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A-A's watched, waited their turn

Jeff Dahn

Published: Wednesday, August 05, 2015



SAN DIEGO – The 13th annual Perfect Game All-American Classic will be played at the Padres’ beautiful Petco Park in this Pacific Coast city’s vibrant downtown at 5 p.m. (PDT) on Sunday, Aug. 16, and for the third straight year will be telecast live on the MLB Network.

With the MLB Network providing a live television broadcast and SiriusXM MLB Network Radio also offering a live feed, coverage of the PG All-American Classic will again reach a far-ranging national audience. Just in the last two years MLB’s telecast and broadcast of the game certainly reached most of the 51 class of 2016 premier prep prospects that will be playing in this year’s game.

“It’s a dream come true, to be honest with you,” East Team third baseman Joe Rizzo, a South Carolina commit from Oakton, Va., said after accepting his invitation to the Classic. “I’ve watched it (on television) previously the last two years and those guys playing those years were all big names. Being able to be selected and play in that is a dream come true, pretty much.”

Jason Groome is a 6-foot-6, 180-pound left-hander from Barnegat, N.J., with a 96 mph fastball, a No. 1 national ranking and a Vanderbilt commitment in his back pocket. He made it a point to tune into last year’s Classic because his older Tri-State Arsenal teammates Willie Burger and John Aiello were playing in the game. “They said they had the time of their lives, and that’s what made me make the decision to play in this game,” Groome said.

“It’s an honor to be selected for it, first of all, but coming from the East Coast it’s just fun playing against kids from the West Coast in one game … and playing with a bunch of kids I’ll be able to get to know and become friends with,” he continued. “It’s kind of cool being around that atmosphere where all the players have the same talent level; it just makes you play that much better.”

MLB Network viewers and MLB Network Radio listeners coast-to-coast will be treated to an all-star amateur affair that features 16 of the top 20 nationally ranked high school seniors.

That includes six pitchers and a catcher on the East Team with head coach Tim Held from Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati, and six position players and three right-handers on the West Team with head coach Jeff Sherman from Marcus High School in Flower Mound, Tex.

The East’s top-ranked national prospects include No. 1 Groome; No. 2 right-hander Austin Bergner (Windermere, Fla., North Carolina commit); No. 3 right-hander Ian Anderson (Rexford, N.Y., Vanderbilt); No. 12 right-hander Joshua Lowe (Marietta, Ga., Florida State); No. 15 catcher Herbert Iser (Miami, U. of Miami); No. 17 left-hander Jeff Belge (Syracuse, N.Y., St. John’s) and No. 20 lefty Braxton Garrett (Florence, Ala., Vanderbilt).

The East’s Carlos A. Cortes, a standout both-handed second baseman, outfielder and pitcher from Oviedo, Fla., who has committed to South Carolina, comes into the Classic as the country’s No. 36-ranked prospect after enjoying a standout summer.

He was named to the prestigious Top Prospect List at the PG National Showcase in mid-June and then was named the Most Valuable Player after helping the Orlando Scorpions Prime to the PG national championship at the 17u PG World Series late last month. He’s just looking forward to playing alongside guys like those mentioned above, and putting on a show for the TV cameras.

“It’s something I’ve dreamt about for a long time; just trying to get to that position and being that caliber of a player,” Cortes said. “I’m just trying to be at the top, and I guess it’s a dream come true. It’s a blessing, right?”

West head coach Held will have plenty of sturdy lumber at his disposal to stack up against those often overpowering East arms. His starting outfield could very well be No. 5-ranked Avery Tuck (San Diego, San Diego State), No. 6 Blake Rutherford (Simi Valley, Calif., UCLA) and No. 7 Mickey Moniak (Encinitas, Calif., UCLA).

The West’s middle-infield will be occupied at times by No. 11 Nicholas Quintana (Las Vegas, Nev., Arizona) and No. 19 Cole Stobbe (Omaha, Neb., Arkansas); No. 18 T.J. Collett (Terre Haute, Ind., Kentucky) will be one of several options behind the plate.

Top right-handers for the West include No. 8 Kevin Gowdy (Santa Barbara, Calif., UCLA), No. 9 Reggie Lawson (Adelanto, Calif., Arizona State) and No. 10 Matt Manning (Elk Grove, Calif., Loyola Marymount). That adds up to a lot of highly ranked and regarded talent available for use in the West dugout at Petco, but no one can be sure if it will be enough to give the Westerners their fifth straight victory at the all-star event (West leads the overall series standings, 7-5).

The PG All-American Classic has always held special meaning for the prospects who call the San Diego area their homes. The appreciation they feel goes beyond the game itself to include all the activities that lead up to it, like the fund-raising efforts to benefit Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego and its pediatric cancer care and research, and the visit to the hospital itself.

“It’s a real honor and I want to make sure I can represent San Diego and go out there and get some exposure,” hometown hero Avery Tuck said after learning of his selection. “I just want all my family members to come out and hopefully I can make them proud.”

Avery’s father, Richard Tuck, became emotional when he learned of his son’s invitation to the PG All-American Classic: “This is very special. He’s worked hard for this and I’m just here to support him,” Richard said, his voice trembling slightly. “We have some family members right now that would love to see him perform at this level. His grandmother, she’s a little sick right now so this will be a great opportunity for her to see him play.”

Ben Baird is another California prospect from Agoura Hills in Los Angeles County who is especially looking forward to being involved with everything the Classic entails.  Baird’s name wasn’t announced when the PG All-American Classic Selection Show aired July 13 and he admitted to being pretty disappointed. Circumstances changed over the next couple of weeks and Baird was ultimately added to the West roster.

“I’m real honored to be selected and I’m real excited for it,” he said. “Honestly, I’m just going to go and have a good time and do what I can do, but I’m also real excited for everything else that goes along with it, especially visiting (Rady) Children’s Hospital; I think that’s the most awesome part of the event.”

Catcher/outfielder Blake Sabol is a Southern California recruit from Aliso Viejo, Calif., which sits on the Pacific Ocean about 75 miles north of San Diego. He has a special connection to the PG All-American Classic and Petco Park dating back to 2009 when his brother, Stefan Sabol, was named to the West Team roster. Las Vegas standouts Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant – now with the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs, respectively – were among Stefan’s West teammates.

“I went (to San Diego) and watched them play and I knew I wanted to be in their shoes one day, so it’s kind of cool that it actually happened for me,” Blake Sabol said last month. “It was one of those goals I made when I was little … but after I saw my older brother make it I thought the odds were against me. I made it a goal after watching him play with Harper and Bryant to make it to that game, and I’m just glad it came true for me.”

In late spring and early summer, baseball fans and aficionados found themselves with at least six reasons to reflect back on the 2011 PG All-American Classic at Petco Park, when six alumni of that event figured prominently in the news.

Carlos Correa (Astros), Lance McCullers (Astros), Addison Russell (Cubs) and Joey Gallo (Rangers) all made their major league debuts; Louisiana State shortstop Alex Bregman was the No. 2 overall selection in the MLB June Amateur Draft, and 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jamies Winston was the No. 1 overall selection in the NFL Draft. That’s some real star-power exuded by athletes that played in the Classic just four short years ago.

The honor of being selected doesn't come without a lot of hard work, of course, and this year’s prospects recognize that: “This means everything to me; it shows that my hard work is paying off,” the West’s Lawson said. “It’s going to be a great experience, throwing off a (major league) mound and playing with good, young talented guys just like me. I’m going to have a lot of family there, and friends.”

The West’s Dominic Fletcher, an outfielder/left-hander and an Arkansas recruit from Cypress, Calif., expressed the same thoughts: “I’ve been working for that my whole high school career and it was one of my main goals,” he said. “The game is going to be great and it’s going to be amazing to be on that stage. It’s supposed to be fun, but I always play with a competitive edge.”

These are the young prospects that grew up watching the PG All-American Classic on television, and for the past two years have been able to watch on the MLB Network or listen on the MLB Network Radio – or in the case of players like Sabol, watched it from seats at Petco Park.

In every instance, the stage and the exposure it provides is not lost on the guys who will perform under the bright lights in the early evening of Aug. 16. “As Perfect Game has gotten bigger and bigger, it’s become one of the biggest events you can get invited to,” No. 30-ranked West right-hander Charles King from Coppell, Tex., told PG at the National Showcase in mid-June.

“It’s really such a huge, big honor to be selected for such a big event and it’s something that every young player dreams about being invited to,” he said. “To be an All-American, especially with Perfect Game, is just a huge honor and I’m really excited to get out to San Diego and play.”

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