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Showcase | Story | 1/5/2013

Baseballs trump golf balls

Jeff Dahn     
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- All things being equal, it wouldn't seem inappropriate if Venice (Fla.) Senior High school senior Nick Longhi was down at Tiburon Golf Club in nearby Naples working on his putting stroke instead of here at Terry Park working on his batting stroke.

Golf was the game of choice for both Thomas and Deborah Longhi of Venice, the parents of Nick, a top 2013 first baseman and outfielder prospect who is here this weekend for the 2013 Perfect Game World Showcase. Both parents played golf professionally -- Tom in some mini-tour events and Deborah on the former LPGA Futures Tour.

Tom officially "retired" from several business interests about six years ago, although he still maintains his status as a PGA professional and owns Longhi Golf Operations, Inc., which "specializes in corporate golf schools and outings" according to Tom's business card.

Tom and Deborah did put a golf club in Nick's hands at an early age, but as Tom recalls "he picked up a baseball and a bat when he was young and never looked back." Not wanting to be "pushy parents" the Longhis went out and bought a couple of buckets of baseballs and let Nick follow his dream.

"I told Nick, 'You have to ask me to go to the field, I'm not going to make you go to the field,'" Tom recalled Saturday morning while watching Nick perform at Terry Park. "The problem there being, he asks every day. Which keeps me busy every day."

Nick Longhi has developed into the country's No. 50-ranked overall prospect (No. 3 first baseman) in the class of 2013 and recently signed a letter of intent to study and play baseball at Louisiana State University. Perfect Game has him ranked the 132nd overall prospect in the draft, but that could go higher as the June draft dates draw nearer.

And that is why Nick and Tom Longhi are at the PG World Showcase this weekend. With the 2013 PG World Uncommitted Showcase and PG National Underclass Showcase-Session 3 also being staged at Terry Park in concert with the World Showcase, dozens of scouts were blanketing the fields at Terry Park during the first day of the three showcases.

"This is such a great event," Nick said Saturday. "They draw a lot of scouts from all over the place and it's a good event to get seen at. It's a big step in helping me to where I ultimately want to be with my career."

"These are the best things going for exposure," Tom said in a separate conversation with PG. "Perfect Game runs great events and we love the showcases. Nicky has got a ton of friends here and he really looks forward to this stuff."

Nick Longhi has been a Perfect Game regular since he first showed up at the Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational in June of 2010 as a raw but eager 14-year-old. This weekend's World Showcase is his 24th PG event, an honor roll that includes the 2011 PG Junior National Showcase, the 2011 PG National Underclass Showcase-Main Event, the 2012 PG World Showcase and the 2012 PG National Showcase.

He has played the last two years with FTB Mizuno and FTB Chandler in more than a dozen PG WWBA and PG BCS tournaments, and played at the inaugural 17u Perfect Game World Series in late July with the championship South Florida Elite Squad and PG All-American Zack Collins. He was at the 2012 PG WWBA World Championship in late October with the Cardinals Scout Team/FTB Chandler with PG All-Americans Jeremy Martinez and Chris Okey.

"There's no way that (too much) Perfect Game could ever hurt anybody," Nick said of his extended involvement. "Even if you come to a lot of (events), all it does is just let scouts see more of you and helps them to give their view. All the writers give their expert opinions that all those (scouts) see and it just helps a lot."

Tom Longhi has also enjoyed the ride Nick's been on and doesn't want it come to an end, which it almost surely will after this weekend's event. "I'm going to miss it," he said, before adding slyly, "I might hang around a few more years and look into an internship with PG because I just love watching the kids play."

"It's been a great process," he continued. "Ever since (Nick) was a little guy playing baseball I'd enjoy just sitting there watching all the boys play, but I especially like watching my boy, obviously. It's been a great process with the college thing and the pro thing now; it's a lot of fun."

Tom called it "flattering" being given the opportunity to watch Nick and the other top prospects close to his age perform at Perfect Game events, and also playing with FTB organization in general. "I think those are the best avenues to get your kid seen, there's no question," he said. "I'm just so glad that they're around."

Nick has also been give the exceptional opportunity to play his high school baseball at Venice Senior High. Venice won the Florida Class 7A state championship last year under the direction of head coach Craig Faulkner and assistant coach Mark Guthrie. The former major-leaguer Guthrie is also the general manager and head coach of the Florida Burn, a travel  team consisting of many of Venice players that won three PG tournament championships last summer.

By working with Faulkner and Guthrie at VSHS and coaches like Jered Goodwin and George Gonzalez at FTB, Nick Longhi feels especially blessed.

"I'm fortunate enough with high school and with travel ball to have coaches that know what they're doing and that can help me get to the next step in my career, and teach me things that I need to know," he said. "As the levels get higher and higher I'm going to learn more and more and I've just been very fortunate to have the people surrounding me that I've had."

He cited his associations with his high school and travel ball coaches and the people at Perfect Game as the reason he received the scholarship offers he did and also why he has received continued attention from the MLB scouting community. "All those guys are just great guys and they've helped me tremendously," he said.

Tom Longhi's semi-retirement has allowed him more time to follow Nick's burgeoning baseball career. Tom's father passed away when Tom was just 14, and since it was his dad who had taught him golf, he decided to pursue that sport in his late father's honor.

The thinking at the time was that swinging a baseball bat would screw up his golf swing, so Tom gave up baseball. He now spends his days watching his son play the sport he reluctantly put aside.

"Being without a dad since I was 14, I never got to turn around and see my dad watching up in the stands. I didn't want that to happen to Nick," he said. "I want to be there for every event. They say you can't buy time, well, you can if you're smart. So I bought a little time (by retiring early) ... and I wanted to steer him through the shark-infested waters. Baseball has been the best thing for him."

Nick has continued to improve every year with each passing showcase or tournament. He is a young senior; he won't celebrate his 18th birthday until the middle of August, 2013, or about 2 1/2 months after he has graduated from high school, so he could have some growing left to do. He is listed at 6-foot-2, 212-pounds in the PG World Showcase official program, up from 5-10, 175 when he was 14.

"You can see on the Perfect Game website from my freshman and sophomore years to where I am now," Nick said of his progression. "I feel like I've made some big strides in my game and I'm getting a little more athletic. Everything has got progressively better and I just want to continue to get better."

Nick said he narrowed his final two college choices to LSU and the University of Miami before deciding on the Tigers. He ultimately chose LSU after eliminating baseball from his thought process.

"I had to look at where I would rather be for college, and the surrounding area and the school and the atmosphere up at LSU just seemed like the place for me," he said. "It just seemed more in my comfort zone."

He has also started feeling more comfortable contemplating what possibilities the draft may hold for him: "It always creeps into your mind as a 17-year-old kid that you could be playing professional baseball as a job," he said while seeming to marvel at such a notion. "But you can't get too hyped about it because I've still got my senior year and I still have a lot of work to do before I get there."

Interest in Nick from MLB clubs has intensified in the last few months and he's had about a half-dozen home visits and several private workouts, according to Tom.

"Nick takes it all in stride," the father said. "He stays humble and hungry and that's what you've got have, the two Hs -- stay humble, stay hungry. I get nervous; he doesn't. He's got that ability to not let anything bother him.

"I think it said it best a couple of years ago when he looked at me when were coming home from a trip and said, 'Dad, when I step over that foul line I feel like I'm at home.' That's when I really knew he loved the game, and that was a long time ago."

A future in golf is not a possibility, and it seems like it never really was. It appears, all things being equal, that Nick Longhi's future is on a baseball diamond.

"I still play golf ... but baseball is just what I love to do," he said. "My parents would never take me away from something I love to do, so that's why I'm fortunate to have good parents that (support) me with my goals."

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