WEST ORANGE, N.J. -- Rick Porcello blossomed from a can't-miss prospect into a Gatorade National Player of the Year into a first-round Draft pick in 2007 on a field known unofficially in North Jersey as Mini Fenway Park. Verducci Field, tucked between foliage and the science building at Seton Hall
WEST ORANGE, N.J. -- Rick Porcello blossomed from a can't-miss prospect into a Gatorade National Player of the Year into a first-round Draft pick in 2007 on a field known unofficially in North Jersey as Mini Fenway Park. Verducci Field, tucked between foliage and the science building at Seton Hall Preparatory School, sported a left-field fence nearly 33 feet high, but just 280 feet from home plate. The Red Sox's future American League Cy Young Award winner battled that monster long before the green one in Boston.
So, in comparison, Seton Hall Prep's new state-of-the-art baseball facility, dedicated and renamed Porcello Field during a ceremony Monday, could be considered spacious. It is 315 feet down the line and 385 to center, and it has unforgiving gaps. On Monday, there was a Major Leaguer giving a speech on the warning track. As far as high school fields go, the new complex, located just northwest of Prep's campus, is as good as it gets. And it's certainly a pitcher's park -- "a little cozy," joked Porcello.
"This is the only way I know how to give back," Porcello told a crowd gathered at the field, which officially opened last year. "I think about how fortunate I've been to be a part of the Seton Hall Prep family."
Much of that extended family was in attendance Monday to see the school officially dedicate the field to its namesake. Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred joined a dais of school officials, community leaders, alumni, family and fans that gathered to welcome Porcello back to his alma mater.
"One thing that is often overlooked is how generous and community-minded our players really are," Manfred said. "This project is a great example of that."
Porcello starred as a shortstop and pitcher for Seton Hall Prep before the Tigers drafted him No. 27 overall in 2007. He spent six seasons in Detroit and is currently in his third in Boston, where he won the AL Cy Young Award in 2016. Donations from Porcello, who is signed to a four-year, $82.5 million contract, were integral in the construction of the complex, which is complete with an all-turf field and professionally-styled dugouts.
"While Rick was winning 22 games for the Red Sox and winning the Cy Young Award, at the very same time, work was going on on this project," Manfred said. "This project will serve young people here at Seton Hall for generations."
Porcello first grabbed the attention of scouts as a sophomore at Prep, during an emergency relief appearance in a game in South Jersey. Out of all his pitchers, varsity baseball coach Michael Sheppard Jr. put his shortstop on the mound.
"He was throwing BBs," Sheppard remembered. "A Yankee scout just happened to be in attendance. He asked me after: 'Who the heck is that?'"
Porcello gained a reputation as one of the best two-way high school players in the country before switching to first base as a senior to protect his arm. He hit 11 home runs to go along with a 10-0 record on the mound.
Shepperd recalled the story of a playoff game a week before the Draft in which Porcello, a projected first-round pick, risked injury by diving into first base trying to beat out a grounder. Porcello had a lot to lose; he signed later that year for $11.1 million, making him the highest-paid high school player ever drafted.
"Rick, we thank you for the many contributions you made to our program as a player," Shepperd said. "And now as an alumnus, for this generous gift."
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.