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Saturday, August 27, 2011

From PG National to Midwest Top

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – It’s not often that a young prospect’s first experience with a Perfect Game event comes on what is arguably PG’s biggest stage. Guess it’s safe to say top outfield prospect Kevin Connolly doesn’t think small.

Connolly, a 6-1, 185-pound senior at Omaha Creighton Prep, was at Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium – home of the Class A Midwest League Cedar Rapids Kernels – Saturday to participate in the 13th annual Perfect Game Midwest Top Prospect Showcase. The PG Midwest Underclass is being held in conjunction with the Midwest Top Saturday and Sunday.

His appearance here marks only the second PG event he has attended, coming on the heels of an invitation he accepted to the Perfect Game National Showcase, held in June at City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Fla.

“I had a really good time when I went down to the National earlier in the summer and I felt like I had a good experience there,” Connolly said from one of the dugouts on a picture-perfect late-August morning at Perfect Game Field. “I wanted to come out here and taste a little bit more of the Perfect Game stuff.”

His first taste was more than a mouthful.

At the National in Fort Myers, he was joined by about 260 other top prospects from around the country, including a lot of the guys who went on to play at the Perfect Game All-American Classic in San Diego earlier this month.

The roster for Connolly’s National Showcase Columbia Blue team alone included PG All-Americans Josh Henderson, Keon Barnham, Chris Harvey and Matthew Smoral. He saw many more All-Americans on opposing squads.

“There were a lot of high-profile players down there and I felt like I got a lot of good experience against some real good pitching,” Connolly said. “I faced Clate Schmidt, who was in the All-American game, and I got to see a lot of good stuff and I feel like it prepared me for the rest of the (summer).”

A right-handed hitter, Connolly is Perfect Game’s No. 1-ranked prospect in the state of Nebraska and the 285th nationally.

He received a favorable scouting report and a 9.5 rating (out of a possible 10) at the National, and was hoping to ratchet his rating up to a perfect 10 this weekend. He took part in the outfield throw workout Saturday morning, and took BP and played in a game Saturday afternoon.

“I just want to go up to the plate and find a good pitch (to hit),” Connolly said. “You’ve really got to be swinging up there – at everything close, especially – and you’ve got to be aggressive.”

Connolly said he’s been working out a lot this summer as he just recently decided to direct his focus strictly on baseball. He formerly played football and basketball, and did a lot of running.

“I’m really starting to commit to baseball and I spend a lot of time on it all year round,” he said. “I’m just working on trying to better my body to play baseball.”

Connolly has verbally committed to play collegiately next year at Notre Dame, forsaking  instate offers from hometown school Creighton University and the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Whatever sales pitch Irish head coach Mik Aoki threw his way worked splendidly.

“I went up there on an unofficial visit and I met the coaching the staff,” Connolly said. “I felt like they have a lot of good players – and actually a lot of good Perfect Game players – and I really like what they’re doing up there. I told them I really want to take them back to Omaha where I live so they can meet the whole family.”

The College World Series, of course, is held in Omaha.

Connolly made the trip over here for this showcase from Omaha with his friend and classmate at Creighton Prep, shortstop Jon Hechtner, and Hechtner’s dad, Mike.

“Jon was coming up here and he told me about it and he said, ‘Hey, you should come up here with me. It’s a good experience and Perfect Game can do some good things for you,’” Connolly said.

Connolly’s father, Tom, stayed behind in Omaha so he could watch Kevin’s sister, Kelly, play soccer for Creighton University.

“She’s a senior, so she gets first priority I guess,” Kevin said with a laugh. “(His dad) can’t really go to all my stuff all the time.”

There should be plenty of other opportunities.

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