SURPRISE, Ariz. – With the bold red block letters “O-H-I-O” emblazoned on the front of their coal black jerseys and a sense of purpose evident in their demeanor, the players from the Team Ohio Pro Select program don’t pretend to hide their intent from anyone.
This is a team with a talented roster comprised mostly of top 2022 prospects from the states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan that is at this week’s Perfect Game 17u World Series wanting to show their counterparts from the West Coast that they can play with the best and do it with pride and humility.
“All we preach is having a good attitude and showing a ton of effort,” Ohio Pro Select head coach Brian Chad told PG on Wednesday, speaking from the Rangers side of the Surprise Spring Training Complex.
“Mistakes are going to happen and that’s what they should expect at the next level – you’re going to have your ups-and-downs – but now this is just fun; they’ve bought in,” he said. “We preach playing fast and these guys are running all day long, so right now it’s just building on what we’ve done all summer.”
Twenty-five of the 35 elite teams that are here this week come from the states of Arizona, California and Texas, which makes Team Ohio a bit of an outlier. But its appearance here this week marks the third time in the last four years that the Ohio Pro Select have been in attendance at the PG 17u WS, missing only last year due to Covid-19 restrictions. When they got the invite again this year, there was no way it was going to be turned down.
Team Ohio had been traveling the country a fair amount already this summer, or at least the Southeast. It was at the PG 17u National Select Championship in Marietta, Ga., June 17-20; hopped up to Hoover, Ala., for the PG 17u National Elite Championship June 30-July 4; and then took its shot at the preeminent PG WWBA 17u National Championship back in Marietta July 6-13.
It was interesting that the Pro Select enjoyed the most success at the WWBA 17u NC, finishing with a 3-3-0 mark; they went 1-3-0 at the 17u National Select and 2-3-0 at the 17u National Elite.
“Record-wise, I think we’re a lot better than what our record shows,” Chad said. “This is a good group of guys; they’ve grinded through it. Some of them aren’t used to being on the road this much but they’ve gotten a great opportunity to do this.”
Opportunity did indeed knock while the team was in Marietta for the WWBA 17u and three players were quick to answer the door. While at the event, ’22 shortstop Clay Wiesen committed to Tennessee Tech, ’22 catcher Aaron Posey to Kennesaw State and ’22 right-hander Talon Mihalinac to New Jersey Tech. It is, as has been said time and again, all about finding the right fit and those three were in the right place at the right time.
This Team Ohio Pro Select roster is stocked with class of 2022 top 500-ranked prospects, 11 of whom have made commitments to D-I schools (not all 11 are here this week). Fourteen of the players occupying the 23 official roster spots are from Ohio, five live in Pennsylvania and four call Michigan home.
Outfielder Skylar King, a South Carolina product, has committed to West Virginia; Ohio infielder/outfielder Shawn Parnell is a Cincinnati commit while Pennsylvania right-hander/infielder Dan Snyder has pledged to Louisville.
Also included in that group are Pennsylvania outfielder/first baseman Devan Zirwas (VCU), Ohio shortstop Gus Gregory (Wright State) and Ohio catcher Tommy Harrison (Miami of Ohio).
“It’s been a great experience, getting to meet these guys,” King told PG on Wednesday. “We come from all over, so there’s different personalities. We get to talk to each other, chill, play baseball; love the game.”
King’s Team Ohio teammate Gregory agreed: “There’s a lot of different personalities, that’s for sure. The thing that helps is when we get here with a new guy every weekend, we ride in the vans [to the ballpark] together so you kind of get to figure out what people’s personalities are like.”
The Ohio Pro Select did re-introduce themselves to the PG 17u World Series community in a pretty loud manner Tuesday night, cranking out 11 hits in a 12-0, four-inning victory over highly-regarded Phoenix entry 3D Gold.
Team Ohio received excellent production from the bottom half of its order in the win with No. 6 hitter Tommy Harrison contributing a single and three RBI; No. 7 Billy Adams a double and a single with two runs scored; No. 8 Gus Gregory a double, a single, an RBI and two runs; No. 9 Josh Dezenzo a single and two RBI; and No. 10 Anthony Grasso a double and two RBI.
Meanwhile, 2022 right-hander Dan Snyder and ’22 lefty Luke Schlimm combined on a four-inning one-hitter, striking out eight.
“I got in [Tuesday] around 2 [p.m.] and right away we went to the cages. It was nice because we were all at the cages, we all got to see each other because we all had just got in,” Gregory said. “So that’s kind of where it starts. We get to talk to each other and we kind of get reconnected. When we were up at the plate we knew that if we get on base the guy behind us is going to help bring us in.”
As Coach Chad tells it, this is a group of talented athletes that has stayed focused on their goal of playing college or pro ball once their high school years are behind them while staying just as focused on enjoying the ride on their way there. Chad has had the pleasure of being around some pretty darn good teams in the last six or seven years at Team Ohio Pro Select but he calls this group one of the best.
“Early in the season with how all the [high school] playoffs were set up in all these different states it took two or three weeks before we got everybody together; that’s why we kind of started a little bit slow,” he said. “But these guys have worked hard for each other.”
There is a special dynamic with this group that most high-level travel ball programs also try to achieve and that’s a feeling of togetherness.
In effort to promote what Chad referred to as a “college atmosphere” team members and coaches stay at the same hotel, travel to the fields together in vans on gameday, eat as many of their meals together as possible and spend as much time with each other away from the field as circumstances allow. That allows the players ample opportunity to do some serious bonding and strengthen their friendships and they’ve embraced those opportunities.
Chad did share with PG that the Team Ohio Pro Select has a sponsor who generously supports the team in a pretty profound way. Local Aurora, Ohio, businessman and former minor-leaguer Matt Carpenter has long helped provide any kid who wants to be a part of the program but may be lacking in fundamental resources with the opportunity to be a part of it all.
Carpenter doesn’t ask for anything in return, Chad said. He just gets true enjoyment from seeing these teenagers thrive in an environment they may otherwise wouldn’t have had access to.
The 17u age division has always been the Team Ohio Pro Select’s calling card but the program expanded by adding a 16u team this year. It was kind of crazy for the coaching staff during stretches this summer, but the 16u team recently completed its season and the PGWS will be it for the 17u’s so now there will be a couple of weeks of down-time before the PG fall travel ball season takes flight.
This summer has been crazy in other ways for all of the top 17u travel ball teams, mostly the result of persistent adverse weather patterns. The 1970 Brook Benton hit record “Rainy Night in Georgia” has become the state’s unofficial anthem and the 100-degree high temperatures the Phoenix Valley is experiencing this week are actually a reprieve from the 115-plus that was prevalent here a week or two ago. And yet, the boys from Ohio have persevered.
“Down in Atlanta I think it rained every day...but they found ways to work through it; they’re definitely really resilient,” Chad said. “We haven’t had anybody complaining about the heat. They just love playing on fields like this against great competition so it’s great to be out here.”
Team Ohio played its second game of the tournament Wednesday morning on the Rangers’ side of the Surprise Complex and was no less impressive than it had been Tuesday night, taking down Colorado entrant Slammers Holzemers, 8-2.
The Ohio Pro Select rapped out nine hits in this win, led by Miami (Ohio) commit Carson Byers, who had a two-run single as part of a four-run fifth and added a two-run home run in the top of the seventh.
Clay Wiesen singled, drove in a pair of runs and scored two others; Shawn Parnell singled and drove in a run and Devan Zirwas singled twice. 2022 righty Ryan Petro worked the first 6 1/3 innings allowing one run on three hits with two strikeouts and three walks.
“We always feel like we can win,” said the leadoff hitter King, who in the two games singled and walked and scored both times he reached. “We’ll come out here and play fast and just let the game fall [into place]...I’ve never played out here so this is a new experience for me, just seeing how these other teams go about their business.”
Two games into a four-game set of pool play games at the PG 17u World Series it may be the other teams in the field that are taking note of the way the Team Ohio Pro Select goes about its business. They’ve out-hit their first two opponents by a combined 20-5 and outscored them 20-2.
They’ve faced teams from the Phoenix and Denver areas and have pool-play games remaining against two squads based in Southern California: the Chicago Cubs Scout Team and the powerhouse CBA Marucci National.
Chad, who doesn’t really have to tell these guys a whole heck of a lot at this point on the calendar – not when it comes to preparation, anyway – does remind them that many of the guys sitting in the opposing dugout, the high-end players, are the same guys they’re going to be playing against in college.
You better figure out a way to compete against them now because you just might be competing against them under an entirely different set of circumstances in a couple of years, he tells them. And, of course, you might want to figure them out now because there’s a PG 17u World Series championship to be won and everybody wants to bring the summer season to a close on a good note.
Gregory. who calls Strongville, Ohio, home, knows what’s at stake: “With these guys, we’re all pushing toward the same goal: we all want to win and we all want to play hard,” he said. “We all work hard so it means a lot to wear ‘OHIO’. Although we’re not all from Ohio we all act like we’re from Ohio; we all act like we live in the same house.”