Baseball U graduates to higher level

Tournaments : : Story
Jeff Dahn        
Published: Tuesday, September 28, 2010

No one questions that most of the best high school baseball is played in states with the warmest climates, where the kids can grab a bat, a ball and a glove and get up a game basically the year around.

That is not keeping many of the northern states from trying to keep pace, however, and in a lot of areas of the country year-round clubs, programs and academies are giving young players opportunities they’ve never had before.

Baseball U is an eight-team program based in Wall Township, N.J., which lies about an hour’s drive southwest of New York City and another hour’s drive northwest of Atlantic City, N.J. In five years of existence, Baseball U general manager and coach John Wells has watched talent levels soar in the Northeast and New England.

“Northeast baseball now, with the facilities and with what we’re giving them with the offseason workouts, we’re catching up to the players down south who are out there the year-round,” Wells said. “There are just more Northeast teams that are competing at a higher level.”

The Baseball U Prospects 17U team will visit a warmer climate Oct. 21-25 when it competes at the Perfect Game WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla. The Prospects earned a paid invitation to the World Championship after winning the Northeast Qualifier No. 2 at Baseball Heaven in Yaphank, N.Y., Sept. 11-13.

The Prospects went 5-0 at the tournament and allowed only one run on three hits during pool play. They beat Team New York, 4-3, in the championship game on a walk-off two-run home run from B.J. Bochicchio.

Bochicchio (2011, Moosic, Pa.) was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Right-hander Kyle Rubbinaccio (2011, Manalapan, N.J.) was named Most Valuable Pitcher.

Baseball U finished 13th in Perfect Game’s final 17U national rankings.

Twenty-one former Baseball U players have been selected in the Major League Draft in the past four years. Over that same period of time, dozens and dozens of players have been awarded about $5.5 million in college scholarship money, according to Wells.

Six Baseball U players from the class of 2011 have verbally committed to NCAA Division I schools: Rubbinaccio to Notre Dame; Bochicchio to Villanova; Mike Papi to the University of Virginia; Vinny Zarrillo to Rutgers; and Rhett Wiseman and Chris Harvey to Vanderbilt. 

This past summer, the organization had 180 kids playing on eight teams primarily from seven states – New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire.

Baseball U’s philosophy centers around giving kids opportunities and exposure, and Wells is going to make sure every one of his players gets a shot.

“It’s a good feeling when you can help a player get into school and help his future out,” he said. “It’s all about college scholarships first. The scholarship end of it comes first – winning, if it happens, that’s great. If a player makes a commitment to me, I’m going to give that commitment back. If the fairest thing to do means losing a game, then it means losing a game.”

Wells, a scout in the Houston Astros organization, formerly coached in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League, a summer league sanctioned by the NCAA that gives college players a chance to play during the summer.

Wells helped bring in freshmen from universities such as Tulane, South Carolina, Miami, Florida State and Virginia to play in the ACBL and find them housing for the summer.

“I spent four years doing that then I decided to see what I could do with the high school kids here,” Wells said. “So we started (Baseball U) up here with just one team.”

That was five years ago. Today, Baseball U Northeast, which Wells heads, fields five teams and its affiliate, Baseball U New England, has three teams with plans to add a fourth next year.

Baseball U New England operates on more of a local basis while Baseball U Northeast jumps onto a more national stage.

“We take their best players … and we go ahead and bring them to some of the higher profile events,” Wells said. “They do a lot of local stuff up in the New England Region whereas our top team, we wear the colors of the Houston Astros and we take them on the road.”

Wells took his top 17U team on the road for 28 days during one stretch this summer, and participated in a Ripken Baseball tournament, as well as tournaments at the University of Virginia, North Carolina State and North Carolina.

They spent a week at the Perfect Game WWBA 17U National Tournament at the East Cobb Baseball Complex in Marietta, Ga., where they finished fifth after losing in the quarterfinals to eventual national runner-up FTB Mizuno.

As both a coach and a Major League scout, Wells relies heavily on Perfect Game tournaments and showcases to get his players noticed by the right people.

 “To me, Perfect Game is the Bible for college coaches,” Wells said.  “Other than the local college events, I really don’t go to anything other than Perfect Game events because there’s nothing better. You know what you’re going to get from the staff, and you know college coaches are going to be there.

“It’s like going to a good restaurant – you’re going to go back if you know it’s going to be quality.”

 And the quality of the baseball being played in the Northeast is rapidly improving, thanks to organizations like Baseball U and Perfect Game.

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