I recently received an email from Sig Rogich regarding the NFL Draft. Sig has abundant communication skills and has been known to help make kings, so I figured he might have something interesting to say about football, too.
He did. While Nevada is ranked only No. 36 in population among U.S. states and territories, it is ranked No. 11 in NFL draft picks who attended high school in the Silver State, per capita, over the past three years. (South Carolina is first).
When I arrived in town in the 1980s, there was David Humm from Bishop Gorman, Gerald Riggs from Bonanza, Art Plunkett from Las Vegas High, Frank Hawkins from Western, Henry Rolling from Basic, Nick Bell from Clark, Mike Pritchard from Rancho.
There might have been others. There certainly weren’t as many as now.
So why the influx of NFL-caliber talent?
A lot of people would say it’s because Las Vegas has grown exponentially since the 1980s. There were eight big high schools then, there are 27 now of more than 2,000 students. Plus, Bishop Gorman is still around, and it’s still pretty darn good in football.
But could it also be that as the number of good players has multiplied, so has the number of good coaches?
The good players work at it year-round now. They attend quarterback passing academies with the Mannings and Johnny Manziel provided their parents can afford it. That probably has something to do with it, too.
But when it comes to pro talent, Nevada and Las Vegas always have pretty much been considered baseball places.
Even before our city grew, the weather was conducive to playing baseball. It is hot during late spring and summer, so pitchers don’t have to spend time loosening arms. You can play a doubleheader, even in December, before it gets dark out — provided you’re not one of those managers who likes to change pitchers a lot.
Over the weekend, 11 more players from UNLV, College of Southern Nevada and local high schools were selected in the major league draft. Almost all grew up in Las Vegas or its surrounding area.
Pitcher Eric Fedde of UNLV, by way of Las Vegas High, was picked in the first round by the Washington Nationals despite recently having Tommy John surgery. Fedde was the 18th overall selection. It marked the third time in five years a local kid had been chosen in the first round.
In 2010, Bryce Harper of Las Vegas High and CSN was selected first overall by the Nationals; last year, Kris Bryant of Bonanza and the University of San Diego was selected second overall by the Cubs.
There have been 13 first-round draft picks with Nevada ties since the inaugural draft in 1965. Ten (Rod Scurry, Mike Morgan, Mel Stottlemyre Jr., Matt Williams, Tyler Houston, Donovan Osborne, Shawn Estes, Chad Hermansen, Dave Krynzel, Bryce Harper) have played in the majors. Two (Jake Hager, Braden Shipley) still are working on it. Danny Opperman blew out his arm which, sadly, happens from time to time.
Greg Maddux? Not a first-round draft choice. The Professor was picked in the second round of the 1984 draft by the Cubs.
According to the statistical nerds/fine folks at Baseball Reference.com, Green Valley leads Las Vegas high schools with 28 players selected by major league teams. Bishop Gorman has 23. Others in double figures are: Durango 17, Chaparral 15, Valley 13, Basic 12, Las Vegas 11, Silverado 10, Rancho 10.
Remind you, that list is for players drafted out of high school, which is how baseball tracks them. Some local schools are even better represented when you add in guys who were drafted out of college.
Among Nevada colleges, UNLV leads with 115 players drafted, 17 of whom have played in the big leagues. UNR is next (103, 16), followed by CSN (54, 6) and Western Nevada (14, 1).
In 1965, the year of the inaugural draft, the first player selected was outfielder Rick Monday of Arizona State, by the Kansas City Athletics. It was an excellent choice; Monday would play 19 seasons in the majors.
In 1965, the 623rd player selected was right-handed pitcher Ralph Durgin of Rancho, by the San Francisco Giants.
Durgin pitched for three seasons in the minor leagues. In 1965 he was 2-0 in 64 innings with a 3.66 ERA for Magic Valley of the Pioneer League; in 1966, he was 9-10 in 154 innings with a 2.92 ERA for Decatur of the Midwest League; in 1967, he was 2-4 in 47 innings with a 4.60 ERA for Fresno of the California League.
Ralph Durgin did not go on to pitch in the majors. He would have to settle for being the first player from Southern Nevada ever selected in the major league draft.
I met him a few years ago, at a Rancho baseball reunion. Tex Anthony, the former Rams coach, introduced us. I don’t remember what was said. I know what I should have said.
“Nice to meet you, sir. See what you started.”
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski