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South African preparing for first Spring Training

South African preparing for first Spring Training

South African preparing for first Spring Training
CHICAGO -- Sheri Wilken, wife of Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken, was in a parking lot during a high school baseball game in Arizona when she heard an accent she recognized.

It was someone speaking Afrikaans, and Sheri introduced herself to Tayler Scott's parents. As Sheri headed back to the game with them, all the other pro scouts in the stands were on alert. It seemed the Cubs had an edge.

Scott, a much sought after high school pitcher, was eventually drafted last June in the fifth round by the Cubs. In a few weeks, the South African right-hander will make the long journey from Johannesburg to Mesa, Ariz., for Spring Training.

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"They don't really understand baseball or what it is," Scott said of friends in his native land.

He doesn't have a favorite baseball player. He didn't know much about the sport, actually, until he was eight years old and watched a few games on TV.

"We don't get Major League Baseball back in South Africa so don't watch it at all," Scott said in an interview last October at the Cubs' complex in Mesa. "You come to America and everything is baseball."

Scott, 19, was a standout soccer player in Johannesburg when he decided to try baseball. He joined a recreational baseball team in South Africa, and during a family trip to the U.S. in June 2007, he took part in a two-week baseball camp at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, N.Y. Scott returned to the camp in 2008, and one of the coaches suggested the Scotts contact USC pitching coach Tom House.

House was hosting a camp that November, and Scott returned again to the U.S. to participate. House was so impressed, he invited the young pitcher to take part in his baseball camp in June 2009 in California.

The message from House was that if Scott was serious about baseball, he needed to compete in the U.S. At the camp, the Scotts met Tim Haubursin, who was coaching at Notre Dame Prep in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The family decided to take a big step and enroll Tayler in the Arizona school. His parents couldn't leave him alone, so they split time between Scottsdale and Johannesburg. That's a 10,000-mile commute.

The Scotts have a occupational health and safety consulting business, and each parent took a six-month shift to be with Tayler in the U.S. Getting a feel for the game seemed to take that long as well.

"I wasn't really up to speed with the American kids but my junior year, I caught up," Tayler said.

He certainly did. The slender right-hander was 7-2 with a 1.74 ERA through 48 innings and helped Notre Dame prep reach the 4A state quarterfinals his junior season.

Scott got his first taste of pro ball this past fall when he took part in the instructional league. When he did this interview, he was a little hesitant about returning to South Africa for the winter because Scott doesn't have anyone who can catch him during his workouts.

"Baseball isn't very big at all [in South Africa]," he said. "There's a few teams down there and a couple players in professional baseball now."

South Africa did compete in the World Baseball Classic, but was overpowered in '09, giving up six home runs in its first game of the tournament against Cuba. No South African player has reached the big leagues.

Scott would like to be the first. Last June, he'd heard pro teams were interested in him.

"Going to the Cubs was very exciting," he said. "My pitching coach in high school is a diehard Cubs fan."

Scott has been to D-backs and Yankees games, but never to Wrigley Field. During his time in the U.S., he admits he missed the food and culture of South Africa.

"Other than that, I like America a lot," he said.

The food has become an issue. He isn't falling for typical high school fast food places.

"I tried [Taco Bell] but it's too greasy," he said. "In South Africa, the food is fresh, fresh, fresh."

Look for the slender right-hander this spring when the Cubs' Minor Leaguers arrive at Fitch Park.

"It still doesn't feel like a job to me," Scott said about playing baseball. "You get money, but it doesn't feel like a job. I'm just playing baseball. It feels normal."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. Muskat writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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