It became something of a distraction at Reckling Park this season. Every time John Duplantier ’17 was scheduled to pitch, a parade of scouts lined up for the best seats. With Major League Baseball’s draft looming, representatives from big league teams around the country wanted a good look at the fireball pitcher.
Even more distracting than their seat selection was the synchronized scouting routine they performed during games. In unrehearsed unison, they brandished radar guns like the ones used in highway patrol, repurposed to track pitching speed. The “Reckling Park speed trap” reinforced what their trained eyes had already told them: Duplantier has the strength, aptitude and confidence to pitch professionally, and maybe even at the elite level in the major leagues.
Duplantier’s two variations on a fastball could reach 95 mph, lighting up the radar guns like a speeding Maserati. The scouts also liked — and opposing hitters seemed to hate — his curve ball, a slower but sneakier pitch. Earlier this year, that combination earned him the National Pitcher of the Week award for striking out 14 batters in a single game.
Duplantier’s talent didn’t come easily, however. The Katy, Texas, native notes that he put in a great deal of hard work to come this far.
“Rice has helped me get better, no question,” Duplantier said. “When I got on campus, the coaches made it pretty simple. They said, ‘If you want to pitch, then throw strikes.’ My freshman year I didn’t throw a lot of strikes, so I didn’t pitch a lot.”
And while Duplantier now is one of the brightest stars of college baseball, he almost didn’t play baseball at all. Right before he signed on at Rice, he was offered a chance to play college football as a quarterback at Yale.
“All the way through my senior year of high school I had considered myself a football player who also played baseball,” he said. “Playing football at Yale was close to happening.”
The allure of Rice baseball won out in the end, however. “I think it took more than one outing on the diamond for me to get Rice’s attention,” he said. “But once the coaches told me they were interested, I knew that was it.”
Now the major leagues are interested, too. But while the scouts may have been a nuisance to fans this season, Duplantier doesn’t even notice them once he gets on the mound.
“Once the national anthem is played I kind of go in my zone,” he said. “I can hear Coach Graham for sure. Also, no matter how many people there are at the game, or how crazy our fans get, I can always hear my mom.”