Umatilla youth is 29th-round draft pick by Texas Rangers

PENDLETON, Ore. - Sliders, curves, breaking pitches, fast balls, Justin Quaempts has them all.

Now the college sophomore from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation has an offer from a major league baseball team, the Texas Rangers.

A 29th-round draft pick by the Rangers did not come as too much of a surprise to the young pitcher, his family or his coach. Pro scouts had been checking out the 6-foot-3 inch Quaempts throughout his first season pitching for Linn-Benton Community College in Albany, Ore. With an earned-run average of 1.04, the third lowest in the Northwest, a 92-mph fast ball and 61 batters struck-out in 60 innings, the flurry of interest and a bid from at least one major league team was expected. Which doesn't mean it wasn't exciting.

"It was crazy when I started getting all the calls from the pro scouts," Justin says. "My roommate at school was like going crazy asking, 'What's going on?' At first it was quite overwhelming."

Seriously considered by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the Cleveland Indians and the Baltimore Orioles, the Rangers were the first major league team to make him an offer.

After talking it over with his father and other advisors, Quaempts turned the Rangers down. It was a tough decision for a 19-year-old who's dreamed of pitching for a major league team all his life.

But Quaempts says he knows he's just going to get better. The longer he pitches in college, the better his stats will become, the greater the opportunities that will open for him. A top round draft pick in another couple of years is exactly what he has in mind.

"It's not just trying to make more money," says his father, Bill Quaempts. "He's always dreamed of pitching for Florida State University Seminoles or Arizona State and go to the (college) World Series. And that's what he told us, too. He said, 'I appreciate your offer, but I got bigger goals. I'm going to be a first-round draft pick after I pitch in the World Series,' he told them."

There was never a time in Justin's life he can remember not wanting to be a professional baseball player. Family photos show him in diapers swinging a baseball bat. At 5 he could be found glued to the television set, watching pro ball.

"I didn't really push him. All I did was accommodate him," says his father. "He wanted to play all the time. I'd say I've caught a couple million of his pitches. Ever since he could walk, anywhere we'd go he'd have three mitts and a ball and I'd catch him wherever we were at.

"It's been his dream and his goal and he's not going to let anything stop him."

At 10, competing against youngsters from six states from throughout the Northwest, Quaempts shattered the Hershey national record for the baseball throw by 11 feet. In high school, he was throwing consistently around 88 mph, a figure that got more than one coach's attention.

Offered scholarships by several universities, including the University of Hawaii, Quaempts decided to stay close to home and accepted an offer from Linn-Benton Community College. The decision, he says, was practical. He liked coach Greg Hawk, and a community college would be sure to play him his freshman year. He'd get that much more time out on the mound than if he attended a four-year school.

There was another major advantage as well. A junior college gave him the option of going pro after one year, or two, rather than having to wait until his junior year.

A wise decision as it turns out. Coach Hawk was more than pleased to have Quaempts on his team.

"He has a tremendous arm," Hawk says. "He's a real competitor. He's got a tremendous breaking pitch. He's got a great hard slider that he can throw controlled. He spots up very well. He's able to hit his spots.

" He doesn't just throw. He's a pitcher."

Although Quaempts also hits well and plays first base, Hawk has had him focus strictly on pitching - a move that increased his statistics with the southern region of the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges.

If all goes well, Hawks says Quaempts has so much talent, there's no limit to what he can accomplish. But, as a coach, Hawk also had some words of caution about the young pitcher.

"He has the ball in his corner. He can go in a couple of different directions. He's got a great arm, but there are so many that have good arms that may work a little bit harder. I feel that Justin's got to put more quality time into improving his physical stature. By that I mean he's got to do a lot more running, conditioning, weight training and dedicate his time a little bit more into core strength and fine-tuning some of his skills ... to be a bigger, stronger athlete for the Pac 10 or Division I or the minor leagues.

"The other way would be that Justin could get a little big-headed and ride on those laurels ... and expect everything to come to him. If that happens, Justin will end up being a guy that pitches but that doesn't see his full potential.

"So I sure hope that Justin dedicates a couple hours a day to really give his body a chance to be the best it can be."

Being the best he can be is what Justin says his life is all about.

"There's a lot of things I want to prove. I want to prove that Indian kids can get off the reservation and actually do something despite the stereotypes," Justin says. "I've always known that I'm not going to fail either myself or my family and I'm going to make something of myself. Hopefully I can come back and become a role model."

For now, Quaempts is headed to another season with Linn-Benton. After that, he says he will decide whether or not to pursue his major-league dreams or continue in college and pursue other dreams as well - like the College World Series and taking a major in communications. As for the Rangers, they have an option until next June and the next draft picks. The door is still open should Justin decide to walk through it.

"We were talking yesterday and he was seeing on TV all of these young kids who've gone into the pros and were being interviewed back in Florida and he said he kind of wishes he had signed," says his father. "But he's big. He's still growing. And he throws 92 miles an hour.

"He's just going to get stronger and better."