CHESTERFIELD — It’s 1:35 p.m. and, on the biggest day of his life, the man of the hour steps to the plate. In the top half of the final inning, and with his team up 12-11, Jeremy Maclin blasts a deep home run just inside the right field foul pole.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone to see another glorious athletic moment from Maclin. But this one isn’t glorious at all.
The foul pole is a gutter. The bat is made of plastic. And the bases that he’s rounding are paper plates.
After getting up at 8 a.m. and making a trip to the mall, Maclin and others decided to play Wiffle ball. Because on this day, the day of the NFL Draft, Maclin will do anything to keep himself busy. It will only be a few hours until he is selected, and a lifetime dream of professional football will be achieved. But sometimes a few hours can feel like an eternity.
It’s 2:17 p.m., and despite the ESPN camera, the mood inside the house is just as light as it is between the two factions battling for backyard bragging rights.
Maclin’s lives, past and present, greet each other with hugs and handshakes. His first youth football coach, Chester Jackson, sits with his high school coach, Larry Frost. His mother, Cleo Maclin, meets the relatives of Maclin’s surrogate parents. Jubilation fills the house. This is a day unlike any other, and there is no mistaking it.
It’s 2:34 p.m., and Maclin’s surrogate father, Jeff Parres, bites his nails as he hurries through the kitchen. The draft begins in just under a half hour. There is a TV in each of the three rooms on the first floor tuned to pre-draft coverage, and each has its own board next to it with 32 team logos and a corresponding blank nameplate.
It’s 2:54 p.m., and the rush has begun. Lamps and tables are removed from the Parres’ seldom-used living room. Within the next 10 minutes, more than 50 people manage to cram around the widescreen Mitsubishi.
It’s 3:03 p.m., and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell steps to the podium to announce the start of the 2009 NFL Draft. Maclin is seated in the middle of the crowd, with three phones spread around. Just before he is selected, Maclin will get a call on the BlackBerry at his side from the coach or general manager of whichever team selects him.
It’s 3:45 p.m., and the first five picks have already been made. Maclin sends a text on his iPhone while the BlackBerry rests in his lap. An empty Gatorade bottle sits on the table in front of him while he works on another. There have been no surprises for Maclin thus far. The top five would have been a stretch.
The Bengals use the sixth pick on Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith. The Raiders are up, and it may be time. There had been talk among many experts that Maclin would be headed to Oakland, even if Michael Crabtree, the top-rated receiver in the draft, were still on the board. Everyone in the room is shushed as Goodell steps to the podium.
There is a collective groan. Oakland has selected Maryland wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey ahead of both Crabtree and Maclin. The fear now is that San Francisco will take Crabtree three picks later, and that the lack of teams seeking a wide receiver will cause Maclin to fall down the board.
It’s 4:16 p.m., and Green Bay has just selected Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji. Crabtree is almost sure to be next.
“Does anyone know a good joke?” Cindy Parres asks the now silent room.
No one does.
It’s 4:21 p.m., and after Crabtree is selected by San Francisco, Maclin removes his earpiece and microphone and makes his way outside to get some air. His best friend, Isaiah DeLeon-Mares, former MU wide receiver Will Franklin and Jeff Parres follow.
“I was just trying to keep him calm,” Franklin said. “I just said, ‘Six or seven teams passed on you. If you ever see them again, you make them regret it.’”
After a pat on the back from Parres, Maclin comes back in and sits down. It’s time for Gatorade No. 3.
It’s 4:54 p.m., and the Chargers have just picked. The BlackBerry sits silently on Maclin’s leg as he rests his head on his right fist. Jeff Parres announces the score of the Cardinals game, trying to play to the St. Louis crowd. The response is less than enthusiastic.
It’s 5:08 p.m., and the Cleveland Browns are on the clock. The BlackBerry rings. The room goes silent. A smile, once absent, is now a fixture on Maclin’s face. “Yes sirs” are intermixed with words like “fantastic” and “excited.”
The man on the other end of the phone is Philadelphia Eagles general manager Tom Heckert, and he has just told Maclin that the Eagles have traded up to get him with the 19th overall pick. Applause rings throughout the room. Cleo Maclin does her best to hide the tears under her large sunglasses, but it’s no use. The moment has come.
Maclin is forced to calm down the crowd several times as he speaks to several Eagles coaches. When the call is over, another round of applause comes, and Maclin is embraced by one family member after another.
“It’s something you’ve been dreaming for a long time,” Maclin said.
But even though the dream was an inevitable reality by today, Maclin still couldn’t have envisioned how good of a scenario he would find himself in.
The Eagles were one game away from the Super Bowl a year ago, and Maclin gets to be paired with last year’s rookie standout DeSean Jackson on the receiving end of throws from Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb.
“I’m going to a team that’s done it throughout the years,” Maclin said. “It’s just a good situation to be in.”
It’s 5:53 p.m., and the room has emptied out. It’s only been four hours since Maclin’s Wiffle ball victory, but to him, it seems much longer.
“It seemed like it took forever,” Maclin said.
But judging by the smile on his face, it seems like it was worth the wait.