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The Life

July 12, 2002
A Bigger Unit
ESPN The Magazine

Imagine you're a high school basketball coach, and one day you're blessed with a 7'1" kid who can not only rebound and block shots, but dribble, pass, shoot and run the floor as well. And one day, during the kid's junior season, with letters from the coaches at Duke, Princeton and Stanford already in the mail, the kid tells you he'll be quitting hoops as a senior to concentrate on his pitching career.

Ryan Doherty
Seven feet of heat.
There's only one thing to say: "Thanks a lot, Randy Johnson."

"I started to fall in love with baseball right around the time Randy Johnson was making a name for himself with the Mariners," says Ryan Doherty, 18, the ex-hoopster from Toms River, N.J., who is now a righthanded pitcher on his way to Notre Dame on a partial baseball scholarship. "I had a hero for life. I think I might have had a decent future in basketball, but my height in baseball makes me a real oddity. Guys just aren't used to facing pitchers my height."

After his 100 junior season, there was a lot of talk that Doherty would go high in this spring's baseball draft. But a 54 senior season (though his 1.14 ERA and 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings were better than the year before), coupled with Doherty's insistence that he was going to South Bend unless someone blew him away with an offer, led to a pass from all 30 major league teams.

"College is the right direction for him at this point anyway," says Toms River East coach Bill Frank. "He's still growing into his body. He can already hit 90 mph on the gun, but if he can gain 30 or 40 pounds [he weighs 235 now], he'll throw harder. And he's still developing a breaking pitch."

While Doherty's stuff is still under construction, one thing he has over Johnson at this stage of his development is control. "I throw strikes," Doherty says, "but I tend to short-arm the ball, which is not a good thing for a tall pitcher. I've got work to do, and that's the challenge. With Randy, the thing I've noticed more than anything is how hard he competes. That's the main thing about him that I'd like to emulate."

This article appears in the July 22 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

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