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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Enjoying an eventful summer

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – A change of high schools right before his sophomore year that corresponded with a newly formed friendship with one of the best baseball families in Quincy, Ill., led to enlightenment for New London, Mo., right-handed pitcher Justin Tallman.

A 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior at Quincy Notre Dame High School, Tallman was at the 16th annual Perfect Game Midwest Top Prospect Showcase on Friday and Saturday eager to show scouts his increased level of play. He is coming off a summer in which he pitched in a pair of PG WWBA tournaments with the St. Louis Pirates and was anxious to get back on the mound.

“I just like getting out here and seeing how I stack up against other kids,” Tallman said Friday afternoon before making a start in one of the Midwest Top’s games played at Cedar Rapids Xavier High School. “Usually in high school you see ‘OK’ kids but when you come to Perfect Game, (the players are) legit. They come here to play (well) in front of the scouts and get graded (highly) and they wouldn’t be here if they’re not any good.”

Tallman, participating in his ninth PG event since August 2012, enjoyed an eventful summer. He pitched at the PG WWBA 16u National Championship in Emerson, Ga., and the 16u PG World Series in Fort Myers, Fla. – where he was named to the all-tournament team – and less than two weeks ago verbally committed to NCAA Division I Missouri State in Springfield.

“Their baseball program is phenomenal,” Tallman said of Missouri State head coach Keith Guttin and the Bears. “They share their field with the Double-A Springfield Cardinals and it’s well taken care of. The field is just beautiful and the campus isn’t bad itself. Once I walked out onto the bump I could just picture myself playing there.”

All of this happened relatively quickly for Tallman, ranked Missouri’s No. 12 overall prospect in the class of 2015. He didn’t enroll at Quincy Notre Dame until the fall of 2012, just weeks after he made his Perfect Game debut at the 14u PG World Series playing with FTB/Team Warehouse.

After getting acclimated at NDHS, Tallman became friends with Joey Polak, an impressive, athletic third baseman who has developed into the No. 32-ranked national prospect in the class of 2016, one year behind Tallman.

Tallman now works exclusively with his coaches at Quincy Notre Dame, including head coach Chris Martin, pitching coach Ryan Oden and assistant coach Rich Polak, Joey’s father. Martin played briefly in the Yankees’ minor league system, Oden played collegiately at the University of Central Missouri and Rich Polak was a Yankees’ farmhand for six seasons.

Jerry and Amy Tallman, Justin’s parents who were with him at the Midwest Top this weekend, quickly became friends with the Polak family, as well.

“Rich (Polak) has been a good mentor for (Justin) and he’s really helped him the whole time,” Jerry Tallman said Saturday. “And Joey’s such a good kid; we think of him just like ours, too. (Those) two have been hooked at the hip for the last three years, I’d say, and that’s good because they help each other out. The Polaks have really helped Justin a lot; that’s been his special training.”

Although they’ve been friends for only more than two years, Justin Tallman and Joey Polak sing the same refrains – “Me and Joey are pretty much like brothers,” Tallman said. “We’ve been everywhere together and it’s always fun to travel with him because this is our last year doing Perfect Game stuff together” – and walk down the same path.

When asked Saturday if he enjoys the camaraderie that comes from hanging out with other top players at PG showcases and tournaments, Tallman answered:

“It’s always fun to talk about where they’ve been, who they’ve talked with, who’s interested in them; it’s always good to kind of compare yourself to other kids. You always watch how other kids do things and sometimes it may help you or it could hurt you, but usually you can pick up a few things from other kids that can really help your game.”

When asked the same question while in attendance at the Perfect Game Junior National Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla., in June, Joey Polak, a South Carolina commit, responded:

“I really like seeing old friends and meeting new people; that’s the most important thing to me. Baseball, I feel like it’s a small world. Having my dad play in the minors, he calls people up and the next thing you know we’re in a tournament with a new team. It’s a small world and getting to know new guys from different areas is definitely important to me.”

While not has highly ranked as Polak, Tallman has picked up his share of accolades in his brief Perfect Game career. He was named to all-tournament teams at the 2013 PG WWBA Kernels Foundation Championship and at the 2013 PG WWBA Underclass World Championship –both while playing with Iowa Select Navy – in addition to his selection at the 16u PG World Series with the Pirates.

He was also included on both the Top Prospect List and Top Prospect Team at the 2013 PG Midwest Underclass Showcase, an event that runs simultaneously with the Midwest Top. The big stages seem to fit him nicely.

“It’s always fun when you get put into a situation like this at Perfect Game events, you know there are scouts out there watching you and it kind of makes you want to compete better and do better,” he said.

“Coming out here makes him compete; it makes him better,” Justin’s mom, Amy Tallman, said. “He really enjoys it, and I think that’s important, too.”

It was interesting to watch Tallman hang around in the sweltering heat and humidity with his PG Cardinal teammates – of which Polak was one – while they took part in the workout session late Friday afternoon; he was also with them early Saturday afternoon for batting practice.

His presence was noted because he didn’t participate in either activity, explaining that since committing to MSU as a pitcher-only, that will be his only action until the high school season begins in the spring. But he wanted to be there with his teammates.

Tallman played in the PG Iowa Fall League in 2013 but is forgoing a second season in the league to play with the St. Louis Pirates this fall. As part of that commitment he will be making the highly anticipated trip to the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., in late October.

 “They’re a bunch of good kids and good competitors,” Tallman said of the Pirates. “They know what they’re doing – they’re legit – and they always want to win so that really helps me out. I don’t have to worry about the defense backing me up or getting runs because they know what they’re doing.”

As for being in wet and steamy Cedar Rapids this weekend – it rained steady for almost three hours Saturday morning – Jerry and Amy Tallman said they were here because Justin wanted to be here; it’s that important to him and to them.

“He likes coming to these (showcases). He didn’t have to be here but he likes hanging out with guys up here,” Jerry Tallman said. “He knows a lot of the Iowa kids and he has a good time coming up here and playing with them. He doesn’t turn it down – if he gets a chance to come up here and be with the guys he does it. It’s good for him to know kids from other spots (around the country).

“We know some of the kids, too, and we like talking to the kids and their parents, and all the coaches.”

As for Justin himself, he can look forward to playing in at least a couple more PG WWBA tournaments this fall – most notably the PG WWBA World Championship – with his favorite teammate, Joey Polak.

“(Perfect Game) is a great organization,” he said. “They really get you exposed to colleges and pro scouts, and these things are always fun to come to. You get to meet new kids and see what you can do against the top kids in the country and the Midwest. It’s a great opportunity to come up here and play.”

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