Major League Baseball’s amateur draft is the holy grail for any player who hopes to make playing professional baseball a reality.
It was no different for John Cain. The 6-foot-10 Manhattan College left-hander was coming off a strong season with the Jaspers in which he led the team with nine wins while striking out 96 batters in 98 innings. So when the draft got underway June 3 to begin its three-day run, Cain, citing nerves, said he would not follow it too closely, but would keep his phone with him for when his call came.
Cain was not expecting a call on the draft’s first two days, but after hearing from Yankees, Cardinals and Rays representatives, optimism was high he would get the call sometime during the final day of the draft on June 5. That’s when Cain broke his own promise and began to follow the round-by-round selections.
It was expected Cain could land anywhere between the 25th to 35th rounds of the 40-round draft, and then it would be time to pop the bubbly with the rest of the Cain family, which includes father, Tim, a former basketball star at Manhattan and a member of the school’s athletic hall of fame.
But the 25th round came and went. So did the 30th, then the 35th and still no call.
“I was by myself at home for most of the day, and then by the end of it, my parents came home from work and then my brother came home from school,” Cain said. “So they were around for the end of it, but mostly I was on my own.“
The 36th round came, and still, no Cain. But each time it came for the Yankees, Cardinals or Rays to make their selections, Cain’s anxiety would grow.
“I was definitely more nervous when their turns came up,” he said, “and I was hoping it was going to be me.”
Cain thought he was a definite candidate for Tampa Bay as the Rays were in touch with him just before the final day of the draft.
“The Rays called me the night before and they told me to keep an eye out because they were looking to take me and I was on their board,” Cain said. “But once the Rays, Cardinals and Yankees made their last picks (in the 40th round) and I wasn’t picked, I realized what was going on.”
Cain’s dream was shattered. What was supposed to be a celebration for the Cain family became a heartbreaking day for the big left-hander. Cain, it seemed, checked all the boxes for selection after turning in a stellar season as the Jaspers’ ace. But, as it turns out, Cain had one thing working against him that he was unaware of at the time — he was 23.
At least that’s what was relayed to Manhattan coach Mike Cole.
“Basically what it came down to from what (team reps) told Coach Cole was it came down to my age,” Cain said. “Being a fifth-year player and 23 years old, it’s a lot harder to invest in someone who is older than in someone who is 20 or 21 years old. With them, they’ll have more time to work with them and build them up.”
His Jaspers teammates were all set to celebrate his selection, but Cain said he has not heard from any of them as they are giving Cain some time to himself.
“I think everyone knows I was pretty frustrated,” Cain said. “A bunch of guys talked to me in advance of the draft and wished me luck and everything, but I think everyone knew I was going to be pretty frustrated if it didn’t work out. It’s just been hard to go through.”
Now Cain will wait for another phone call, this one from a team offering a free agent contract.
“I’m hoping that will be an option,” Cain said. “The Rays told me I might hear something from them in the next few days, and I know Coach Cole reached out to the Tigers and Cardinals. So I’m hoping to hear something in the next couple of days. But we’ll see.”
In the meantime Cain says he’ll sit tight and hope for that elusive call. And should his cell phone ring in the coming days, Cain is ready to show teams they missed the boat on landing a quality left-hander — and that will only give Cain added motivation to prove himself.
“Oh without a doubt,” Cain said. “I’m just looking for that shot. The fact that I found out that it was because I was older, that that was the main reason, that has definitely added motivation for me.”