'Personalized touch' leads Diamond Devils to 17U top ranking

Tournaments : : Story
Jeff Dahn        
Published: Tuesday, September 14, 2010

17U Travel Team Rankings

It doesn’t  boast dozens of teams or hundreds of players, but that certainly doesn’t make Diamond Devils Baseball any less significant on the national travel teams landscape.


Perhaps what makes Diamond Devils Baseball unique in that landscape is that it is relatively small when compared to some of the other programs and organizations out there.


“We have a little more, for the want of a better term, of a personalized touch,” Diamond Devils founder and head coach John Rhodes said. “Everybody knows who I am, I know who all these kids are, and it’s not just the top players on the top team, it’s everybody playing in the program. I think it becomes more like a family atmosphere and not just a baseball team.”


Rhodes, who calls Charleston, S.C., home, founded Charleston-based Diamond Devils Baseball in 1993. From humble beginnings, the organization grew “by offering the opportunity for the dedicated player to hone and develop the skills needed to succeed at the next level of competition,” according to a mission statement posted on its website.


Diamond Devils Baseball started its travel program right from the outset, but it only took place in the fall – late August, September and October. Rhodes was coaching American Legion baseball at the time and used the fall as preparation for the following summer.


“We started out playing at a lot of different places, and we went down to East Cobb (Ga.) back before the complex even existed,” Rhodes said. “We liked playing competition more than what we were seeing just around South Carolina, so we kept doing that for several years.”


In 1999, Rhodes gave up American Legion baseball and Diamond Devils Baseball became a full-time travel organization.


“It was a lot better exposure for the players,” Rhodes said of the year-around travel. “We were seeing a lot more college coaches in the fall than we did in the summer playing American Legion. And we expanded from being a Charleston area-only team to basically covering the entire state of South Carolina now. We also get some kids from out-of-state.”


As Diamond Devils Baseball grew in prestige, high school players began to take notice. The organization now receives referrals from college and high school coaches, former players and former coaches. Rhodes will recruit players occasionally, but most of the players land in the program through references.


Diamond Devils Baseball fielded nine teams this summer – two each in 15U, 16U and 18U and three in 17U – and those nine teams found room for 148 players.


The 17U Blue won the Perfect Game WWBA National Championship this summer.


The PG WWBA 17U National Championship was billed as the largest age-group baseball tournament in history with 216 teams. Diamond Devils Blue beat FTB Mizuno, 2-1, in the championship game on July 10 to wrap up a perfect 11-0 tournament.


Patrick Andrews (2011), a 6-foot-4, 200-pound right-hander out of Hilton Head Prep in South Carolina, was named the event's Most Valuable Pitcher. Third-baseman Hunter Cole (6-1, 185, Dorman HS, S.C.) was named the Most Valuable Player.


Cole is ranked 28th nationally and No. 2 in South Carolina in Perfect Game USA's top prospects rankings for the class of 2011. Andrews is ranked 138th nationally and fifth in South Carolina in the PG 2011 rankings.


“We’ve been able to put out a product where, our mission is to take good players, good people and play good competition in big venues,” Rhodes said. “We play in a lot of college facilities, and we were the first ones in South Carolina to do that. We travel all over the country and try to play the best competition that we can, and that’s why we play in Perfect Game (events).”


One of Diamond Devils Baseball’s stated missions on its website is to provide “a playing schedule that maximizes the players’ opportunities to play at the top quality facilities and to compete against top level teams.” That goal fits in nicely with Diamond Devils Baseball’s association with Perfect Game and its subsequent growth through the years.


“It certainly helped when we won the 18-and-under in 2004, and we won the 17-and-under this year and two years ago,” Rhodes said. “When you talk about the magnitude of the event that they do in terms of recognition, and the size and the level of competition, they’re the best. In the last five or six years, we’ve won three of those (18U and 17U) events, and that’s pretty strong.”


Rhodes took one of his 18U teams to Lincoln, Neb., this summer for games at the University of Nebraska, and then they traveled an hour east to Omaha to catch a couple of games at the College World Series in the final year the CWS was held at iconic Rosenblatt Stadium. Former Diamond Devils players were on the University of South Carolina team that won the CWS.


And there will be many more future Gamecocks in the years to come. Nine Diamond Devils players from the high school classes of 2010, ’11 and ’13 have already committed to USC. The Diamond Devils have also sent a lot of players to College of Charleston, The Citadel, Coastal Carolina, the University of Georgia and other colleges and universities in close proximity to Charleston. They have sent more than 260 players to NCAA Division I schools.


 “That’s the big thing,” Rhodes said. “It has led to the development of players who have gone on to be successful both in college, and now we’ve had five first-round draft choices, so obviously they’re getting attention professionally, too.


“It is by far the best thing that we do. I had a parent ask me a couple years ago when we had a summer that we didn’t win a 17 or 18 national championship, if it was a disappointing summer. I said, ‘Nope, every 18-year-old we have has got a college scholarship. So we accomplished what we set out to do.’ The national championships are nice, but it’s really icing on the cake. The best thing is to be able to see these guys playing at the next level.”


In addition to the college scholarships earned, Diamond Devils Baseball has more than 40 former players drafted in the Major League Baseball Draft, including five in the first-round, and has 26 former players playing in the minor leagues.


The Diamond Devils 18U team will conclude its 2010 season at the Perfect Game WWBA World Championship Oct. 21-25 in Jupiter, Fla.

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