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All American Game | Story | 8/6/2011

So Cal southpaws prepare for Classic

Patrick Ebert        
As the Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings approaches, it's easy to draw parallels between West teammates Hunter Virant and Max Fried.

Both are left-handed pitchers.

Virant, at 6-foot-3, 172-pounds, and the 6-foot-4, 170-pound Fried offer tall, lanky frames that point to endless projected potential as they continue to grow and add strength.

They both sit in the low-90s with their fastballs with the ability to spin sharp breaking balls.

Virant, of Camarillo, California and Fried, of Encino, live a little over 30 miles from each other.

Both have committed to play college at nearby UCLA.

In addition, Virant and Fried attended the Perfect Game National Showcase June 16-19 where they were invited to be a part of the All-American Classic. The National kicked off a busy summer full of high-profile events for each player, leading up to the pinnacle to be played at PETCO Park next weekend.

It was an honor to be named to a game that I've always wanted to play,” Fried said in a recent telephone conversation. “It was really exciting.”

As the Classic celebrates its ninth year of existence, with the last five being played in Southern California, both players have been watching the event with great interest over the years.

“I grew up watching the game, so it was really exciting to get the news,” Virant said of his invitation to play. “(Perfect Game) contacted my dad, and my dad asked me if I wanted to play in the All-American game, and I said 'of course.'”

Despite the fact that they do live about 30 miles away from each other, they didn't really know one another until they both went through the process of being recruited to play for UCLA.

We've gotten to know each other through UCLA, so we're pretty good friends now,” Virant continued.

Similar to watching the All-American Classic over the years, the stable of arms that have come out of UCLA hasn't gone unnoticed by either pitcher. Watching the success of a familiar face, former All-American Gerrit Cole, the first overall pick in this past year's draft, made it an easy choice for both young hurlers.

Coach Savage was very inspirational during my visit,” added Fried of his choice to play for the Bruins. “I felt like it was a place I could be very successful. It's a great program that offers a great college experience.”

The success that Head Coach Brian Savage has had developing pitchers got Virant's attention as well.

I really enjoy Coach Savage's presence, he's one of the best coaches in the nation. I'm hoping I can go there and get a lot better than I am now.”

And there is a pretty good foundation to work with for both young lefties.

Virant is currently ranked 10th
 in the nation overall and the first among all left-handed pitchers from the high school class of 2012. With long and loose arms and legs, it's easy to see the 90-93 mph fastball velocity he showed as the National Showcase in mid-June continue to improve. He shows the ability to add running life to the pitch, as well as a power curveball. His changeup also is an advanced pitch for a player of his age.

As good of his stuff is, Virant is quick to recognize that it takes more than the abilty to throw hard to enjoy success. His ability to throw all of his pitches for strikes while effectively changing speeds may be his best attribute on the mound.

Command is what sets Fried apart as well, armed with a nasty fastball-curveball one-two punch that gives him a similar power profile to Virant. Fried's fastball velocity was a tick below Virant's at 88-92 at the National, but Fried showed more consistent diving movement on his heavy fastball, with a similar overall combination of size, stuff and control.

Ranked 27th
 overall in the 2012 class, Fried also is a good all-around athlete, with above average speed and a smooth left-handed swing that could give him some value as a two-way player at the collegiate level.

While the allure of playing in such a prestigious event in a big-league stadium in front of a large audience as part of a nationally televised broadcast is an incredible experience for any young player, both sounded humbled when recognizing the greater importance of the event.

Proceeds of the Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings go to support the Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego and the ongoing battle against pediatric cancer.  Last year alone, 147,000 children with cancer were treated.

“I definitely want to play at PETCO to see what it's like to pitch on a big-league field,” Fried said of the overall experience. “But the hospital visit and the charitable aspect of the event are great, I'm really excited to do that. Anything I can do to give back and help others I really, really enjoy that.”

It's great. The kids look up to us and they want to be where we are,” Virant added. “It's a great opportunity to share a fun experience with the kids.”

In the meantime, there is still work to be done, and for the next week, both players will continue to hone their craft.

I've been doing a lot of working out physically, and throwing bullpens to work on my pitches so I'm as ready as I need to be,” Fried said of his preparation for the Classic. “I want to be able to relax (on the mound) and play baseball like I've been doing since I was four years old.”

Relaxation is key to Virant's projected success as well.

“(I will) probably just get my rest,” Virant said of the days leading up to the Classic. “I want to get out there and compete in a big-league environment at PETCO Park. Don't try to do too much and take my mind off of the added attention.”
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