One good thing about all that travel, I was able to connect with many of my former classmates at Bucknell.
David Keller '03, director of professional scouting for the Miami Marlins, relaxes in his office at Marlins Park and proudly remembers his time traveling around the U.S. as a scout, being the eyes and ears of an organization and providing information that helped higher-ups decide whether to try to trade for a player, promote one of their own or cut a guy loose.
For about five years, "every February through October, I was on the road 24 to 25 days a month," says Keller, who has visited innumerable ballparks and previously tracked the development of minor-league players for the Boston Red Sox, New York Mets and Arizona Diamondbacks.
"One good thing about all that travel, I was able to connect with many of my former classmates at Bucknell," he says. He was also fortunate to have a patient wife, Katherine Thompson '05, whom he met at Bucknell. They have two sons.
Growing up in Sellersville, Pa., Keller played shortstop on his Little League team and dreamed about one day seeing his face on a baseball card. In high school, he continued playing, but after a serious back injury, he began imagining himself as someone behind the scenes, perhaps as a college coach or a manager.
After graduating with a degree in management, he worked in Bucknell's admissions office, coached a local high-school baseball team and sent résumés to every Major League team. The Philadelphia Phillies hired him as an intern in the operations department, and several years later, he was a Mets scout, beginning his long sojourn through airports and motel rooms.
After studying thousands of wannabe Major Leaguers, Keller believes he can spot one in the making.
"Athletic ability is easy to identify," he says. "But the separator is a player's makeup. As he progresses and the competition rises, the differences in ability come in the form of things that aren't as easy to see. What's his body language like on the field? Does he take pride in coming to the field and competing every day? How does he interact with teammates and coaches? That's how you can begin to evaluate what's in his heart — and in his mind."
Yet Keller admits that he hasn't always been right."We all want players we like to excel, especially those that remind us of ourselves," he says. "And I regret recommending players who never quite performed up to expectations. A couple times I've said, 'Wow, I missed that one.' Failure is part of evaluating human beings."
These days, even though Keller heads a staff of 13 scouts who file reports and travel the country, he still jets off to observe players working their way up the ranks. But his sons are his favorite athletes to watch. He enjoys Little League games but admits it's hard not to observe them as a scout would.
"I watch the game through a different lens," Keller says with a laugh. "But no matter the level, I love the game and love it even more than when I was a little boy."
Image above: Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly (left) confers with David Keller '03.
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