All American Game | Story | 8/10/2013

No shortage of greatness

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

SAN DIEGO -- The place Perfect Game All-American Brady Aiken calls home could only be located in one place in the United States, and simply pegging the location as "Southern California" doesn't narrow it down enough. No, Cardiff-by-the-Sea could only be in San Diego County, the home of perfect year-around weather and fish taco restaurants on every corner.

But San Diego County and all its magically named seaside and beach communities like Cardiff-by-the-Sea are also well-known for showcasing great ballplayers, of which Aiken is only one of the latest to grab both local and national headlines.

Whether these players go to work every day for Major League Baseball's San Diego Padres, or play at the University of San Diego, San Diego State University or one of dozens of top high school and travel ball programs that flourish in the area, there is no shortage of great players.

"It's a great baseball community and a great environment to play in, great atmosphere; you can't get any better than San Diego," Aiken said Thursday from the Marriott San Diego Mission Valley Hotel. "The high school competition is great and the travel competition out here is always good, too. Basically the competition throughout all of baseball here is just really good."

Aiken, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound left-handed pitcher who is entering his senior year at Cathedral Catholic High School, was hanging out at the Marriott as a member of  the West Team for this year's 11th annual Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings.

The Classic's first pitch is scheduled for shortly after 5 p.m. (PDT) on Sunday at the Padres' Petco Park and will be televised live on the MLB Network for the first time. This is the fifth straight year Petco has hosted the event. It is also the seventh time in eight years this beautiful city has hosted the Classic -- it was held at Tony Gwynn Stadium on the San Diego State campus in 2006 and 2007.

"It's definitely cool being able to do this in my hometown; my family and friends are all going to be coming," Aiken said of his participation in the Classic. "I've played (at Petco Park) once already (with his high school team) and it's a great park, and I just can't wait until Sunday.

"It's the best competition out here and this atmosphere is great. There's a lot of fun activities that we get to do and all the players are great; it's going to be fun."

In keeping with the pride and affection he feels for the San Diego area, Aiken is already giving back to his hometown.  In the months leading up to the Classic, Aiken joined fellow San Diego-area All-Americans Sean Bouchard -- a classmate of Aiken's at Cathedral Classic from San Diego -- and Alex Jackson from Escondido, as this year's Classic "Miracle Makers".

The trio -- all three play for the San Diego Show -- worked closely with San Diego Hall of Champions head of public relations Jesse Lovejoy and personnel from Rady's on the project and started with the stated goal of raising $10,000 to be donated to the Peckham Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Rady Children's Hospital; as of this weekend, they had raised $12,500. The All-Americans will accept donations right up until game time on Sunday.

The money came largely from the players' family and friends in donations large and small.

"They basically told us they were going to give us a certain amount of time to raise as much money as we can for Rady Children's hospital and all the money is going to go straight the cancer foundation there," Aiken said. "We had a little bet with Jesse that we got to go dinner at Benihana (restaurant) and we got to go there (Wednesday) night. That was really cool."

All 51 of the PG All-Americans made a visit to Rady on Friday, but Aiken, Bouchard and Jackson had already made several advance visits.

"It was definitely a humbling experience," Aiken said of the early visits. "We got to meet the kids who we were donating to, so it was really cool knowing where out money is going and that is was going straight to those kids. It was only me, Alex and Sean before and now it's going to be the whole team, so everyone's going to get to experience the whole atmosphere out there."

The Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings is the 15th PG event Aiken has attended, starting with the 2011 14u/15u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational in Marietta, Ga., when he was playing for the East Cobb Astros 14u. He played in one more event for the Astros in 2011 and then decided to stay closer to home and play for Brian Cain and the San Diego Show.

He has been a regular at PG showcase events, beginning with the 2011 PG National Games-Class of 2013 (keeping in mind he is in the class of 2014) in San Diego before moving on to the 2012 Junior National Showcase in Minneapolis. His showcase experience reached its pinnacle in June when he was invited to the Perfect Game National Showcase, also at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

Aiken's progression on the mound has been steady-as-she-goes, at least velocity-wise. His fastball topped out 85 mph in that first event in early June 2011, reached 88 at the Junior National a year later and touched 92 at the PG National. He is the No. 16-ranked 2014 national prospect and the No. 1 left-handed pitching prospect in California.

"They are definitely all great experiences," Aiken said of his participation in the PG events that helped earn him his high rankings. "The Junior National and National were both great out there in Minnesota; great atmosphere, great players. Now I just can't wait for Sunday and the big game."

Which will give Aiken -- who has committed to 2013 NCAA Division I College World Series national champion UCLA -- another opportunity to get in front of hundreds of MLB scouts, scouting directors and general managers. Not that he will necessarily even  notice.

"You kind of get use to it after awhile," Aiken said. "When you go out there you know that every time someone is going to be watching you, so you just have to go out there and do what you do best and good things will come."

Good things certainly came to Aiken at three high-profile national events over the last two months.  He threw two hitless innings and struck out five at the PG National Showcase; threw three more hitless innings and struck out seven at the Tournament of Stars in Cary, N.C.; and earlier this week at the Area Code Games up in Long Beach, Calif., he allowed only one hit in three innings of work and struck out another eight batters. The final line reads: eight innings pitched, one hit and 20 strikeouts in three events in which only the best hitters are invited to attend.

Growing up in San Diego County, Aiken has certainly been surrounded by baseball greatness, the Padres' recent struggles aside. Just this past spring he had a front-row seat for the University of San Diego's Kris Bryant's record breaking season.

Bryant hit .329/.493/.820 with 31 home runs, 62 RBI and 80 runs en route winning USA Baseball's Golden Spikes Award, given annually to the best amateur baseball player in the country. The Chicago Cubs made Bryant the No. 2 overall pick in the first round of June's MLB amateur draft.

But as a young fan, Aiken's loyalties went a little further back in time.

"In baseball, I always loved Tony Gwinn," he said of the Padres' Hall-of-Famer. "I always loved him and watching him play; he was great. He would always get pitchers annoyed easily, so he was one of my favorites, for sure."

But as a pitcher, where does former Padres' closer and PG All-American Classic Honorary Chairman Trevor Hoffman rank? Don't be alarmed, he's right there in Aiken's pecking order.

"I'm actually good friends with his kids; they go to my school," Aiken said with a smile. "I've met Trevor a couple of times and he's a great guy. You've got to love him -- a San Diego guy who was one of the best closers in the game. It's great knowing him because he's just a great guy."

When it comes to the weather, fish tacos and baseball, greatness is not in short supply in San Diego County.

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