Former All-Americans pass the torch

Matt Rodriguez

Published: Saturday, June 28, 2014

EMERSON, Ga. – Skim over the Midland Redskins roster for the 18u WWBA National Championship and you might find a few names you recognize, maybe from baseball cards, the nationally televised 2013 Perfect Game All-American Classic, or from all of the pre-MLB Draft coverage. If you’re a baseball fan who likes to follow some of the games future top prospects, chances are you’ll recognize names like Devin Smeltzer, Zach Shannon, Gregory Deichmann, and Justin Smith, who are each wearing the Midland Redskins navy blue and yellow this week.

The four former Perfect Game All-Americans highlight a roster that’s loaded with supreme talent up and down, ranging from the 2013 class to a couple of young 2016’s. The lineup the Redskins put together for the 18u National Championship games is comparable to having to face the ‘Murderer’s Row’ lineup of the ’27 New York Yankees; pick your poison.

Through just three games the Midland Redskins have tallied 34 runs, while surrendering just six. The team is hitting .344 (21-for-61) with 5 home runs already. Deichmann, Smith, and Shannon have all gone yard at least once while recent Red Sox draft selection Jeren Kendall has accounted for the other two home runs.

“It’s great getting to play with kids that are going to LSU and [the University of] Miami and all these huge schools,” said Shannon. “Everybody’s the top of the line. We make each other better because you see one kid busting his butt and it makes you wanna bust your butt harder.”

“We all bring something different to the table,” Smith said. “We all know our roles, so it’s a good mesh of people and it just transfers to the field.”

That was surely the case in the tail end of Saturday’s doubleheader when it came down to the last pitch of the game. With the bases loaded and two outs and the Redskins down 6-5 to Marquis Grissom Baseball it was Justin Smith in the batter’s box; probably not exactly who you’d like to face as the opposing pitcher in that situation.

Smith took a 2-2 pitch and lined it over the second baseman’s head to score two runs and send the Redskins home on top of their pool with a 3-0 record.

“I’m not gonna lie, I had butterflies going up to the plate. I felt it in my stomach,” said Smith. “It felt good to come up clutch with the big hit. Everybody wants to play hero a couple times.”

Another perk of having four former All-Americans on the roster for Midland is the experience and wisdom they can share with the younger guys who are starting to get serious looks from scouts and colleges. These four All-Americans offer their words of wisdom to the players who may be selected for this year’s contest played at PETCO Park in San Diego, Calif.

“Just keep working hard and have fun,” said Deichmann. “Just to be chosen for it is an honor in itself and to do well in it just makes it even better.”

“Stay humble and just go out there and play your game,” added Smith. “You can’t impress everybody, but if you’re doing your best and you’re playing your game and you get chosen, cherish it. It’s a great experience that not too many kids get.”

“Just live it up,” the southpaw Smeltzer said. “Have a blast. Go out and play hard and enjoy every minute of it.”

Smeltzer, who started on the mound in Midland’s first game of the tournament, giving up just one hit over two innings while collecting five strikeouts in the winning effort, threw two-thirds of an inning for the East in last August’s All-American Classic. It was an experience he won’t soon forget.

“It was awesome having fans, being on TV, all that stuff,” said Smeltzer. “It was just a great experience.”

Going to Rady Children’s Hospital was an experience for Smeltzer that he can directly relate to. In the summer of 2005, Smeltzer was diagnosed with a form of pediatric cancer that hospitalized him for two months. For him to rebound from that and eventually become one of the best high school baseball prospects in the country can be described as incredible, remarkable, astonishing.

“It hits home with me,” Smeltzer said. “Being able to go and give back and talk to the kids was very memorable.”

It happened to be the most memorable part of the trip for University of Miami commit Justin Smith, as well.

“Going to the hospital and working with the kids was a really cool experience,” said Smith. “It really showed us there are other things out there besides baseball.”

“It makes you realize that the life you have isn’t just given to you, it’s a blessing to have it and it’s a privilege,” Smith continued. “You see kids smiling more than you are at times who are just happy to be alive and breathing and having fun. It humbles you a lot to see what they go through and see how easy you have it to be able to go out and play baseball everyday.”

Smith started in right field for the East in last year’s Classic and went 1-for-3 at the plate with a run scored, which is an impressive performance in a pitching-dominated game.

“I truly had fun there playing under the lights on a big league field in front of a big crowd on national tv,” said Smith. “It’s a great experience and it was just so much fun.”

Smith played alongside Midland teammates Deichmann and Smeltzer, as well as first round draft picks Nick Gordon, Braxton Davidson, Michael Chavis, Grant Holmes, Touki Toussaint, and Foster Griffin.

“It all started at the Junior National [Showcase] two years ago,” said Deichmann. “I had a good Junior National and followed it up with a good National [Showcase] to get invited to the All-American Classic. That was one of my goals at the beginning of last summer and I just made it come true.”

Shannon is the lone Midland Redskin of the four All-Americans to play for the West squad in last year’s contest, but he got to experience it from the winning side, while doing a little bit of everything in the game.

The Cincinnati, Ohio native started the game at first base and got three at-bats, then came in for the ninth inning to get the save and experience the bottom of the dog pile that made ESPN the following day. It also happened to be Shannon’s most memorable part of the experience.

“Getting to meet all those guys and getting to play with Justin and Smeltzer and all those kids that got drafted this year, it was just a great experience,” said Shannon. “I’ve actually stayed close with a lot of kids I was with out there. I’d do anything to go back.”

After a shortened summer due to the transition to college, the four will go there separate ways. Smeltzer will head to Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Fla., Shannon to Chipola College, Deichmann to Louisiana State University, and Smith to Coral Gables, Fla. where he will become a Hurricane. All three have promising futures past the college level, as well.

“I’m looking forward to going in, working hard to fight for a spot, and I hope to be starting my freshman year,” said Smeltzer, the Voorhees, New Jersey native.

Deichmann, a Metairie, La. native, has chosen to stay in state and take his talents to Baton Rouge, where he will play for coach Paul Mainieri and the LSU Tigers.

“Getting to play under him and next to Alex Bregman, who’s the best shortstop in the country in my opinion, those are two of the main points I’m looking forward to in order to make myself better as a player, make myself better as a person, and get a good education in the process,” said Deichmann.

Deichmann was projected by many sources to go very early in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, but elected to opt out and honor his commitment to Mainieri and the Tigers.

“It was a tough decision,” Deichmann said. “It came down to about two or three weeks before the draft that I decided to pull out, but I’m a draft eligible sophomore, so that factored into it.”

Shannon, who suffered a severe ankle dislocation with a small break during at play at the plate down in Jupiter, Fla. during last October’s WWBA World Championship, has made a full recovery and enjoyed a successful high school campaign. Disappointed at how the MLB Draft turned out for him this time around, Shannon will attend a junior college, where he can be draft eligible again as soon as next year.

“I didn’t want to go to a three-year school because I just wanna play baseball,” said Shannon. “The draft didn’t work out too great this year, so hopefully it works out next year and, if not, I’ve got two years after that.”

In the meantime, he will enjoy a summer baseball circuit putting on the same uniform as his three All-American teammates; the same uniform former MLB greats like Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Larkin wore long before them.

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