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Tournaments | Story | 6/16/2019

Chi Town Cream of the crop

Cory Van Dyke     
Photo: Jason Hodges (Perfect Game)

MARIETTA, Ga. – Making the journey from the Windy City to the Greater Atlanta Area for the 2019 WWBA 18u National Championship, there’s a collection of ballplayers who are the cream of the crop.

These players form the Chi Town Cream 18u team that has jumped out to a 3-0 start and look to be a serious contender in the tournament. 

The Cream’s roster is put together by head coach Chuck Reeder. He’s been filling the team with some of the best talent across the nation for the past 10 years, but his methods are a lot simpler than you may think. 

“It’s funny,” Reeder said. “I really pick the team by the seat of my pants. I’m not one of these guys who has 100 guys come out and pick the best 20 or whatever. It’s just word of mouth… I network and guys know the level of ability that I want. We just go from there.”

Comprising this year’s roster is a number of players from Chicago and the surrounding area. The other half is filled with players from various states in the midwest, plus a few players from Puerto Rico, namely starting shortstop Isaac Marte.

It’s Marte’s connection at the University of New Mexico where he’ll be playing baseball in the fall that granted the Cream some international flavor.

“I’ve become friendly with the coach at New Mexico,” Reeder said. “He called me and said, ‘Hey, I have this kid. I think he’s a good fit for your team.’ That’s Isaac Marte. Then I needed someone else, and one by one, the coach who coached Marte gave me the two other guys.”

Cream left fielder Jason Hodges treasures one last opportunity to play summer baseball before heading off to college. The No. 41 ranked player nationally in the 2019 class will play for Arkansas in the fall.

“I really just wanted to be together with a good group of guys,” Hodges said. “Before we go off to college and call another place home, you kind of want to do something with your hometown one last time. It’s a cool experience. I love being out here. It’s definitely a lot hotter than Chicago.”

While Hodges might not be used to the warm weather, his bat isn’t far behind on the thermometer after he blasted a grand slam deep into left field during the the 13-2 victory over GSA Gatorz-Navy on Sunday afternoon. Right now he’s focused on bringing the Cream a WWBA National Championship, but he’s got one eye on the College World Series, knowing he could join the Razorbacks at TD Ameritrade Park next summer.

“It’s a great feeling when you see your team in the College World Series,” Hodges said. “Going to a top notch program with great coaches and great guys. I’m super eager to get down there. Right now I’m playing with the Cream and getting ready for Arkansas.”

Joining Hodges as another anchor in the middle of the lineup for the Cream is Kendall Ewell. Ewell is the No. 210 player nationally in the 2019 class and he’ll be playing his college ball at Eastern Kentucky. 

Ewell joined Hodges (34th round - Cincinnati Reds) earlier in the month by hearing his name called in the 40th round of the MLB Draft by the Colorado Rockies. While both players will continue on the path to college, it’s still one step in the right direction of fulfilling the ultimate dream.

“It’s a blessing,” Ewell said. “I’m really blessed that the Rockies had the generosity to draft me. I feel like I earned it.”

The Chi Town Cream have had a number of players drafted over the years with the most famous being Alex Verdugo who’s put together an impressive rookie season thus far for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Reeder credits the joy that the team has while playing for the results yielded on the field.

“I know they enjoy themselves,” Reeder said. “When you’re on Cream, you have a good time. We play good, competitive baseball… Beyond baseball, we have a really good time. The kids enjoy it. We just had nine guys, ex-Cream players or present Cream players drafted in the past draft. It’s worked out.”

The pleasure of playing the game plus a tried and true method of winning baseball means the Cream is no stranger to success at Perfect Game tournaments. Over the years, they’ve won three Perfect Game tournaments, including a third place finish in the 2017 WWBA 18u National Championship.

“It’s one of the things in life that I know how to do is coach winning baseball,” Reeder said. “Coach good fundamental baseball with bunting and a lot of small ball. My formula for winning is pitcher’s who throw strikes and a tight infield. That’s it. If we have that we’re in every game.”

The greatest lessons for Reeder extend beyond the field with baseball being used as a vehicle. Most of the players on his team are attempting to carve out a career in the MLB, but the odds of that happening for all is slim. It’s why there’s an emphasis on some more big picture items as a member of the Chi Town Cream.

“I try and teach the kids not only how to play baseball, but how to be a good citizen and how to act properly,” Reeder said. “Because for a lot of kids baseball when you’re in high school is the most important thing. All of a sudden, boom, if you don’t go to the majors your career is over in a blink. I just try to teach them about life.”

In a field consisting of 48 teams, the Cream is exciting for the run ahead and likes their chances to be crowned champions at the end of the week.

“In my eyes we’re the best team here,” Hodges said.

“I’ve never won a Perfect Game tournament with a team, but I know with this team we can compete and definitely take it home,” Ewell said. “I’m looking to bring it home. Nothing else.”

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