As Missouri crushed Minnesota 20-5 on a sun-soaked afternoon April 8, a familiar face made an appearance at Taylor Stadium. Wearing a gray hoodie with "Mizzou" on the front, former Tigers pitcher Aaron Crow looked like just another fan sitting a few rows behind the home dugout.
What separates Crow from any normal fan, though, is that no other fan in the stadium went 13-0 with a 2.35 ERA for Missouri in 2008 and was the ninth overall pick in the 2008 Major League Baseball draft.
About a year has passed since Crow was mowing down hitters at Taylor Stadium, but he still can be seen there from time to time watching his former team. Crow and his agent Randy Hendricks turned down the Washington Nationals' contract offer last August, so Crow will re-enter the MLB draft in 2009 after playing in Texas for the Fort Worth Cats of the American Association, an independent league team that includes former Missouri pitcher and current Arizona Diamondbacks starter Max Scherzer. Crow said Scherzer told him to "hang in there and know it's going to work out.
So with some time to kill, Crow has been hanging around the Missouri baseball facilities, working out and staying in shape. On Monday, Crow threw a live batting practice session to Missouri hitters in which he used all his pitches -- a mid-90's fastball, a devastating slider and a changeup that coach Tony Vitello intimated was much better than it was in 2008.
"He's put in a lot of work into (his changeup) with others, and the guys catching and hitting against him said they saw a difference," Vitello said.
While Crow's slider is a great out-pitch, his changeup could be key in accelerating his progress to the major leagues.
"It's a lot better than it was at the end of last year," Crow said of his changeup. "I'm very confident in all three of my pitches and think they all should be better than where they were last year."
So, why was Crow in the stands at Taylor Stadium and not pitching somewhere in the Nationals' minor league system?
"It was a bad fit for the most part," Crow said of the Nationals. "I thought I would be better off going through the whole process again this year."
Going through the draft process again may ultimately help Crow's draft stock. San Diego State phenom pitcher Stephen Strasburg almost certainly will be the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft, so Crow's main pitcher competition for a higher draft slot will be North Carolina's Alex White, Oklahoma State's Andrew Oliver and Missouri's Kyle Gibson, who, along with Missouri reliever Scooter Hicks, picked Crow's brain over some ice cream.
"I talk to him every now and then about the process and how he deals with things," Gibson said. "He's a great resource to have because he's been through it."
Crow had only good things to say about Gibson, who has 75 strikeouts in 51 innings this year.
"He's had a great season," Crow said of Gibson. "He's going to be drafted pretty high. We should both be excited about what lies ahead."
Gibson didn't feel like there was any competition between him and Crow.
"If he gets taken seventh and I get taken eighth I'm not going to be too mad about it," Gibson said.