Photo: Tyler Andrews

The last ride

Tournaments : : Story
Tyler Andrews        
Published: Friday, June 27, 2014

EMERSON, Ga. – The Major League Draft is an event that serves as the end of one career for a baseball player, and the beginning of another. The dream for most little kids when they put on their first baseball glove or swing their first bat is to one day become a professional ball player. They work their way up through the ranks of amateur baseball and sometimes college baseball until they finally become eligible for a major league team to call their name and select them to play for their organization.

The eligibility rules for the draft are simple, and they are widely known by people who are around the game. For Isiah Gilliam, though, his story proves that not everything, even set rules, is always so crystal clear.

On the Perfect Game website, Gilliam is listed as a 2015 grad with a 6-foot-3, 217-pound frame from Parkview High School in Lilburn, Georgia. Also listed is his commitment to play college baseball at Chipola College, a junior college in Marianna, Florida. Everything seems pretty normal. Then, at the top of the page, there is a column labeled MLB Draft. Under Gilliam’s it reads, ‘Round 23 by Cubs in 2014.’ This is where his story gets interesting. 

“I started high school in 2010, and it was a public school,” Gilliam explains. “But then after that year, I wanted to go to a private school. I went to private school for two years, and I came back to public school still thinking I was a junior. Since the academics were different I had to repeat a year.” 

At this point, Gilliam was under the impression that he still had two more years of high school and two more seasons playing high school baseball. 

“Then, when I went to Parkview, I was notified in March that I was technically a senior,” Gilliam added. “So, that made me draft eligible.” 

For almost the entire school year this past year and even into the beginning of the high school baseball season, Gilliam, along with Parkview’s administrators, knew him to be a junior. When all of that changed, his outlook on the draft completely shifted. Finding out he was eligible for this year’s draft only three months before the draft took place made his decision to go to college a little bit easier. 

“It was a family decision,” Gilliam said. “Since I was technically supposed to be in the 2015 draft anyways, I wasn’t really expecting to be in the 2014 draft. So, the money really wasn’t there, so I just decided to go to junior college for a year.” 

Now that Gilliam is officially a 2014 grad and plans to head to college in the fall, this summer will serve as his last opportunity to participate in tournaments like the 18u WWBA National Championship, play at the new Perfect Game Park at LakePoint, and play with his teammates from Team Elite Prime. 

“It’s pretty tough now that they just made LakePoint,” Gilliam noted. “So, it’s going to be pretty tough leaving here and playing with my friends as they go into their senior year.” 

Clarke Schmidt, another 2014 grad on the team who is committed to South Carolina, is another one of the many talented players that makes up Team Elite Prime’s roster. He, along with Gilliam and six other 2014s on the team, understand that this tournament and this summer may be the last time they get a chance to play together as a unit. The idea of going away to play in college is exciting to him, but he remains uneasy about not being around as amateur baseball continues to grow and leaving such a great group of guys he has grown up with. 

“It’s really bittersweet coming out here, especially knowing what an awesome complex they have here and how competitive amateur baseball has become,” Schmidt said. “It’s really fun. But then again, you are also looking forward to college, but saying goodbye to your friends is tough.” 

Romas Hicks, head coach of the team, has also built a strong relationship with many of the guys on this team. The way the Team Elite organization runs, most of the guys on their teams are from the same area and they grew up playing with each other. This 2014 class from this team especially has been one that Hicks and his fellow coaches acknowledge as one that has always been very close-knit. They realize how hard it will be to see these guys leave the program and go on in their careers. 

“The coaches talked a lot about how this is probably one of the more emotional classes just because a lot of these guys that we’ve had have been with us since eighth grade,” Hicks explained. 

“This is one of those classes kind of like in high school where we’ve had them for four or five years, so it’s not just where they come in and join our program for one or two years, we’ve had these guys for four or five years. It’s one of those times where it’s good to have them all together to see how far they’ve come.” 

Schmidt is one of those guys Hicks is talking about. He and his family have been affiliated with the organization for a long time. Schmidt’s older brother Clate, a pitcher for Clemson and a former Perfect Game All-American, also played for Team Elite starting in 2010. Looking back on his time with the Team Elite program, Schmidt cannot help but be appreciative for all this organization has done. 

It’s been truly a blessing,” Schmidt said. “When we were younger, my brother played for them. When I was 15 I started playing for them, and it’s been a blessing every year. 

As Team Elite Prime start their run in the 18u WWBA tournament in what is somewhat of a farewell tour for their 2014 players, they will look to give guys like Gilliam and Schmidt a championship before they leave for college. And, to do it at the newly opened park at LakePoint would be even sweeter. 

After a modest 1-0-1 start Friday where they gave up no runs, the team is on the right track to win their pool. Although it is still early in the tournament, Team Elite Prime looks like they can be a contender in this tournament. With the talent they possess, the chemistry they have, and the will to go out on top for their 2014s, this team has as good a shot as any to experience that coveted dog-pile that every baseball player wishes for.

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