BARNEGAT – Moments after Point Boro’s Thomas Paul absorbed an 89 mph fastball in the back late Tuesday afternoon, the largest collection of major league scouts and front office personnel north of the Mason-Dixon Line on this day began shaking hands, bro-hugging and flipping notebooks closed, while wondering the fastest way to Route 70 as they headed for the parking lot.
Barnegat coach Dan McCoy was on his way to the mound to take Jason Groome out after 59 pitches with no outs in the top of the fifth inning. For the baseball universe beyond the Shore Conference, the rest was immaterial.
They’d seen enough, with Groome, considered by many to be the No. 1 prospect in the nation heading into June’s MLB Draft, struck out 10 and got two pop-up outs in four-plus innings, allowing no runs and one hit in his first start of the season.
His fastball averaged between 92 and 94 mph on a frigid day, while his wicked curveball was consistently between 75 to 77 mph.
In all, there were probably 150 baseball professionals on hand, including Phillies general manager Matt Klentak, director of player development Joe Jordan and director of scouting Johnny Almaraz.
It just so happens the Phillies have the top pick in the draft.
A few hours earlier, Groome’s father, Jason – everyone calls his son Jay – was standing along the fence down the right field line as his son long-tossed in the outfield, shortly before throwing the most watched pregame bullpen ever at the Jersey Shore.
A hard-working father of five, Groome, who drives a truck and grades fish for a living, gets emotional when he talks about his son and the journey to get to this point. The elder Groome, raised on the blue-collar streets of Union Beach before his family moved to Ocean County when he was in ninth grade, is thankful for everything.
“Unbelievable. All the hard work,’’ he said, fighting back tears.
“We never looked at it like we’re better than someone. I’m always the first to one to keep it quiet, talk to everyone. And it reflects on him. He’s just a great kid. A great guy.’’
Groome talks as if they hit the lottery when his son was invited to attend the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where he spent his junior year surrounded by coaches with major league experience, a world-class fitness program and big league-type facilities.
And the fact that his son could well be looking at a signing bonus that tops $6.5-million two months from now does not appear to be part of the equation.
After Barnegat had put the finishing touches on a 2-0 victory, the 17-year-old left-hander emerged from the dugout and promptly was enveloped by reporters and camera crews.
Since deciding to return to Barnegat for his senior season, he’s maintained he simply wants to win championships with his friends, having lost in the Ocean County, Shore Conference and NJSIAA sectional finals as a sophomore.
Now he’ll try to pull it off amid a strict pitch count – he was limited to 60 pitches in this game – and intense scrutiny.
“I know it’s only going to get worse. I mean, I’m loving it right now,’’ he said of the attention.
“It was a little stressful at first but now we’re having fun with it, me and my family. I see my dad down there, people were surrounding him. We’re just having fun with it.’’
Groome’s assessment of the situation was spot on. It is only going to get worse.