Remember the Titan
There is a place where Nova High senior Warren McFadden swings the bat that pitchers will never see. Nightly, in his bedroom and before a full-length mirror, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound center fielder searches for tiny flaws in his swing. He grips a wood bat and studies. And studies. And studies some more.
"A lot of times, somebody corrects your swing, but you don't see what they're talking about, so you can't comment on it," says McFadden, a SchoolSports All-American who is rated the nation's No. 18 prep prospect in the Class of 2004 by SchoolSports.com. "You've got to work on your swing."
In McFadden's mind, there are plenty of things a player must do. It is that level of focus that drew collegiate baseball giants like Miami, Florida and LSU to recruit him and has rising national power Tulane elated he has committed to play for the Green Wave next season. Of course, a little thing called the Major League Baseball Draft in early June might alter those college plans.
Either way, McFadden, who was named one of the top prospects at the 2003 Area Code Games, East Coast Showcase and World Wood Bat Association Senior Championships, insists his mental makeup must share center stage with his physical skills in the months ahead.
"My maturity level has gone up, and that's very important," says McFadden, 18, who earned All-Broward honors as a junior after hitting a career-high .518 to go along with 40 runs scored, 31 stolen bases and 28 RBI. "I've experienced the hard times. I've fought through slumps. When you're in a slump, the only way to get out is to not allow yourself to think you're in a slump."
Given the fact that he entered this spring with 111 career runs scored and has never finished a season with a batting average below .400, McFadden surely follows that advice closely enough to make it effective.
"He has a great temperament for this game," says Nova 30th-year head coach Pat McQuaid, 53, whose team began the season ranked No. 10 in the SchoolSports.com National Top 25. "There are a lot of opportunities for failure in baseball, but he just plays with the same intensity. You can't tell from his demeanor whether he's just hit a home run or struck out, and you don't see that in teenagers."
If not for former Nova shortstop Matt Westheimer (Class of 2001), McFadden might never have emerged as the elite outfield prospect he has become. A natural shortstop, McFadden had no chance of displacing then-senior Westheimer in the infield, so he agreed to move to the outfield for a shot at earning plate appearances as a freshman.
Used principally as a pinch runner his first season, McFadden stole 20 bases and scored 31 runs and eventually won the designated-hitter job for the district championships and the Titans' postseason run to the Class 5A regional title game in 2001. Hitting out of the No. 9 spot, he finished his freshman campaign with eight hits in 20 at-bats and hasn't taken his infielder's glove out of his bag since.
"He's done everything we've every asked of him," says McQuaid, who has guided the Titans to two state semifinal appearances (the most recent in 2000) and entered this season with a shot at reaching 600 career wins. "He doesn't cut corners. He doesn't expect favors. I wish I had 100 of him."
Multiplying McFadden's numbers by 100 would be a scary proposition. Batting leadoff as a sophomore before settling into the No. 3 spot last year, McFadden entered his senior season with 84 career steals thanks to 6.52 speed in the 60-yard dash. And with only one of him in the lineup, the Titans were 85-15 during his first three years on varsity.
Sill, McFadden knows there's a lot more work to do.
"I have my patience at the plate and my speed as advantages, but I've got to be a better situational hitter," says McFadden, known as "Wally" to teammates. "I've got to try to go to the opposite field when runners are on and pick up some more RBI."
Easier said than done, especially when the stands are filled with pro scouts. Over-swinging is almost inevitable under those circumstances. And the pressure of choosing between college and a minor league contract does weigh on the otherwise uninterrupted joy of Wally's world these days.
"It's definitely something I think about almost every minute of the day," he admits. "In the end, you just have to do what makes you comfortable. Do what feels comfortable. You always have to have a backup plan. Baseball doesn't work out for everybody."
If his baseball dreams are to go according to plan, says McFadden, he must diligently hone his skills and dutifully ignore his press clippings. For him, the game is far more about what happens in front of his bedroom mirror than the hype of being a national prospect.
"A lot of people who have talent don't have the desire to go forward," says McFadden, whose 15-year-old brother, Marlon, is a freshman football player at Plantation High. "There are definitely a lot of people with natural ability who fall back into the pack. It's essential to work hard and hustle to go forward."
This year, that mission includes extending the Titans' season at least one more game. After being eliminated in the Class 5A regional finals during McFadden's first two seasons, Nova was bounced in the regional quarterfinals a year ago.
Above all else, McFadden wants to win. And teammates like LSU-bound senior right-hander Anthony Swarzak, who compiled a 26-3 record during the past two seasons (including a 0.63 ERA, eight shutouts and 150 strikeouts in 100 innings pitched as a junior), help make those wishes a legitimate possibility.
"If you strive for greatness, you've got to get through the hard times," says McFadden. "You've got to be a role model and help the players around you. When you do that, you help yourself."