The article below originally appeared on blog.chron.com and is being reprinted with permission.
Evan Gattis’ soul-searching time away from baseball as a young man led him to a bevy of odd jobs, including valeting cars and working for a pizza shop.
He’s not the only Astro with those lines on a résumé.
Scott Feldman, Wednesday’s scheduled starting pitcher against the San Francisco Giants, grew up in Burlingame, Calif., less than a half-hour’s drive from the Giants’ picturesque home stadium by the water, AT&T Park.
At the end of this year, Feldman will have nine years of major league service time, putting him one year away from receiving the full benefits of a major league pension. A steady and often unremarkable part of the Astros’ rotation – and therefore, perhaps underappreciated – Feldman didn’t make it to the majors as part of a grand plan from childhood.
As relaxed and friendly as they come, Feldman was never a prospect in high school. He had no scholarship offers, he said. He wasn’t in good shape, either.
“I almost didn’t even play baseball in college,” Feldman said.
So what turned him around?
“I just really liked playing baseball. It was fun,” Feldman said. “All my buddies played.”
There was no rush.
Feldman lives in San Francisco in the offseason. But when he was in college and the minor leagues, he’d come up to the city to park cars, working for a man named Frank Lucas, who had a valet business.
“It was different restaurants, private parties that would hire his valet parking service. We did a couple down in Silicon Valley with all the rich people,” Feldman said. “We’d go down there and park some fancy cars. Some of it’s in the city; most of it was on the peninsula.”
Feldman didn’t know anything about cars at the time, although he finally learned to drive a stick shift at 19. He thinks the nicest car he ever parked was a Porsche.
Feldman also delivered pizza for a joint in Burlingame that’s still open, Village Host Pizza.
“Solid,” Feldman said, making a face that suggested the pizza is considerably better than that description. He and his buddies worked that job mostly when he was in junior college, at the College of San Mateo, where he became relevant on the baseball scene.
The tips were pretty good delivering pies, Feldman said, and he thinks the most he got from one person between that job and valeting was $20.
A necessary nudge
But the baseball side of things didn’t start to fall into place until he played for the Burlingame Joe DiMaggio team in his final two years of high school.
“Scott was always talented,” said Feldman’s longtime friend and the coach of the DiMaggio team, Eric Gieseker. “But he was the guy in the crowd that nothing stood out. … He doesn’t want to stand out. He likes being with his buddies. A more lead-by-example-type guy.”
Gieseker, who today works for Fetzer Vineyards, and Feldman went to the same high school, the former a senior when the latter was a freshman.
Before Feldman went to college and opened eyes as a dominant starter, what he needed boiled down to a reality check and a nudge from someone like Gieseker.
“I just told him, ‘Do you want this to be real?’ ” Gieseker said. “In high school, he was just an OK player, and then he came out on the summer team. I didn’t do anything (major). I was the head coach. I taught him about pitching, like, ‘Throw strikes. Throw your fastball.’ And next thing you know, he never lost, and everyone started to take notice. And the following summer, I had him again. and we had him up at (College of San Mateo).
“It’s funny, and I always say this, and he’ll love me saying this: He was the best hitter.”
Feldman went to San Mateo at the behest of Gieseker, who also went to the school and was on the coaching staff in Feldman’s second and final year.
Astros had first crack
These days, athletes commit to schools very early. But Feldman didn’t treat the college process with a high-strung, must-do attitude.
“You talk to the guy, and you can get this sense from his personality, he just was like, ‘Oh, we’ll see,’ ” Gieseker said. “That’s why it’s so great. He never ever assumed any of this. It was just, ‘Play as long as I can.’ ”
Feldman got to the school and thoroughly dominated in 2002. Eligible for the draft immediately because he was at a junior college, he was taken in the 41st round by, of all teams, the Astros.
The rules allowed for draft-and-follows then – essentially, clubs could take a player and wait to see how he performed for a while afterward before signing him. The signing deadline for the amateur draft was not in August as it is now.
“I was pretty sure I was going to sign for like a couple hundred thousand, and at the last minute, the last day they could make a contract offer to the draft-and-follows, it fell through, and it was way less,” Feldman said.
He didn’t sign.
By the time that decision came down, the 2003 draft was looming, and Feldman already had dominated again with San Mateo.
There was a problem, though.
“Nobody really ever saw me pitch (that year) because the Astros had my rights and they told everybody they were going to sign me (as part of the 2002 class),” he said. “And I had a really good year.
“Just as a favor to my agent, the Rangers drafted me in the 30th round. He had to watch me pitch in summer ball.”
The bonus was $100,000.
Feldman’s agent, Matt Brown, isn’t a big-time agent with a long list of clients, but two he has are definitely notable in Feldman and Curtis Granderson. Brown also went to the College of San Mateo and was good friends with the team’s head coach, Doug Williams.
“No other agents even bothered to talk to me except for him,” Feldman said. “I had him ever since then, since I was like 18.”
Feldman’s laid-back demeanor shouldn’t be mistaken for laziness or a reduced work ethic – not these days.
Maybe unmotivated for a time as a kid, he has learned how to survive in the big leagues and is well-regarded for his professional approach.
As teammate Dallas Keuchel put it Tuesday, everyone respects Feldman for how he goes about his business, an area that’s “very underrated when it comes to the clubhouse in general.”
Feldman has some nice cars, he said, but “they’re not fancy.” After parking sports cars, he didn’t run out and get a Ferrari or a Porsche – although in the second year of a three-year $30 million deal, he qualifies as one of those rich people for whom he used to park cars.
There’s a humility, though, that hides his salary.
“Maybe if it is true (I’m down to earth), it’s because of my parents,” Feldman said. “My mom grew up in Oakland, and my dad grew up in a coal mining town in Pennsylvania. They were always like that.”