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Showcase  | Story  | 6/10/2014

Single-minded with a purpose

Jeff Dahn     
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – As a young athlete of single-minded purpose, Joe Skinner from Heathrow, Fla., has always tried to make sure that single-mindedness ends with a positive outcome. Take, for instance, this week’s Perfect Game Junior National Showcase, a three-day event that wrapped-up its second day late Tuesday night.

Skinner, a class of 2016 third baseman and shortstop who wears 185 pounds leanly on his 6-foot, 3-inch frame, had long envisioned the day when he would be suiting up for the PG Jr. National. That day came Tuesday when the recently turned 16-year-old alumnus of 18 Perfect Game events since 2012 put on his No. 15 Texas Orange jersey and walked out on the field at JetBlue Park.

“I’ve always dreamed of playing (at the Jr. National) ever since I started playing Perfect Game (events),” Skinner told PG before lightning and a light rain delayed the start of Tuesday afternoon’s workout session for a couple of hours. “I know this is where all the great players are at and I just want to show off my abilities against them. It’s just the sensation of being able to play baseball in front of scouts. Baseball has always been a love of mine and I want to play at the next level.”

That single-mindedness has benefitted Skinner in other facets of his still blossoming baseball career such as when he was determined to get on board with one of the country’s top travel ball organizations at a young age.

Sure enough, he played for Matt Gerber and the Orlando Scorpions at the 16u PG WWBA East Memorial Day Classic as a newly minted 14-year-old right out of the eighth-grade in late May 2012 and has been with the Scorpions ever since.

And 18 events later, the single-minded Skinner – who swings from the left side – arrived at the 2014 PG Jr. National. He came into the prestigious underclass event ranked as the No. 19 top national prospect in the class of 2016, and the No. 2 third baseman behind Oregon commit Spencer Steer from Long Beach, Calif. (No. 15 nationally).

“Joe has been playing baseball for a long time and he works really hard at it,” his mother, Judy Skinner, told PG on Tuesday. “Our coaches with the Scorpions are really good about giving him good direction and they said this is the place he needs to be. He’s going to come out here and try to do his best, and we’ll see how he performs.”

“I expect to go out and play 100 percent every time,” Skinner said. “If you come out and play tense you’re not going to do good. So I just try to come out loose and try to control what I can control. (The scouts aren’t) really something you think about. It’s definitely big, but when you’re in between the lines you’ve just got to focus on what you’ve trained for all your life.”

About six months after his Perfect Game debut with the Scorpions in May of 2012, Skinner made another determined, single-minded decision. In December of his freshman year at Father Lopez Catholic High School in Daytona Beach, Fla. – he will be a junior in the fall at Bishop Moore High School in Orlando – Skinner verbally committed to the University of Central Florida in Orlando. There were people who questioned why he would commit to a college so early, but his mind was made up.

 “UCF is perfect for me; it’s close to home and I love it,” he said Tuesday. “I never really realized it before I played for the Scorpions, but as I started talking to (UCF) I realized that it’s the perfect school for me. When all of (the incoming classes) get together at UCF … we’re going to make some noise.”

“It was a decision Joe felt really strong about so we supported him,” his mother said of his college decision. “Like I said, he’s working really hard to make sure he’s going to be ready for that level, and we’re definitely happy that he’s going to be somewhere very close where we can watch him as opposed to being far away where we’d never get to see him play.”

It’s always been this way, it seems, that dogged determination to make things happen. Skinner said he could remember his years when the family lived in St. Louis, and he would spend hours tossing a small baseball to himself in his bedroom. When the family moved to Florida and he realized he could play outdoors the year-around, he was really hooked.

“I remember when I played my first T-ball game,” he recalled, “I wasn’t very good but as I got on to it, it just happened for me.”

Skinner identified his father, Scott Skinner, has his true mentor, and not only in baseball, but with family, school and faith. “He always pushed me to be better and better,” Skinner said.

Scott Skinner is currently working in Afghanistan at a non-military job that he is contracted with through 2015. He makes it home as often as he can but it won’t make it back again this summer until August, according to Joe.

“It’s a lot easier these days with Skype and things like that,” Judy said. “We have good support (as a family) and I have good support at my work as far as being able to adjust my schedule for (Joe). My husband is doing what he’s doing to make sure both of our kids can get a good college education and it’s not going to be a stretch on us financially.

“He’s going to miss a couple of years (of Joe’s baseball career) but I text him during the games, and with Perfect Game doing GameChanger, he’s able to watch that online. You make sacrifices for your kids and that’s what we do.”

Skinner also pointed to Mervyl Melendez, the head coach at Alabama State University who also runs the Melendez Baseball Academy (MBA) in Daytona Beach, Fla., as someone who has helped him along the way with his baseball career.

“He’s probably the guy who gave me my confidence as a baseball player, back when I was about 11-years-old,” Skinner said of Melendez. “I remember the exact moment it happened, actually. I was in a tournament and I wasn’t doing very well, and he just looked at me and he said, ‘Joe, you’re the best freakin’ hitter in this tournament; just remember that.’ And right then, it just kind of clicked.”

And that leads to the relationship Skinner has cultivated with Gerber and the Scorpions’ organization. Skinner has played in 15 Perfect Game tournaments with the Scorpions and has been named to three all-tournament teams, including back-to-back selections at the 2012 and 2013 PG WWBA Underclass World Championships.

“I didn’t really get that much exposure before I started playing with the Orlando Scorpions,” Skinner said. “I remember coming and playing in tournaments with them and I would see scouts in the stands, and I would be amazed. That’s when I first started talking to UCF, and that mostly had to do with the Scorpions.

“I do hitting lessons with (Gerber) and … he’s got it all laid out for me and I just have to play ball.”

It’s interesting to note when considering the passion he possesses for baseball, Skinner has also been a competitive swimmer during his early high school years; he is undecided if he will pursue it this fall when he starts his junior year. He said the activity does wonders for his body baseball-wise but he feels like it’s time to direct all his energy toward baseball.

Time marches on. Back in January of 2013, shortly after Joe Skinner had verbally committed to UCF, his father Scott spoke with the Daytona Beach news-journalonline.com. At that time, about a year-and-a-half ago, Scott had already identified Joe’s single-minded mission.

“We know things could change. Joe knows he needs to keep working hard (and) he has to hold up his end of the bargain,” Scott told news-journalonline.com at the time. “He has worked really hard; I give him a lot of credit. He has a passion for baseball and it shows in his work ethic.”

Scott Skinner should return from his job overseas in time to see Joe complete his high school career. At that time the entire family will be able to sit back and appreciate what has been accomplished.

“My husband and I both enjoy watching Joe play,” Judy said Tuesday. “He works hard during games, before games and on his own and with the team, so it’s easy to make the effort now because he makes the effort.”