott Boras' reputation made it clear the pitcher wasn't coming cheap. The tag alone drove Porcello down to the 27th overall pick, where the Tigers snagged him before the Yankees could. Every team wanted him, they just couldn't afford him. Skeptical, pro sports TV curmudgeons predicted the kid might throw his newfound fortune at a fleet of cars, a party of cling-ons, and a collection of diamond-encrusted whatevers.
But none of that is Porcello. None of those material goods can help a team win. Turns out Porcello's goals are painfully short-sighted: Throw good pitches. Win.
And he didn't do that right away. After dropping his first game in early April of last season, the arm Mike Illitch paid for arrived in May. Porcello won all five games he started and was named MLB rookie of the month. Veterans don't see stretches like the one Porcello did that May. He became the youngest pitcher to win that many successive starts since Dwight Gooden, who in 1985 won seven straight games (finishing the season with 24 wins, 268 strikeouts, and a 1.53 ERA). Porcello also became the first Tiger age 20 or younger to win five consecutive starts since 1954 — the year his grandfather, shortstop Sam Dente, won the World Series with the Cleveland Indians.
Porcello is as American as baseball, and, in some ways, is your typical 21-year-old. He's a National Honor Society grade geek who loves fishing with his brothers and dad, he listens to rock 'n' roll and struggles with an "on-and-off-again relationship" with the girl he's been dating since high school. They're off again.
Porcello is also atypical as far as drinking- age jocks go, a notion that extends beyond his athletic prowess. The night he turned 21, you could find Rick drinking cocktails with his family, on vacation in New England. As for that big-ticket purchase he wasted his fortune on? Try long-term real estate investments. If he wasn't playing baseball? "I'd have defiantly studied business," he says.
While his J. Crew-catalog good looks turned your wife's head at Comerica Park last year, his cannon right arm is putting butts in seats. Ask anyone who knows anything about baseball: Porcello's the deal, man.
The day before his impressive start against the Brewers, Porcello gave up 15 minutes for Metro Times.
Metro Times: How was the trip up from Florida?
Rick Porcello: It's not too bad of a flight — just over two hours — so we played some cards, watched a movie, listened to some music.
MT: What are you listening to?
Porcello: I'll listen to anything. I listen to hard rock a lot, but I'll pretty much listen to anything, especially if it's rock 'n'roll.
MT: Do you have any pre-game music you throw on to get into the zone?
Pocello: Not really — never been the pre-game music kind of guy.
MT: Your grandfather won a world series and you've been a star pitcher since you were pretty young, so you likely had some baseball heroes. What about you non-baseball-related heroes?
Porcello: Yeah, my father for sure. His name's Fred. He worked so hard and eventually built his own engineering company, from scratch, in New Jersey. Now he's a pretty successful engineer, but to see his ethic and dedication to his work was an influence. He's also just a really even-keeled guy. When times are good or times are goin' bad, he never changes, he's the same guy no matter what.
MT: Is that something you try to apply to on the mound?
Porcello: I think so. I think I try to carry that out there. I try not to get too low or too high, emotionally. I try to take this all in stride.
MT: Is there a team or batter who you don't look forward to pitching against, or perhaps want to seek some retribution from. Who had your number last year?
Porcello: You know I'm a pretty competitive guy, and there were some guys who hit me pretty well last year, but I always want to face those guys and have the opportunity to get them out or strike them out. There's nobody out there I don't want to face.
MT: Who were those batters that you had a hard time pitching against last year?
Porcello: Cuddyer from the Minnesota Twins was an extremely tough out for me; it seemed like he could get me pretty good. The Oakland A's Adam Kennedy was another guy, another left-handed hitter, that got me a few times.
MT: What's in your head on Opening Day?
Porcello: Well, my career thus far has been pretty short, and any Opening Day in high school couldn't compete with the Opening Day from last year's season. So, I guess my memories start here. Last year, Opening Day, me and Ryan Perry decided to walk to the Rogers Center (formerly known as Toronto's SkyDome) because we could see it from the hotel. Didn't seem too far away. Last year, though, it was still pretty cold outside, and that walk was longer than it looked. It wasn't the best idea anyone ever had. By the time we got there, we were freezing our tails off, and we didn't know how to get into the stadium or anything, so it's like maybe 40 degrees out and we're walking around the Rogers Center without jackets on looking for a way in.
MT: Did you pitch that day?
Porcello: No, not until our fourth game.
MT: How was it watching the Opening Day game unfold?
Porcello: It was awesome. The league does a pretty good job of making it an exciting event, I think. Watching Justin [Verlander] go up against Holiday made for a pretty darn good match-up, so that was fun in itself to watch.
MT: Verlander is the team's go-to ace, and you're the up-and-coming young gun looking over his shoulder. What's the relationship between you two guys like?
Porcello: We get along great — he's definitely one of my closest friends on the team. Last year he was great to me, and really helped me get through that first season. We're good friends, we play a lot of golf together, and make a point to get together outside of baseball. As far as pitching goes, we both want to pitch as well as we can, and we want to push each other, but we remain close friends in the clubhouse.
MT: For your first game of the season, how hard is it to push life's exterior dramas out of your head and focus on pitching?
Porcello: They first time you get back out there, you get those jitters again. Every game. It takes a couple of pitches to settle down. It's funny, you know, because you play 162 games and by the end of the season those jitters are almost completely gone, then by the time next year's season comes around they're back again. It's weird. You just have to channel focus as best you can.
MT: Does opening the season on the road help or hurt the home opener?
Porcello: Honestly, I don't have a preference. I just want to open the season with a win — that's all I care about, man. I don't care where that happens. Obviously we love playing at home in Detroit, and our fans there are great, and we'd love to play every game there if we could.
MT: The statewide smoking ban goes into effect on May 1. You play the Anaheim Angels on May 1, at home. How hard of a time do you think Coach Leyland's going to have not lighting one up?
Porcello: [laughter followed by contemplative pause] That's something you'd have to ask him.
Travis R. Wright thinks one day he’ll make Porcello-type dough. Right. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.