Tournaments : : Story
Thursday, September 23, 2010

NorCal develops top-notch talent

Jeff Dahn        

It’s the kind of prestigious alumni list that Harvard Law School might produce when talk turns to prominent judges and lawyers, or John Hopkins Medical School could whip-out when the conversation turns to research doctors.

Those comparisons may be a bit of a stretch, but NorCal Baseball, a program consisting of youth age-group travel teams (18U, 17U, 16U, 15U and 14U) and based in Northern California’s San Roman Valley, can produce lengthy lists of successful alumni who moved on to enjoy stellar collegiate and professional careers.

NorCal Baseball was founded by Rob Bruno in the fall of 1991, and more than 300 NorCal alumni have received baseball scholarships from NCAA Division I colleges and universities.

Having more than 300 D-I scholarships awarded to its alumni is an impressive number for any kind of youth sports organization.

“We want to bring great young men together to play against other great young men through the game of baseball,” Bruno said. “We do these things for the right reasons.”

Or, as it is articulated in a mission statement on the organization’s website

“It is our mission to create an environment for young athletes to achieve their dreams of playing college and professional baseball. We also believe that through the game of baseball we can help build character and determination that will be an asset to our players not only for the game, but for life.”

Bruno said 90 NorCal Baseball alumni have played baseball professionally, including 24 that reached the Major Leagues. When conversation turns to Major League Baseball – like prominent judges from Harvard Law or researchers at John Hopkins – NorCal can throw out the names of alumni that include Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, Xavier Nady, Troy Tulowitzki, J.P. Howell, Reed Johnson, and Brandon Morrow.

Eleven former NorCal players have been first-round picks in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, and 28 former players were chosen in June’s 2010 draft.

NorCal teams have won national championships at all five age levels through the years, including the CABA 15U World Series in early August. The program was loaded again this summer at every age level.

Outfielder Shawon Dunston Jr. (2011, Fremont, Calif.), outfielder/pitcher Billy Flamion (2011, Modesto, Calif.), right-hander Joe Ross (2011, Oakland, Calif.), and righty Robert Stephenson (2011, Martinez, Calif.) were all selected to the West team at the Aflac All-American Baseball Classic played Aug. 15 in San Diego.

Bruno said he and his associates spent most of the first 10 years in their operation just watching youth baseball leagues in the Bay Area in attempt to recognize the top talent and bring it to NorCal Baseball. But Bruno was looking for more than raw talent. He was also looking for talented kids with intelligence and sound moral character that came from supportive families.

“The biggest reason these young men are successful is their parents,” Bruno said. “We have wonderful family support and none of this could be done without that support.”

Most of the players at NorCal are brought into the program for the opportunity it affords to play in Perfect Game USA events and other national tournaments and get noticed by college coaches and pro scouts. It’s obviously working.

“We’ve had over 20 young men a year, over the last six years, who are seniors (in high school)” get scholarships or get drafted, Bruno said. “That is our goal. About 90 percent of the kids are getting that (opportunity).

“It is absolutely gratifying that we can be a small part of their success,” he continued. “But we’re also just as proud of the correctional officers that have come through our program, the successful businessmen that have come through. The notes we get from young men that have gone through that say, ‘Without you guys I would have not got that college scholarship, and without that college education I never would have gotten where I did because I couldn’t afford it on my own.’”

Bruno said NorCal Baseball has benefitted greatly by its association with Perfect Game, and he said he plans to send a team to the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., Oct. 21-25.

“They’ve absolutely been outstanding,” Bruno said of Perfect Game. “They’re the gold standard of the industry. We’re looking forward to going to Jupiter this fall – we haven’t been there for awhile only because it’s been very difficult for us to travel with the economy and things – but we feel like in order to be the best you have to beat the best, and Perfect Game always has the best teams there.

“If we have a special group we want our kids to go out and play the best in the country.”

NorCal Baseball employs extensive fall and winter seasons that it uses for training purposes and also to select the majority of the next year’s summer rosters. This fall NorCal Baseball is fielding a junior high team, a freshman team, a sophomore team and a junior/senior team.



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