Originally published Aug. 20, 2012
By Bob Elliott
EASTLAKE, Ohio -- He’s blonde, he’s cut, (8.1 body fat) and stands 6-foot-6.
Teammates say he looks a lot like the Russian boxer in the 1985 film Rocky IV.
“Ivan Drago is my doppelgänger,” said Noah Syndergaard explaining how teammates see a resemblance between himself and actor Dolph Lundgren.
The class-A Lansing Lugnuts right-hander wasn’t always mistaken for having an actor’s lean, rugged good looks.
“Back in eighth grade I was a chunkster, kids would tease me for being overweight,” said Syndergaard.
He came home from school one day in Mansfield, Tex., told his father he wanted to join the YMCA and eat healthier.
So, he worked out at the Y, ate his veggies, worked out some more and oh yeah had a growth spurt from 5-foot-11 to his current height.
Now, he’s one of the three cherished young studs -- along with Aaron Sanchez and Justin Nicolino -- manager John Tamargo is handling like a father leaving a hospital with a new born.
Rather than handing off the treasure to the mother, his goal is to deliver them to class-A Dunedin next season healthy as Clydesdales as they continue their road to the Rogers Centre.
Little League days at the Ballpark in Arlington, Tex. means players walking around the warning track before a Texas Rangers’ game. Syndergaard made that walk.
Growing up in nearby Mansfield (pop: 56,000), home to the annual pecan festival. After watching Mansfield High as a grade 8 student and the likes of Jordan Walden, the closer for the Los Angeles Angels, Mark Cohoon at triple-A Buffalo in the New York Mets system, Brandon Bantz at triple-A Tacoma with the Seattle Mariners and Chad Comer with class-A Lynchburg with the Atlanta Braves, he went to Mansfield High.
Then he moved to the Mansfield Legacy Broncos, a new school.
“Being drafted by my home town team would have been nice, but I never heard from the Rangers,” he said.
Like all hulking right-handers from the great state of Texas, Syndergaard grew up wanting to be the next Nolan Ryan.
“I loved watching that video of him punching Robin Ventura, when Ventura charged the mound,” he said. “I pictured myself being like Nolan Ryan, with the same demeanor and his sheer dominance.”
Over lobster bisque, calamari and grilled chicken marsala at Bravo restaurant, Syndergaard tells of earlier this season having a pitch clocked at 99 MPH in South Bend.
“It was an anger ball,” he said.
An anger ball?
We haven’t heard that term “anger ball” since the days of Doyle Alexander and Jim Acker.
Syndergaard gave up a home run to Gerson Montilla and humped up the next pitch.
To the screen? Nope it was a strike.
Represented by CAA, Syndergaard spent five weeks at the Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel, Fla. along with clients like Ryan Howard, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard from the Washington Nationals plus Blue Jays’ J.P. Arencibia, Anthony Gose, Travis Snider and David Cooper.
And one day in walked Derek Jeter.
“I looked up saw him, then I looked down,” he said, not sounding at all like the menacing Drago, “he came over and said ‘he my name is Derek.’” And?
“And then I started mumbling like I was a 12-year-old talking to a girl for the first time.”
Syndergaard auditioned for the Area Codes team in Arlington and made the first cut, but didn’t make the travelling team that went to Long Beach, Calif. Then, he pitched at a Texas Scouts Association work out. He was set to accept a scholarship to a small NCAA school, Dallas Baptist (“I was 88-90”).
“I wasn’t even on Jim Callis’ top 200 list in Baseball America,” he said. “Then our first scrimmage in February I was 93 and eventually 98.”
Syndergaard was selected 38th over-all by Jays scouting director Andrew Tinnish and area scout Steve Miller, signing for $600,000 US.
No longer a chunkster they call him Drago.
They also call him Frankenstein or “Snygen.”
“We’re standing on the foul line, they’re introducing us before a game my second year of high school and the announcer says ‘right-hander Nose Snygen,’” Syndergaard said, “he didn’t even get Noah right, never mind my last name. And it was a home game.
“Everyone calls me Snygen in Mansfield.”
Tim Langton will pronounce Syndergaard’s name correctly, if and when he makes the Rogers Centre.