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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The USA at Underclass Showcase

Perfect Game Staff        
FORT MYERS, Fla. - Top high school baseball players from around the United States converged on Fort Myers, Florida during the Christmas holiday break to attend the prestigious Perfect Game National Underclass Showcase. The more than 500 players were treated to an array of baseball activities in the middle of the winter such as defensive workouts, 60-yard dash times, and a minimum of two 10 inning games.

The talent level was spectacular - with many talented pitchers and position players showing their skills to the Perfect Game scouts.

But how did these players get ready for this important event in the middle of the winter? How did the players from around the country ready themselves for this Perfect Game National Underclass Showcase when the weather outside is frightful? With apologies to the Law & Order folks it really could be a solid reality television series.

Picture a pitcher and a batter walking down a tunnel. Then the slogan Pitchers & Catchers scrolls across the screen. The announcer states in a deep voice, "These are baseball players who want to get to the next level and these are their stories."

Calabasas, California (2700 miles traveled)

The 6-foot-6, 205-pound Daniel Berlind (Calabasas HS, Calabasas, CA) made a big impression with the scouts when he stepped on the mound. The junior from Malibu caught the attention of most onlookers when he stepped on the hill to pitch for the Dark Green squad.

Berlind said this event was well worth the cross country trip.

"This is better than other showcases because of the level of play and organization," Berlind said. "I think this event has shown me that I can compare to other good players."

Like the many local Florida players, Berlind said the warm weather in Malibu gave him an advantage at the Underclass Showcase.

"Being from California is an advantage because you play more," Berlind said.

Sandy, Utah (2500 miles traveled)

Catcher/third baseman Remington Wilson (Cottonwood HS, Sandy, UT) had a rough trip. His plane was delayed and landed in Tampa at 1:30 the morning of the showcase. After the drive down I-75 to the hotel in Fort Myers, Wilson was in bed at 4 a.m. To top it all off, the 5-foot-11, 180-pound sophomore had a stomach virus and was sick the entire trip.

But later that morning on only five hours sleep this trooper was out on the Red Sox Minor League Complex making throws to second base in front of various scouts.

"I just stuck with it," Wilson said.

He prepared for this event by playing fall baseball in Las Vegas and Arizona. The rest of the winter he worked on his catching skills with Kansas City Royals catcher John Beck.

"Working out with him helps me by him giving me extra pointers and drills," Wilson said. "I want to work 10 times harder to be the best that I can be."

Colorado Springs, Colorado (1975 miles traveled)

Joshua Chevalier (Air Academy, Colorado Springs, CO) decided that he would use the snow to his benefit in his preparation for the Underclass Showcase. The week before the trip to Fort Myer's he went on a family skiing trip.

"The skiing helped my agility," the 5-10, 155-pound junior infielder/catcher said.

He has actually been playing in an indoor league the past few months after participating in a tournament in Las Vegas. Chevalier said he hopes this event propels him into the eyes of the college recruiters.

"There's a lot of top prospects, which I hope will give me visibility to colleges," Chevalier said. "We got the Skillshow Video, so hopefully the coaches will look at my website and I'll be contacted."

Teaneck, New Jersey (1300 miles traveled)

The Garden State's Arthur Clyde Jr. (St. Joseph's HS, Teaneck, NJ) lifted weights with a personal trainer for the last few months. At last year's showcase he felt that he was not as strong as the other sophomores and wanted to change that for this event.

"Last year I got to see where I placed amongst other kids and how hard I had to work to get better," the 6-foot-1, 175-pound junior pitcher/third baseman said. "I decided I needed a lot of improvement because a lot of the kids were stronger than me and I needed to be in better shape."

Clyde said the best part of playing in the Underclass Showcase was actually playing baseball.

"It's great playing in front of all these scouts instead of staying in New Jersey where I won't be seen," Clyde said. "It beats being in the snow and indoors."

Beaumont, Texas (1025 miles traveled)

Timothy Ferguson (Beaumont West Brook HS, Beaumont, TX) trained for this event in baseball rich Texas. He worked out every day and hit fives times a week to try and improve on his performance in the USA baseball sponsored Junior Olympics.

"The talent here is a lot better than the Junior Olympics," the 6-0, 155-pound sophomore infielder said. "I need to keep getting bigger and improve my arm strength."

Ferguson said the Underclass Showcase is a daily reminder to him that hard work pays off.

"This motivates me to work out every day," Ferguson said. "My goal is to run below a 7.0 [second 60-yard dash] and to throw 78-79 [miles per hour] across the diamond."

Knoxville, Tennessee (800 miles traveled)

Jeffrey Lockwood (Halls HS, Knoxville, TN) worked all winter to prepare for the Perfect Game event. The 14-hour drive was rough on the first baseman/outfielder/pitcher, but it proved worth it when he was named to the Top Prospect teams at the end of the showcase.

Lockwood said the recent cold snap in Tennessee made it difficult to fully ready to showcase him.

"You have to throw a lot to get your arm in shape," Lockwood said. "I've worked hard all off-season at an indoor facility four or five times a week to hit and throw. Still, it's different hitting off a pitching machine than live hitting."

The 6-foot, 200-pound junior was happy that he decided to attend this event.

"The showcase is what I thought it would be," Lockwood said. "I like the format. You get so many looks here competing against the best players."

Lockwood added that he enjoys going to the Perfect Game website when he is home in Knoxville: "I enjoy looking up players names to see how Perfect Game rated them and how they are doing. St.

Cloud, Florida (205 miles traveled)

David Edwards (St. Cloud HS, St. Cloud, FL) showed early why Florida players might have a little advantage in this showcase. The 6-foot, 185-pound junior hit the first pitcher he saw over the left field fence.

"I didn't want to take pitches and get into a hole," Edwards said of the first pitch fastball he saw. "I wanted something I could drive and it was right there. It was belt-high and on the inner part of the plate."

On the mound, Edwards touched 90 miles per hour.

"I was working locations - not throwing hard," Edwards said. "It feels good to hit 90."

The infielder/outfielder/pitcher said taking batting practice at the school field helped get him ready for the showcase. He added that the warmer weather is an advantage to Florida players. He was impressed with the overall quality at this event.

"The talent here is a lot better than the other showcases I've been to," Edwards said. The other showcases only had one or two [good] players on a team.

Miami, Florida (140 miles traveled)

Albert Gonzalez (American Senior HS, Miami, FL) and Michael Rudman (Killian HS, Miami, FL) both should have advantages coming from the warmest portion of the country in the winter. But both players said they worked hard to get to the point where they could showcase their talent for Perfect Game.

"Miami has a leg up because we can play and practice all year round," Rudman said. "There are a lot of good players in Miami. The weather helps out a lot."

While Gonzalez worked out at his high school, Rudman had to improvise at his home.

"I practiced on a bullpen on the side of my house," Rudman explained. "I have a tarp that catches the balls."

Both players used this to compare their skills with players from around the country - not only the talent-rich Miami area. This was Gonzalez' second time coming to the Underclass Showcase, as he attended last winter as well.

"I got quicker than last year and showed a better arm on the radar," said Gonzalez a 5-foot-9, 150-pound junior middle infielder. I get to see the competition and see how hard I have to take it to get to the next level. I'm heading in the right direction, but not there yet. I wasn't nervous because I had been here before."

For Rudman, this showcase proved to him that he is as good as the other pitchers in Miami.

"I pitched real well," the 5-foot-9, 145-pound junior Rudman said. "I think I'm there with the other guys I play with [in Miami]. It makes me feel that I have a future in baseball."

And other locations (Hundreds of thousands miles traveled)

Players from more than 40 states attended this years PG Underclassmen Showcase. Here are the states that were represented. Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, West Virginia.

A shorter list is the number of states that were not represented. That list includes Idaho, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming.


In all these stories the players were thrilled to have the opportunity to face the top prospects from around the country. But to some this was also a cultural experience.

"It's fun to hang out with kids from all over the country and share stories, Berlind said.

And isn't that what baseball is supposed to be: fun and stories.
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