Patience pays off for Lincoln
Right-hander's decision to go to school works to his benefit
CLUTE, Texas -- He didn't let them down on Tuesday.
Brad Lincoln, All-American right-hander from the University of Houston, was taken by the Pittsburgh Pirates with the fourth overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft on Tuesday and the gathering at Lincoln's parents home in this small town near the Gulf Coast an hour south of Houston was bustling and excited.
But it wasn't always that way.
Three years ago, Lincoln was fresh out of Brazoswood High School and innocent enough to not know he couldn't really let anyone down then. He had been a star hitter and pitcher at every level of the area Little Leagues and high school teams and everyone thought he was destined for Major League stardom.
After all, Brazoswood players like Andy Cavazos and Jesse Harper had been drafted in 1999 and 2000, respectfully, and were still in the Cardinals and Brewers organizations. They lived just a few blocks from Lincoln, and the right-hander was considered maybe the best of the city's rich heritage.
So shortly before he was drafted by the Rangers in the 28th round -- 826th overall -- in 2003, he thought he had a lot to live up to, even though he also had signed a letter of intent to play for UH.
"One night he came home late after his curfew, which is something he never did," Brad's mother Cheryl recalled Tuesday. "I could tell he was upset and had been crying. I asked him what was wrong and he wouldn't tell me.
"But I wouldn't take no for an answer and I kept after him. He finally broke down and told me. He said he was wanting to go to UH to play in college and get better but he thought he was going to let everyone down if he did.
"This is such a small town and everyone knew the pros had been his dream for so long. But I told him not to let that bother him and he should do what was in his heart."
Mom's advice, of course, paid off in a big way for Houston and the Lincolns. Brad became an All-American pitcher and designated hitter, going 12-2 with a 1.69 ERA this year which included 152 strikeouts in 127.2 innings. He also hit .295 with 14 home runs and a team-leading 53 RBIs on his way to being drafted higher than any Cougar ever.
And Tuesday, it was Lincoln's day. He had hurried home Sunday after UH had been eliminated from the NCAA regionals in Norman, Okla. "I just wanted to be around everybody I loved," Lincoln said.
Still, the last two days were harrowing, as rumors had Lincoln going anywhere from No. 1 to No. 5 overall. Monday night, he stayed up nervously until 2:30 a.m., then bounced up on Tuesday morning at 7. Later that morning, his advisor called and told him the Pirates would be taking him at No. 4.
"I'm still nervous," Lincoln said. "Until they call my name, I'll be nervous. You can listen to all the talk, but that's all it is, is talk. I never got my hopes up. I just wanted to wait until the draft started and see."
A crowd of more than 20 also wanted to see. The well-wishers began showing up at his parents small, three-bedroom, brick home about 10 a.m. and eventually two reporters, a photographer from the local newspaper and television crews from two Houston stations all crowded into the place, where deer heads were mounted all around the living room. The press contingent joined his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, high school friends and others enjoying the chips and dips, brownies, pudding cake, pizza and other goodies Cheryl had set out in the kitchen table.
The group didn't include Shandley McDougal, Lincoln's girlfriend since his junior year in high school. She ironically was taking a test at her junior college 60 miles away and couldn't attend the actual announcement, which everyone else watched on the broadcast on the computer screen in the living room. Lincoln called her with the news shortly after he was picked.
It was still a little hard to believe.
"I'm kind of breathless," Lincoln said 35 minutes after the announcement. "It's incredible to hear your name come up on that screen, especially coming from a small town like this.
"Being from here, a lot of people didn't know me. It's like, you come out of nowhere, and I like that. It makes it that much better."
Lincoln's father, John, was taking the morning off from his job at Dow Chemical, Clute's biggest employer. He and Cheryl, who works at BASF Chemical, were both planning to go back to work in the afternoon.
"I don't think anything will change for us," John said. "I hope it doesn't. I hope it stays pretty much the same. We'll probably still go camping a lot, but now it'll have to be more in the offseason, in winter."
Cheryl agreed. "For us, things will continue on the same path," she said. "I know we'll be making a lot of airline trips. But other than that, I don't want it to change."
Then she paused to chuckle. "I know some things will be different because Brad will soon be making more than his dad and I ever made," she said. "But I don't think it will change the way he is."
Nearly an hour after the announcement, Brad sat in his bedroom, which has his own collection of mounted deer heads and antlers all around, taking just a moment away to answer some phone calls from teammates and other friends. He hadn't heard where or when the Pirates wanted him to go, and he paused to reflect on the immediate future.
"It's going to be a drastic change in my life, I know," Lincoln said. "I don't know really what to expect, but I know my lifestyle and everything will change.
"But that's what I've been looking forward to for about 20 years, so I couldn't be happier."
Neither could anyone else in this small town. Brad Lincoln didn't let them down.
Jim Carley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.