If you take a quick scan of the rosters for the 2014 Perfect Game
All-American Classic you're going to find some familiar names. After
all, big league bloodlines are often regarded as almost a sixth tool
when it comes to intangible qualities certain players possess.
Cameron, Nick Shumpert, Kody Clemens, Elih Marrero and Ke'Bryan Hayes
are the sons of long-time major-leaguers Mike, Terry, Roger, Eli and
Charlie respectively. Lucas Wakamatsu's father Don is currently the
bench coach for the Kansas City Royals and spent two years as the manager for the Seattle Mariners.
Parker Kelly and Kyle Tucker have brothers, Carson and Preston, who are prominent prospects in the Houston Astros and St. Louis Cardinals
to Jahmai Jones, whose late father Andre -- as well as his two
brothers, played college football at a high level -- Justin Hooper chose a path in baseball despite having deep roots on the gridiron.
father, Michael, was a standout for San Diego State in the mid-1980s.
His brother, Austin, is a tight end at Stanford, and his uncle Greg
also played football for the Cardinal. Another uncle, Chip, played
tennis professionally and was nationally ranked at the peak of his
while baseball may not be as rich in his blood as some of his PG
All-American teammates, the athletic pedigree certainly is.
hung up the cleats actually,” Hooper said in a recent phone
interview of his decision to focus on baseball. “My brother and my
uncle and my dad are all football guys, so when I hung them up they
were a little angry. But I had to pick one or the other.”
stands out on whatever field he's playing on as a 6-foot-7, 230-pound
athlete. Although he didn't attend the Perfect Game National Showcase
in Fort Myers, Fla. in mid-June as most of his PG All-American
teammates did, he did make the trek to Chula Vista, Calif. to attend
this year's Sunshine West Showcase in early June.
he quickly opened eyes, throwing free and easy in the low-90s,
peaking at 95 mph, while also throwing a curveball and a changeup. He
uses his stature perfectly to pitch on a downhill trajectory to the
plate, making his heat look that much faster. And he's also working
on a slider to help broaden his repertoire even further, and overall
enjoyed the opportunity the Sunshine West Showcase presented him
was a great opportunity to play with a bunch of other guys trying to
get their names out there, guys that like to compete and get after it
with a bunch of [scouts] looking at you.”
don't mind [the attention],” Hooper added, speaking specifically to
the attention players get from scouts and recruiters at national
level events. “Everyone that wants to go play in college wants to
play on a big league field. But for me, right now, I'm just the same
me, going along doing the best that I can.”
is a recurring theme in conversations with both Justin and his
father, Michael, who stresses the importance of not just looking at
one's short-term goals, but doing the proper things at a young age to
set oneself up for a lifetime of achievements.
is extremely important in this family,” Michael Hooper said. “We
leverage our athletic ability to kind of help you farther in life.
I'm not talking about a very short sports career. I'm talking about
building another kind of career for a long lifetime. My kids have
been fortunate enough to work hard and put themselves in a position
to set themselves for the back half of their lives.
sports does, it helps them get ready for life, the lessons in life.
How to win, how to lose and how to respect the game and move
life lessons imparted on Justin and his brother have definitely taken
much as I love baseball I want to play until I can't anymore,” he added. “But as much as baseball is a part of your life and
who you are as a competitor, there's always something after baseball
and you don't want to be the greatest [scratch] golfer ever when
you're 35 years old. You want to be able to do something in the
community, start my second career, making sure I get a good
work pays off. I've been blessed enough to be tall and have all of
the physical attributes, but also your mentality [is important], to
take that and put something towards it," he continued. "That's how most of my family
was. My uncle would wake up, early morning, and just go serve to
noboby across the court before school and ended up being ranked 17th
in the world. My [other] uncle was a great baseball and football
player. But he didn't want to go to the draft, he wanted to go and
enjoy Stanford. And now he has a medical [profession].”
recruiting process is something Justin got a taste for prior to him
going through it himself, as his brother, Austin, was deciding where
to continue his athletic career, and education, coming out of high
found that process particularly stressful, and didn't care to go
through the long process himself. Fortunately, he found the advice he
needed that he used to make his eventual commitment to UCLA from an
was at a family barbeque and Mr. Crawford, Brandon Crawford's dad,
showed up, and I was talking about how stressful it was to find a
college and the draft,” Hooper recalled. “He gave me the phone
and said 'here, talk to Gerrit Cole.'
was blown away by what Gerrit had to say. He absolutely loved UCLA,
and obviously going from the 29th pick to No. 1 overall I
think Coach Savage did a little something for him over there. I just
believe they can get me better [too].”
getting better is something Hooper has his mind focused on currently.
Although he doesn't spend the summers traveling across the country
with a travel team, he makes sure to put in his work close to home.
plays with his De La Salle High School teammates in a local league
called the 680 League, and makes frequent visits to Los Angeles
working with renowned pitching coach Tom House.
this place called Total Player's Center here in Pleasanton,” he
said. “I find an open cage, stretch, and just me loving baseball I
go through three or four buckets, a couple of hundred balls. I'll be
feeling it a little bit, but just getting out there [feels good].
It's a good hurt, and the rest of the day you feel productive that
you got something done.
now I've been trying to stay consistent, repeating my delivery over
and over again. I've been going down to see Tom House in LA and he's
fixed me up a quite a bit and fixed my mechanics. I actually got
finished with a 40-50 pitch bullpen and I was pretty on the dot. So I
feel really good and confident about my summer.”
addition to Hooper's eye-popping mid-90s heat, the Perfect Game
scouting staff got a first-hand look at Hooper's pre-game regime that
includes a series of long-toss, jogs and sprints before finally
heading to the bullpen to warm up for game action. It's a process
that has worked very well for Hooper as he looks to hone his craft,
knowing the process, and the discipline, is an important part of the
all of the hard work, discipline and focus has definitely payed off
for Hooper, who will be among the nation's top high school players in
mid-August at the Perfect Game All-American Classic at Petco Park.
The opportunity, in addition to the nationally televised audience,
will give Hooper the big stage he seems to thrive on.
my gosh. I absolutely was just speechless,” Hooper said when he
learned he was invited to participate. “I wasn't expecting to make
anything aside from just playing some baseball. It's so cliché, but
it's totally true, it's just an honor to be one of those kids to play
at Petco Park and play under the lights on a big league field.”
honor also hit home with his father, who wasn't shy about sharing his
pride and excitement for his son.
I'm an Aztec,” Michael Hooper said cheerfully. “Going back down
to San Diego and playing on the big stage, we're just honored to be
even thought of to come down there and participate. It's going to be
great for the event and we're just looking forward to seeing our son
go out there and compete.”
for all of the importance that Michael puts on education and putting
yourself in a position for a lifetime of success, giving back is also
a high priority. The fact that the Classic makes it a priority to
give back to the community and support the fight against pediatric
cancer is something that hit home with the Hooper family.
of the things we do every year is we go spend time at the children's
hospital in Oakland,” Michael said. “We talk to the kids as a
family and it's really important for us to give back and understand
just how lucky to be doing what you're doing. Whether that's playing
baseball or standing upright.”
again, the life lessons Justin Hooper has learned from his parents
have been embedded in his fiber, as he too is quick to recognize
there are much bigger things in life than playing baseball.
can't think of anything more important than effecting somebody's
life. I feel very fortunate that I can help someone else.”