NIWOT — They will be behind the fence, fingers on their triggers, ready to fire their guns.
When Sean Ratliff makes a move — click! — the guns will go off.
They will be in the bleachers, hands cradling their stopwatches.
When Sean Ratliff runs — click! — the stopwatches will go off.
They will be wherever Sean Ratliff goes this spring. Toting radar guns, stopwatches, and note pads, professional baseball scouts will monitor everything Sean Ratliff does on the diamond for the Niwot Cougars.
“I’m definitely ready for that,” said Ratliff, a senior, the 2004 Daily Times-Call player of the year, and arguably the best high school baseball player in Colorado. “Last summer, I was seeing college (scouts) all the time. The radar guns were on me all summer and I’ve kind of been used to it.”
In addition to trying to lead Niwot to a second straight Class 4A state title this spring, Ratliff will be auditioning for what he hopes will be a starring role in professional baseball.
“It’s kind of hard to not be a little rattled by it, and have butterflies in the stomach when you have 10 guys pointing radar guns down your throat, seeing if you can give them what they want, seeing if you’ve got what it takes to make it,” he said.
Right now, the consensus is that Ratliff has what it takes. The 6-foot, 3-inch left-hander has a fastball that has been clocked faster than 90 mph, a change-up, curveball and slider. He’s also got the bat speed and strength to be a monster hitter.
His 2004 season for the Cougars was one of the most incredible seasons ever put together by a Colorado prep baseball player. At the plate, he hit .622 with 14 home runs, 14 doubles and 53 RBIs. On the mound, he was 10-0 with a 0.84 earned run average and 86 strikeouts in 58 innings.
“I had a great season last year, and in my mind I want to have another solid season,” Ratliff said.
For those waiting to see another .622 average with 14 homers and 53 RBIs, don’t hold your breath.
“I don’t know that I’m worried about duplicating it,” Ratliff said. “The thing that’s bothering me is not getting pitched to.”
Chances are, Ratliff will get a little of the Barry Bonds treatment: lots of walks, and very few good pitches to hit.
“I’m going to have to stay patient at the plate for sure,” he said. “I didn’t see that many (pitches) as it was last year, hitting in the No. 3 hole (in the batting order). It’ll be a little frustrating, but I think I’ll be able to handle it. It’s kind of a sign of respect, that they’re not going to give you that shot to turn the game around with one swing.”
Ratliff already has a plan for how to handle being walked.
“I told my buddies I’m just going to have to steal more bases this year,” he said. “I’ll have to make (the opposition) not be able to avoid me.”
There is nothing opposing teams can do to avoid Ratliff’s left arm.
“I think I can be better on the mound,” he said. “I think I’m as good as anybody in the country on the mound.”
Few who know Ratliff would argue. In fact, those who know him best have seen this coming for years.
“Once we got to high school it became apparent he was definitely going to be an awesome baseball player,” said teammate Clint Stapp. “Once we got to high school, it kind of took off.”
Ratliff’s teammates have enjoyed the ride. While the scouts drive from all over to get a look at him, the rest of the Cougars get an up close and personal view.
“It’s just fun watching him play,” Stapp said.
Part of being on Ratliff’s team, however, is accepting the fact it is, indeed, Ratliff’s team.
“He’s not afraid to speak his mind to some of (his teammates),” Niwot coach Bob Bote said. “He’ll get in their face a little bit and tell them he wants to win and they better join in. There’s not a lot of kids today that are willing to take on that mantel. To be a leader is kind of a negative thing in today’s peer culture. He’s definitely a born leader and he’s willing to take that role.”
A year ago, one Cougar, now graduated, brushed off the importance of winning the state title.
“I thought (Ratliff) was going to kill him,” Bote said. “It doesn’t matter what you play — P.E. class, ping pong, badminton — he’s driven to win.”
That is evident in watching Ratliff play. He’ll throw a bat or a helmet after a strikeout. He’ll give an umpire an earful if he disagrees with a call.
“He wears his emotions on his sleeves,” Bote said. “He’ll get upset. He’s been kicked out of a few ball games in the past in the summer. I think he’s matured a lot. It’s still going to happen. He’s not a robot. He’s still a human being, and baseball is a game of failure, so it’s going to happen.”
If it didn’t, Ratliff wouldn’t be his true self.
“I’ve played every sport with him forever,” Stapp said. “I think that’s one of his best attributes, that he’s so fiery and so intense. That’s his style.”
“Sometimes it gets me in a little trouble,” Ratliff said. “I’ve been doing a lot better job of keeping myself in check.”
The scouts will monitor how he keeps himself in check, right along with charting his pitches and analyzing his swing.
On June 7, some team will draft Ratliff. He’s been projected to go anywhere from the first round to the 10th. Either way, he’d be offered a big chunk of money.
The money will be a tempting lure, but Ratliff said he wouldn’t necessarily follow the green, not with a full-ride scholarship to Stanford as an attractive option.
“I think everybody hopes they are a first-round pick,” he said. “But, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll be going to college and not (to professional baseball). That’s been my dream since I was 7, watching Stanford on TV. I’ve finally got it achieved. I’ve always dreamed of playing for the Cardinal.”
Whether Ratliff goes to Stanford, or spends his summer riding in busses as a minor leaguer, Bote is convinced Ratliff’s baseball career has barely begun.
“I think we’ll see him later on TV,” Bote said. “I just hope he remembers me.”