Tournaments : : Story
Saturday, October 27, 2012

Yak West's All-American infield

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

JUPITER, Fla. -- Call it a 10-week reunion for a trio that has already earned the respect and adulation of the amateur baseball community, a respect and adulation that may next come from the professional baseball community.

Perfect Game All-Americans Dominic Smith, John Paul (J.P.) Crawford and Chris Rivera -- the Nos. 5-, 7- and 11-ranked prospects, respectively, in the class of 2013 -- are playing in the same infield at this week's PG WWBA World Championship for the first time since they were starters for the West Team at the Perfect Game All-American Classic in mid-August.

They are the starting first baseman, second baseman and shortstop for head coach Mike Garciaparra and the Yak Baseball West-GBG (Garciaparra Baseball Group) at the World Championship. It's only been 10 weeks since this trio of southern California prospects helped the West beat the East, 7-6, in the 10th annual Classic at the San Diego Padres' PETCO Park.

Smith was 1-for-4 with two RBI, a run scored and a stolen base at the Classic. Crawford was 1-for-4 with a run and two stolen bases and Rivera was 1-for-3 with a run. They are the only PG All-Americans on this Yak West-GBG roster but seven others are top-200 prospects in the 2013 and 2014 classes. The pro scouts gather in a cluster of carts when the team plays.

"Having two of the best hitting middle-infielders in the country playing with each other is pretty exciting, and obviously they draw a lot of attention," Garciaparra said Saturday morning. "And then we've got Dominic playing at either first base or the outfield to show his versatility, and a lot of people haven't seen him in the outfield so that's why we have him out there."

This is the second trip to the PG WWBA World Championship for both Smith and Rivera, and the first for Crawford. Smith was 4-for-6 with a double and three RBI in Yak's first two games this weekend (a win and a loss) and Crawford was 3-for-6 with a double. Rivera got off to an 0-for-4 start.

"I'm really happy to be down here because I know there's going to be a lot of real good pitching and real good competition," Crawford, who is from Lakewood, Calif., said Saturday. He also said that after what he's already experienced during his Perfect Game career, he's able to stay relaxed in front of the hundreds of MLB scouts. Bottom line, he's just enjoyed the ride to this point.

"I've met a lot of new people and a lot of new friends, so it's been a great experience," he said.

Smith, from Los Angeles, was obviously settling back into the WWBA World frenzy nicely.

"I'm glad to be down here playing amongst the top talent, and I'm glad that I was invited down here to play," he said. "It's a great experience with hundreds of scouts out here, and it's a great weekend . It's great for the people to come out here and watch some of the top talent that will be playing in the big leagues one day.

"I'm just having a blast and taking it all in and just having fun."

Rivera played on the Marucci Elite team that won last year's PG WWBA World Championship national title but decided to play this year with a team made up of about 99 percent Californians.

"I won it last year with (Marucci Elite), but it means a lot more to me this year because I'm playing with a lot more guys that I know," he said. "I'm playing with Dominic and J.P. in the infield, and it makes it all the better because we were (PG) All-Americans. It's a pretty special time out here.

"I played with quite a few of these guys that are out here right now, and a lot of these guys that are out here right now I just met, but they're all really cool," Rivera continued. "I've been having a good time with them at the hotel and out here playing games."

Smith was at this event a year ago with the Marlins Scout Team, although all his other PG tournament experiences have been with Yak Baseball West. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound left-handed hitter and pitcher with 6.9-second speed (60-yard dash) and 92 mph arm velocity has grown up a lot in the past year.

"My first year down here last year, it was overwhelming, playing in front of all those scouts," he said. "Now I'm older, I feel more relaxed and I know what to do and what to expect. I'm playing the game I've been playing since I was a little kid, and I'm having fun doing it."

Smith and Crawford have both verbally committed to Southern California -- Rivera is uncommitted -- and five other Yak Baseball West-GBG prospects have committed to D-I schools. The All-American threesome is all projected as 1st round picks in June's MLB First-Year Player Draft, and Garciaparra feels this event is a must-attend for everyone on his roster.

"It's very important for them to be here," Garciaparra said. "If you just walk around and see all the golf carts and see all of the pro scouts walking around, and you see all the colleges and some of our guys are uncommitted guys. It's a big deal for them to be seen on this stage, the biggest stage in the country for amateur baseball."

The southern California kids came as far as anyone to be here, but at least they're playing together, even if it's 3,000 miles from home.

"In California, we play together a lot, and actually we play together with Yak a lot," Smith said. "I love playing with those guys, and one day I just wish to play with them again. It's great playing with them and they're great players and great teammates, and I really love them."

Crawford concurred:

"I grew up with them, so our chemistry is really good together," he said. "I'm having a good time (playing with them) and this being our last tournament together, we've got to what we've got to do."

All three All-Americans know this leg of their baseball journey is coming to a close. They'll have one final spring high school season and then can begin anticipating the MLB amateur draft or a possible collegiate career. Either way, the next leg of the trip is mere months away.

"It's kind of heart-breaking that this is our last tournament together. If things work out, maybe sometime in the near future we'll get to play with each other (again), but it's awesome to play with these guys for the last time and it's a great honor to get to play with them because you never know what we're going to be doing in the future," Rivera said.

"It's been bittersweet, really," Smith added. "I've enjoyed all these years playing travel ball, and I'm kind of sad it's coming to an end; this is probably the last big tournament I'm ever going to play in. I'm just happy that I had a successful travel ball career ... and I'm just glad that God blessed me and I'm glad Perfect Game set up all these big-time events to help kids get seen. I'm just thankful, very thankful."

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