Simon says always hustle

Tournaments : : Story
Matt Rodriguez        
Published: Monday, June 23, 2014

EMERSON, Ga. – That perfect echoing ‘CRACK!’ sound made when a players barrels up the baseball so perfectly could be heard all too often on field 13 at Perfect Game Park South at LakePoint Monday morning as the Chain Stealth lineup, from top to bottom, put on a show.

Chain Stealth brought the lumber to the ballpark in a 7-0 win over the Denny Pritchett Jayhawks 15u, collectively compiling a very impressive 16 hits in route to their fourth straight win in the 15u WWBA National Championship, improving to a 4-0 record in pool play.

Five Chain Stealth sluggers had multi-hit games in the winning effort, including Christian Avant (2-for-4, 1 R), Josh Hatcher (2-for-3), Jason Shirley (2-for-3, 1 3B, 1 R), Leyton Pinckney (2-for-4, 1 2B, 1 R), and Austin Thompson (3-for-4, 1 2B, 1 R). Collectively, the team is hitting .360 batting average (40-for-111) with 12 extra-base hits, including two long balls.

“I’m very pleased by the way we played today. We hit the ball well,” said Chain Stealth head coach Derrick Simon. “We were really swinging the bats. The thing I’m most impressed with is our pitching and defense.”

The Chain Stealth having outscored its opponents 33-2 so far in the tournament. The most impressive statistic by far is the 0.00 for the combined earned run average. The pitching staff has surrendered just seven hits through 25 innings on the mound, while averaging more than one strikeout per inning.

“The pitchers are working ahead in the counts and hitting their spots, that’s what I’m most proud,” Simon said.

Four Stealth pitchers combined for the shutout, with Hunter Goodwin credited with the win after starting the game and going three innings, giving up just one hit. However, Simon said it’s not just the playable tools these kids possess that make them one of the best teams in the tournament.

“The strength of our team is our heart,” said Simon. “These boys never quit, never die, and never give in. I don’t think we’re the most talented team here, but in terms of our heart and desire, that’s the difference.”

A young team comprised of about half 2018 graduates and the other half 2017’s, Simon likes the advanced skills his players have and believes every one of them has a future in baseball extending past high school. One kid in particular stands out: a center fielder already built like a professional athlete, with the swagger of a veteran ballplayer. His name is Malik Spratling and just about everything about him is a mirror image of 2013 National League MVP and former first round draft pick Andrew McCutchen.

From his looks, to his hit tool, to his well-above average speed, to the way he patrols the outfield, even down to the black and gold uniform he wears, it’s like rewinding 10 years to when McCutchen caught the eyes of scouts during the Perfect Game National Showcase.

“He’s, by far, the most talented kid on this team,” Simon said. “He can run, throw, hit, hit for power; he pitched a little bit yesterday. In terms of talent, if I had to pick one kid who had the best chance to play at the next level, he’s the kid I would go with.”

His raw talent and athleticism was obvious when watching him play. Simon said Spratling is familiar with the McCutchen comparisons.

“McCutchen’s one of his favorite players and I hope he can turn out to be just like McCutchen,” said Simon.

This Chain Stealth roster is full of talent, though. You can pick any player, at random, on the roster and find some impressive tools about him. Austin Thompson, for example, remains one of the hottest hitters in the lineup, now hitting .571 (8-for-14).

“Austin is on fire right now,” Simon said. “He has the heart of a champion. I love his competitiveness, he’s a great team leader; I love that kid.”

Believe it or not, one of the big bats in the lineup is a rising high school freshman by the name of Leyton Pinckney. The 15-year-old catcher is 5-for-11 with a pair of doubles and a grand slam, giving him eight RBI on the tournament.

“For an eighth grader, he’s killing the ball,” said Simon. “If the game was on the line, him and Josh Hatcher would be the kids I’d want at the plate.”

Right now, Simon couldn’t go wrong with whomever he could choose to send to the plate. It seems just about everyone on Chain Stealth is seeing beach balls right now.

It also helps when you have strong team chemistry and a handful of very familiar faces.

The team originally started as the Stealth Bombers and the Stealth Baseball organization about eight years ago when the kids were seven or eight-years-old. They didn’t join the Chain Baseball organization until just last year.

“We still have five or six kids here from that original team,” Simon said. “It’s like one big happy family and that’s what makes these boys click. They don’t want to disappoint each other, they don’t want to disappoint the parents and coaches, and that’s the biggest thing I see.”

Simon is glad to have joined forces with Chain Baseball and Andy Burress.

“There’s lots of history in the Chain organization,” said Simon. “Lots of kids have gone on to play college, and some, pro ball and I think we’ve got some kids on this team who’ll have a great opportunity to follow in their footsteps.”

It’s a unique organization, according to Simon, one with unparalleled loyalty to each other. It’s an organization Simon described as having that mafia mentality.

“It’s almost like the mafia: once you’re in, you’re in and there’s no getting out. Once you become one of the black and gold you’re in,” Simon jokingly remarked. “In terms of success, it’s an organization that’s always gonna have your back, through the good times and the bad.”

With the talented Chain Stealth team, things are typically looking pretty good. They aren’t a team that loses too often. The way they win is what’s most important to Simon, though. They must win in conjunction with playing the game the right way.

“Sometimes we’ll win and I’m still not happy if we don’t play the game the right way,” said Simon. “One thing I’ve really been stressing is they’re at the age now where scouts are looking at them. You’re gonna have bad games, you’re gonna make errors, you’re gonna strike out, and pitchers are gonna walk people, but it’s the way you hustle on and off the field and the attitude you have after a bad at-bat, and that’s what I define as playing the game the right way.”

So, if you happen to be watching Simon’s well-coached Chain Stealth team, take note, college scouts and coaches, on not only how talented this team is in every facet of the game, but on how they hustle with heart and play the game the way it’s meant to be played.

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