EMERSON, Ga. – One of the biggest accomplishments an amateur baseball player can achieve is to be selected to the Perfect Game All-American Classic. 50 of the top players in the country are invited every year to Petco Park in San Diego, California to compete in a game where the players from the East face the players from the West. The players get a chance to play on a big league field as well as have the opportunity to play against the other top players in the nation.
This year’s All-American Classic is set for Sunday, August 10. The rosters have not been set yet, and they will not be announced until Sunday, July 20, exactly three weeks before the event takes place. For San Diego local Drew Finley, though, he has already been selected.
“Being selected for the All-American Game is a great honor, and I’m glad Perfect Game gave me the opportunity to play in my hometown in front of my friends and family,” Finley said. “I set goals for myself at the beginning of the year, and the Perfect Game All-American Game was my top goal. It’s an indescribable and unbelievable feeling that I was even considered and selected as an All-American.”
Finley and fellow San Diego product Kyle Dean were the first two players in the 2015 class to be selected for the game. A press conference was held at Petco Park Monday for the two to announce their accomplishment.
“The press conference at Petco is just an awesome feeling,” Finley added. “They treat us well over there at our press conference hearing that you were actually selected as a Perfect Game All-American. Them telling you your accolades and everything just give you goose bumps. Being honored on the field in front of a couple thousand fans is just unbelievable. They gave us our own box with all you can eat food. It was just awesome.”
Finley grew up in the San Diego area and has been a longtime Padres fan. Having the All-American Classic be in his hometown at the same place his favorite major league team plays makes this game mean so much more. Being able to share this moment with the people who are closest to him puts the cherry on top of an all around special experience for him.
“It means a lot,” Finley said of having the game in his hometown. “I grew up watching the Padres. Everyone that has supported me along the way throughout my baseball career is going to be there, so it means a lot.”
Finley has been around the game all of his life. His father, David Finley, is the director of player personnel for the Boston Red Sox. Because of this, he has had the opportunity to spend time with many major leaguers. One of his favorite players is Tony Gwynn. Gwynn is a Padre legend who recently died of cancer. Finley and his family had a good relationship with Gwynn, and the news of his passing has affected Finley’s family very much.
Being able to suit up and play in the Padres stadium, although it is not the same one Gwynn played in when he was with the team, adds another element to this All-American Classic experience.
“Tony Gwynn’s death is truly tragic,” Finley said. “Him being the all-time Mr. Padre, being everyone’s favorite player, and him passing away so quickly, really brought the mood down in San Diego. I’ve known him my whole life. My dad’s known him, so it kind of took a toll on our family and the grief is kind of bad. But, we are going to play in his memory for sure when we play at the All-American Game at Petco.”
The high school Finley attends, Rancho Bernardo, is known for producing some incredible talent. The book Moneyball, later made into a movie starring Brad Pitt, highlights the school as “the factory” for the amount of high-level prospects the baseball program produces. The most notable name to come out of the program is Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels.
In the last two years, the school has produced two top draft picks and fellow PG All-Americans in Gosuke Katoh, a second round pick of the Yankees in 2013, and Alex Jackson, a first round pick by the Mariners in this year’s draft. Next year, Dean will transfer from Poway High School to team up with Finley at Rancho Bernardo in what is shaping up to be another star-studded lineup for the school.
His summer team, the San Diego Show, also have a rich history of developing talent. Brady Aiken, the No. 1 overall pick by the Astros in this year’s draft, was a teammate of Finley’s on the Show before signing his contract. Aiken, along with talents like Sean Bouchard, a UCLA commit, and his high school teammates, built a strong relationship with Finley. Those relationships allowed Finley to learn the ropes from guys that were older than him.
“Playing with A.J. [Alex Jackson] and Gose-K [Gosuke Katoh], then being best friends with Brady [Aiken] and Sean [Bouchard] is unbelievable seeing those guys how they work, what they do to get better, and how they play the game the right way,” Finley said. “Their scrappiness and their desire to win and their passion for the game really rubbed off on me. It gave me the desire to work hard and not be done with the game yet; keep going and keep grinding till the day I have to put my cleats up.”
Finley has followed in the footsteps of all four of his teammates in being selected to the PG All-American Classic. One of the special things that is done prior to this game is that Perfect Game gives back to the San Diego community by raising money for the Rady Children’s Hospital. Since 2003, the All-American Classic has raised over $800,000 for children's hospitals across the country.
Last year was the first time players participating in the game helped raise money. The three local players from San Diego (Aiken, Bouchard, and Jackson) each set a goal to raise a certain amount of money before the game. They each raised $5,000 by the day of the event and showed that these athletes can make a difference both on the field and off. This year, not only will the San Diego natives Finley and Dean be raising money for the hospital, but also all 50 All-Americans will.
“I love the opportunity to go into Rady’s,” Finley said. “I’ve done community service my whole life. It gives me an opportunity to give back to my community, and to work for such a great cause and to raise money is just going to be an awesome experience. Again, through Brady, Sean, and A.J. that did it last year, they told me all the memories and experiences they had throughout the whole process. So, Kyle and me are looking forward to it.
“When I get back home, we are going to go up there a lot and start doing it early. We’re looking forward to raising a lot of money because it’s a great cause and we want to do whatever we can do to give back to the community.”
Aside from his commitment to serving his community, Finley’s commitment to his team is just another thing that shows what type of character he possesses.
After his press conference on Monday, he took a flight from San Diego to Atlanta on Tuesday to come join his San Diego Show team for the end of the 18u WWBA National Championship. He joined his team Wednesday to pitch an inning in their last pool play game even after they were knocked out of bracket play contention with their loss a day earlier.
If it was any consolation prize, people around the park at LakePoint were refreshed to see a 90 mph fastball; something that Finley sported in his outing.
The Show finished the tournament with a 6-1 record, only allowing seven total runs. Their only blemish was a heartbreaking 5-4 loss to the Nelson Baseball School 18s. With Nelson Baseball finishing with a 6-0-1 record, they took the pool and knocked the Show out of the tournament. Had Finley been able to be at the tournament earlier, maybe things would have worked out differently.
Head coach Brian Cain acknowledged the fact that having Finley before Wednesday may have helped the team win the pool, but the press conference for the PG All-American Classic was more important for Finley.
“Would it have helped?” Cain said of having Finley the entire tournament. “Oh yeah, obviously it would’ve helped. We like all of our guys to be here. Unfortunately, that is not always the case because of other circumstances, and we totally understand that. That’s what we are here for.
“Having him in yesterday would have helped solidify playoffs. We were in a pretty good position. But it’s like I tell everyone, this tournament is a barnburner. You have one bad inning, and that’s what we had. We had one bad inning. It’s tough to play seven games and have one bad inning.”
The positive news for the Show as they stick around for the 17u WWBA National Championship is that Finley is here now and ready to go. Having him in the 18u tournament would have limited his innings in the 17u tournament. Now, that he only threw an inning this past week, he will be ready to go in full force to try to lead his team to a ring in the very competitive 17u event.