High School : : Rankings
Monday, February 25, 2013

Leaving a lasting legacy

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

2013 Perfect Game High School Baseball Preview Index

T.C. Roberson High School in Asheville, N.C., is celebrating its 51
st year of existence in 2013, but it’s almost as if its storied baseball program has a history about twice that long.

In reality, that history probably dates back to 1983, when the Rams won the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) Class 3-A state championship. After a 17-year dry spell, TCR won 3-A titles in 2000 and 2002, and was the 4-A state runner-up in 2011 under current coach Eric Filipek.

T.C. Roberson, a suburban Asheville school with about 1,650 students, opens its 2013 season this week at East Rutherford High School in Forest City, N.C. The Rams are coming off a 26-3 season in 2012 when they won the Mountain Athletic Conference championship and advanced into the third round of the 4-A state playoffs.

“We’re really excited about the possibilities,” Filipek said last week when asked about the upcoming season. “We feel like we have a lot of talented players, a lot of guys that have skills to be very successful. The question mark right now is whether we’ll come together as a team and work together. Baseball is less about individuals and more about how a team comes together.”

The Rams enter the 2013 season ranked No. 7 in the Perfect Game National High School Preseason Team Rankings. TCR is the highest ranked team in PG’s Mid-Atlantic Region (North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware). A lot of programs dismiss rankings, especially the preseason variety, but Filipek practically embraces them.

“It’s exciting for our program,” he said. “It’s important to our guys because they work real hard (and) it’s important to our community because this is a program that has been strong in tradition for a long time. We do address it and we’re excited about rankings and things like that, but the bottom line is and what we try to tell our guys is, we just hope that that’s not the highlight of our year, the preseason rankings.”

Like most of 13 21st century TCR teams that proceeded it, the 2013 version is loaded with outstanding individual performers, including at least six that have already committed to or signed with NCAA Division I programs: seniors Nathan Blaylock (Liberty), Parker Johnson (Wake Forest) and Tanner Bush (UNC-Asheville), and juniors Braxton Davidson (North Carolina), Dominick Cammarata (Georgia) and Katon Harwood (Clemson).

2014s Davidson, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound first baseman, is the No. 12-ranked national prospect (No. 1-ranked first baseman); catcher Cammarata is ranked 140th nationally (No. 16 catcher); and right-hander Harwood is a top-500 prospect. Among the 2013s, Johnson is ranked 428th.

They will be guided for a third season by Filipek, who came to Roberson in 2010 after three seasons at nearby Asheville Christian Academy. Prior to that, the former player at UNC-Asheville had college coaching stops at UNC-Asheville, Western Carolina, Duke and Coastal Carolina. His teams were 53-31 in three seasons at ACA and are 52-10 in two years at T.C. Roberson.

The top prospects and their teammates on this year’s Rams team will be trying to live up to a legacy of success established by former coach Tom Smith, how the head coach at UNC-Asheville. Smith coached the baseball team from 1976-2006, won 478 games, 14 conference championships, four regional championships and the school’s three state titles.

Smith was blessed with outstanding talent during his tenure at TCR. At least nine alumni went on to play professionally, including current big-leaguers Cameron Maybin and Chris Narveson.

Maybin, who played in the 2004 (Perfect Game) Aflac All-American Classic and was the 10th overall pick in the 2005 MLB amateur draft by the Detroit Tigers, has been in the majors for six season, including the last two as the starting centerfielder for the San Diego Padres.

Left-hander Narveson was an effective starter for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2010 and ’11 (combined 23 wins) but missed all of last season after shoulder surgery. He’s looking to regain his spot in the Brewers’ rotation this season. Narveson was 13-0 with a 0.64 ERA on TCR’s 2000 state championship team.

One of the real up-and-comers is shortstop Justin Jackson, a 2007 TCR grad that was selected with the 45th pick of the supplemental first round in the 2007 MLB draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. Jackson, a 2006 PG Aflac All-American, played his sixth minor league season in 2012 with New Hampshire of the Double-A Eastern League.

Right-hander Darren Holmes, a 1984 TCR graduate, pitched for the 1983 state championship team and went on to enjoy a 13-year MLB career with nine organizations. Danny Montgomery, another member of the ’83 title team, played in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization for two minor league seasons and today is the assistant scouting director for the Colorado Rockies. Ronald Fair, yet another member of that ’83 squad, played a season in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Joel McKeithan, a 2010 grad, was drafted in the 39th round of the 2010 draft by the Colorado Rockies, and plays at Vanderbilt.

“The biggest thing about this program, and I don’t think it’s any big secret or it’s anything new, we really try to stress to our guys to leave some type of legacy,” Filipek said. “It’s important that they work to leave something behind for the guys that are going to come after them. The guys before us, the coaches before me, have all done that and when they do leave here, they feel like they’re part of a family.”

Many of the top T.C. Roberson players from the last decade hung up their TCR uniforms in late May and exchanged them for the often colorful ones worn by Dirtbags Baseball, the dominant Sedalia, N.C.-based travel ball organization founded by Houston Astros associate scout Andy Partin in the early 2000s.

Davidson, Cammarata and Johnson played on Dirtbags teams at both the 2012 PG WWBA 17u National Championship in Marietta, Ga., in early July and at the 2012 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., in late October. Professionals Maybin and Jackson, and many other Roberson grads that went on to play collegiately have also played for the Dirtbags since 2002.

“Those guys are definitely well-schooled, and they’re tough, and that’s what I like about them,” Partin said. “A lot of those guys are tough kids and they’re definitely skilled. Obviously, we think we help them out a little bit as far as the development process and putting those guys in different situations. It works both ways – we can get them ready for their high schools seasons and those guys get them ready for us in the summers; it’s a win-win.”

Partin has known Filipek for many years, going back to when Filipek was coaching in the college ranks. Partin enjoys mining the Asheville area, looking for those gems that will fill his Dirtbags’ summertime rosters before they move on to college or the professional ranks.

“If you look all the way back just the last few years … you’ve got some real good players (from that area),” Partin said. “You can look at population – it’s a pretty big area – and there’s definitely some excitement in that Asheville area. And it’s not just T.C. Roberson; a lot of those schools have got good players.”

Filipek and the entire TCR community take the most pride in the number of students who earn college scholarships while playing baseball at the high school level and with travel ball organizations like the Dirtbags. Even before becoming first-round draft picks, Maybin had signed with Southern and Jackson with Arizona State. It says a lot about the character of the young men wearing the Rams’ uniform.

“I just think it’s ambition,” Filipek said. “When you see players before you go on and do that, you see what it takes. With some programs where they don’t have it happen all the time, their guys don’t really know the hard work that it takes. It just doesn’t come down to the practices that we have, it’s the time (the players) put in on their own. We’re only with these guys throughout a season of three months and it’s what they do with their free time that helps them develop.”

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