CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – There is no direct, mapped-out route from Missoula, Mont., to the Major Leagues, but 18-year-old Ben Roberts was hoping Monday morning that maybe something close to that passed right through Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Roberts and his father, Raphael, made the trip here from their home in Missoula so Ben could participate in the Perfect Game National Pre-Draft Showcase at the home of the Class A Midwest League Cedar Rapids Kernels.
It was a long trip – although the Roberts’ did fly from western Montana to eastern Iowa , and not drive – but long trips are the norm when you live in Big Sky Country.
“That’s the way we do it in Montana – we go a long ways to play a lot of baseball,” Raphael Roberts said. “(Ben has) always wanted to compete against some of the top competition – he’s never shied away from it – so this is just another day for getting an opportunity to showcase what he does.”
The PG National Pre-Draft was Roberts’ first appearance at a Perfect Game event. He and his father came in with high expectations and didn’t appear disappointed.
“It’s going to be good to come here and face better competition, better pitching, than what I’ve face,” Roberts said right before running the 60-yard dash, which he finished in a personal-best 6.65 seconds. “It will be a good thing for me to play against more difficult pitching than what I see back at home.
“I’m just coming out here to get some looks, you know,” he continued. “Coming from Montana, we don’t get a lot of that out there. It’s a good chance for me to come out here and get some good exposure.”
Roberts – a 6-4, 195-pound, left-handed hitting/right-handed throwing outfielder – had been noticed before receiving an invitation to come to the National Pre-Draft. Perfect Game ranks him as the No. 1 prospect in the state of Montana in the high school class of 2011, and No. 244 nationally.
There isn’t high school baseball in Montana, so Roberts has been playing since mid-April for a local American Legion team. Roberts played catcher, shortstop and third base as a youngster, but playing the outfield has always been his first love.
Raphael Roberts admits that Ben has probably been “hidden a little bit” but as a manager of a youth travel ball club, Raphael was able to get his son to out-of-state tournaments as often as possible. And while Roberts’ high school days are behind him, Raphael managed to get to him one final PG event before next month’s MLB First-Year Player Draft.
“We just want to showcase (Ben) and see what he can do,” Raphael said. “We want to get him exposed to some guys and see some different people, and it’s always nice to meet some different people. Ben realizes he’s going to meet and always see different people from all around the world if this is the path that he chooses with the goal of ultimately playing Major League baseball. The world of Missoula, Montana, is pretty small.”
Roberts has signed a national letter-of-intent to play collegiately at Washington State University of the powerhouse Pacific-12 Conference. His father was wearing an WSU Cougars ball cap at Perfect Game Field on Monday.
“It’s close to home and my parents will be able to come over and watch me and stuff,” Roberts said of his decision to attend college in Pullman, Wash., and play for Coach Donnie Marbut. “I really like the coaches – they’re really good guys – and they’re building a strong program. I really liked it a lot.”
There is always the chance that Roberts will never attend a class at WSU, of course, depending on if an MLB club decides to scoop him up in a signable round of the draft.
“I’ll definitely have an eye on it but I’m just kind of taking it as it comes,” he said. “I’m not forcing any decisions right now and I’m just waiting to see what happens. I’ve heard one thing, but then I hear another thing, so it’s hard to even really tell what’s true and what’s not true.”
His father said every opportunity and every option will be considered.
“It’s always been a goal of his to play (professional) baseball, whether it’s this year coming up after the First-Year Player Draft or whether it’s something he has to postpone for another three years,” Raphael said. “We’re just kind of in a wait-and-see mode because we don’t know where he stacks up right now. We’ll see what happens.”