When nearly 20 high-ranking major league scouts show up with radar guns in tow to a high school JV baseball game -- yes, JV game, something's up. Something big.
That unbelievable scene at Mundelein a couple of weeks ago was the latest in a series of surreal moments that have piled up over the last year for senior pitcher Ryan Borucki.
The 25 pitches he fired off in that JV game against Fremd as part of his improbable comeback from a major injury drew the kind of attention reserved only for elite prospects, which Borucki suddenly is. And "suddenly" might be understating it.
Just one year ago, Borucki was a 5-foot-8 relief pitcher who could muster speeds of no more than 79 mph.
"I was pretty much a junk pitcher going into my junior year," laughed Borucki, who could be laughing all the way to the bank soon.
Borucki, a versatile lefty who had a whopper of a growth spurt over the last 12 months and is now 6-foot-4, has been told by multiple scouting directors that he could be snapped up within the first five rounds of the Major League Baseball draft on June 4. That could net him anywhere from $400,000 to $1 million in signing bonuses.
Add in the fact that Borucki has miraculously found his way back to the mound after being told earlier this season that a ligament tear in his elbow ended his high school pitching career and put him in line for postseason Tommy John surgery, and Borucki might want to start picking winners at the racetrack or playing the lottery with regularity. He's had one heck of a lucky, fortunate year.
"All of this has happened so fast," said Borucki, who also squeezed in signing a national letter of intent with the University of Iowa somewhere in the whirlwind. "I can't even believe it sometimes. All I know is that I definitely peaked at the right time."
Let's rewind back to that time.
Borucki, who was beginning his growth spurt, had just ended his junior season at Mundelein, where he was the No. 3 pitcher for the Mustangs and used mostly in less-important nonconference games.
He began pitching in the off-season with the travel team Top Tier and got a form letter one day about tryouts for the prestigious Area Code Games, which is essentially an all-star game involving the top high school players in America. Held in California, it is also one of the most heavily attended events by professional scouts and college coaches.
"I figured, 'What the heck, I'll try out,'" Borucki said. "It was for the Chicago White Sox area code team and they held the tryouts in this gym. I actually pitched really well, and hit like 90, 91 (mph).
"That night, I got a call to pitch in this (special game) at U.S. Cellular Field so they could see me again."
At U.S. Cellular, Borucki faced six batters and recorded 6 strikeouts.
"Then one day, my dad (Ray) got a text saying that I had made the area code team," Borucki said. "I was so excited."
But that was just the beginning.
Borucki went to California and wound up putting up the best pitching numbers in the entire Area Code Games. He pitched 3 innings and rolled up 5 strikeouts.
Later at a regional showcase, Borucki was clocked throwing 92 mph, making him the hardest thrower there.
"To be able to come out with such good stats against some of the best high school players in the country was so big for me," Borucki said. "Last summer was a big summer for me. It was the summer that changed my life."
After the Area Code Games and the showcase, Borucki was courted by all kinds of colleges, and contacted by all kinds of pro scouts. He settled on Iowa because he loved the school and the coaches, but he maintained that he would always remain open to the possibility of going pro right out of high school if the deal was right.
Life was good for Borucki, who entered his senior season this spring with a sturdier 6-foot-4 frame and a spirited drive to lead the Mustangs to one of their best seasons ever.
Major league scouts, convinced that Borucki has even more potential for physical growth, jammed behind the backstop with their radar guns to watch every start by Mundelein's crafty ace.
"I guess I got a little nervous, but mostly I loved it," Borucki said. "I loved being the guy that all of those scouts were looking at. I think they all see this tall, lanky skinny kid who can throw pretty hard and still has a lot of filling out to do."
In his third start, back in late March, Borucki gave the scouts an even bigger eyeful. He threw a no-hitter against Cary-Grove.
But after his big game, Borucki noticed a big problem. His left arm hurt. In fact, it hurt so much, he went to the doctor.
An MRI revealed that Borucki had a torn ligament in his elbow. He knew that meant one thing: that he would need serious surgery, Tommy John surgery, to repair it.
He also knew that he wouldn't be able to pitch again this season.
"I took that really hard," Borucki said. "I was really upset about it. But I just wanted to keep playing, so I asked if I could maybe play first base and still hit."
Borucki's doctor told him that would be OK as long as his arm felt OK.
The funny thing is, as Borucki played first base, his arm kept feeling better and better as the days passed.
And it seemed to get stronger and stronger, too.
"One game, Ryan was at first and went to throw a guy out at home plate and I swear it looked like he threw the ball 100 miles an hour," Mundelein coach Todd Parola said. "He had been telling me for a while that his arm had been feeling really good, that he was pain free. After that throw, I believed it."
Shortly thereafter, Borucki was seeking a second opinion.
He went to an elbow specialist at Loyola University Medical Center who used a more sensitive MRI machine on him. The results indicated only a partial tear in the elbow ligament, not a full tear as had been previously interpreted.
"The doctors said that they would leave it to me," Borucki said. "They said that there are a lot of major league pitchers out there who are throwing with partially torn ligaments in their elbows. As long as my arm continued to feel good, they said I could start pitching again. All I had to do was ease my way back in."
About a month ago, Borucki started pitching bullpens and word got out.
His coaches at Iowa came to watch and gave him their blessing with the understanding that someday in the future he may still need Tommy John surgery to repair the ligament.
The pro scouts were supportive, too. And by the time Borucki took the mound for that trial JV game against Fremd two weeks ago, they had all resumed their normal positions behind the backstop to watch him.
Last weekend, they returned again to see him pitch two innings in a varsity game against Highland Park, one of Mundelein's final tune-ups before beginning the postseason as the top seed in the Glenbrook South sectional.
The Mustangs are 32-4 heading into the regional final they host on Saturday.
"It's funny because the scouts told me that I actually look better and stronger now than I did in my first start of the season before my injury," Borucki said. "I have no idea how that's possible, but I do feel good and my velocity is up.
"I was a little nervous at first getting back out there. But it's my senior year and we have a good chance to make a run. I think my dad put it best: It's not like my arm is going to fall off if I pitch. It will just hurt again. I may need to get Tommy John surgery if I keep pitching, but there is a possibility of that anyway."
In the meantime, Borucki is hoping for a deep run in the playoffs, which might allow him to help the Mustangs from where he had always intended: the mound.
"This has been a confusing situation, that's for sure," Parola said. "I've never quite seen anything like this. Usually, when you have a kid who has been told he's got to have Tommy John surgery, he's done.
"But Ryan is feeling great, so I leave it to him. Having him back certainly changes things for us. It gives us a guy who is capable of dominating. It's still early, obviously. We'll have to see how his arm does. But he is capable of doing great things."
Great things, in one heck of a great year for Borucki.
What a great story, and it might get even better.
Borucki has already graduated from Mundelein and simply has baseball on his plate now. He's hoping to pitch in the tournament and then on June 4, he'll anxiously await the results of the major league draft.
"I'm just trying to embrace everything and enjoy it all," Borucki said. "I don't want to take any of this for granted. It's been a great ride."