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.
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.
Moosic, Pa.) was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Right-hander Kyle
Rubbinaccio (2011, Manalapan, N.J.) was named Most Valuable Pitcher.
finished 13th in Perfect Game’s final 17U national rankings.
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
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
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.
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 of the baseball being played in the Northeast is rapidly
improving, thanks to organizations like Baseball U and Perfect Game.