FORT MYERS, Fla. – The 18u BCS Finals, which reached the mid-way point of its six-day run here on Tuesday, is the 32nd Perfect Game event at which James Matthew Crownover has been a participant.
Crownover’s incredible run to No. 32 began in late June, 2007, when he played for the East Cobb Astros 14u at the PG WWBA 2011 or 14u National Championship in Marietta, Ga.
Over the next four years, he would participate in 19 more WWBA National Championships, four BCS Finals (including this one), four other PG tournaments and four PG showcases, including the 2011 PG National Showcase, held here at City of Palms Park.
Crownover, a left-handed pitcher who calls Ringgold, Ga., home, has played a lot of baseball over the last four years at those 32 PG events on some pretty big stages, and in front of hundreds of professional scouts and college coaches.
No. 33 promises to be the biggest of them all.
When Crownover is finished playing at the 18u BCS Finals with the East Cobb Braves 17u team, he can next look forward to stepping on the field at PETCO Park in San Diego on Aug. 14 as a member of the East Team at the 2011 Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings (formerly known as the Aflac All-American Classic).
“It’s a great honor. Since I started playing at East Cobb, it was my goal to make that game,” Crownover said of his selection to play in the Classic. “A lot of hard work and a lot of dedication went into it, and I was lucky to be in a great organization like East Cobb and for a great organization like Perfect Game to pick me.”
Four years of steady toil and four years of putting his best foot forward in front of the PG scouts have paid off for Crownover. His fast ball has reached the low 90s and his “long, loose arm action” has been praised in at least one PG scouting report.
“It kind of gives you some validation, thinking that you’re recognized as one of the top 40 or 50 players in the country. It makes you proud to think of it that way,” he said.
This week, Crownover is trying to help the Braves 17u squad to another national championship. The East Cobb Braves won the 2010 18u BCS Finals and the East Cobb Astros won last year’s 17u BCS Finals.
This year’s Astros – led by Crownover and fellow Perfect Game All-American Classic selections Skye Bolt and Tucker Simpson – are less than a week removed from winning the title at the PG WWBA 17u National Championship in Marietta, Ga.
“We just won the 17u World Wood Bat, and we’ll get another ring for that … and hopefully we can get another ring for this,” Crownover said.
The tournament didn’t start on the highest of notes for the Braves 17u. They lost two of their first three pool-play games – getting outscored by a combined 21-19 – and were a little behind the eight-ball as they entered the second round of pool-play Tuesday.
They are grouped in their newly seeded pool with the West Coast Nine Devils (3-0), Citius Bandits (2-1) and Florida Baseball Academy Red (0-2-1). Crownover didn’t pitch in the Braves’ first three games.
Crownover has been playing baseball since he was 5 years old and also played football and basketball. He has decided to concentrate only on baseball, which now looks like a terrific decision.
“(2010) was my first year not playing football,” Crownover said. “I played fullback and linebacker, and I have that same aggressive mentality when I play baseball, too.”
Crownover, who carries a 3.98 PGA at Ringgold High School, has verbally committed to play college baseball at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C. He made the decision to become a Clemson Tiger very early in his development.
“The first time I pitched (on the Clemson campus) I was, like, 15 years old, and (Clemson) Coach (Jack) Leggett talked to me for about an hour-and-a-half after I pitched,” Crownover recalled. “I just fell in love with the place. It’s a small town, like my hometown of Ringgold. The only thing they got there is a big college – everything else is small-town – and I didn’t want to live in a big city.”
At the time Crownover committed to Clemson, right around Christmas Day, 2009, he made local sports history. He became the youngest athlete – he was 16 at the time – in Chattanooga (Tenn.)-area high school sports history to commit to an NCAA Division I school. Ringgold is right across the Tennessee-Georgia state line and is considered part of the Chattanooga metro area.
“I plan to stay humble and work on my game,” Crownover told the Chattanooga Times Free Press the day he made his commitment. “I want to become more comfortable with my secondary pitches and work on my velocity. It’s going to be fun, but I won’t stop working.”
Crownover has never stopped working and he has never lost his perspective. Proceeds generated by the Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings benefit the Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, a development Crownover couldn’t be any happier about.
“That really means a lot,” he said. “To do something for somebody else, that’s our purpose here.”