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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Agassi, baseball is love-love

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Jaden Agassi (Perfect Game)

SAN DIEGO – As the son of two members of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Jaden Agassi understands that a lot of people wonder why he’s putting his athleticism to use on a beautifully manicured baseball field instead of the clay, hard and grass courts of the tennis world.

Tennis has been, of course, an over-riding theme of Agassi’s life ever since he came into this world in late 2001. That’s something to be expected and really quite unavoidable when your dad is Andre Agassi and your mom is Steffi Graf.

But here he was on Monday and Tuesday, putting his skills on display at the University of San Diego’s Fowler Park while performing at this week’s two-day Perfect Game Underclass All-American Games. There were no rackets, only bats, and no double-faults but plenty of doubles; the aces stood out on the mound instead of being the result of a 100-plus mph serve. And the score? Love-love.

Baseball is the game Jaden Agassi has chosen to excel at, and as the No. 66-ranked overall prospect in the class of 2020, he certainly fit-in seamlessly at this prominent underclass event.

“I tried out for a Little League team when I was 6-years-old and I’ve loved it ever since,” Agassi told PG. “I’ve been playing it ever since and it’s become a passion of mine (and) every day I’m learning something new. … I love competing against other guys. I love the teammate aspect (of baseball) and just having fun with a bunch of your friends.”

Agassi, a 6-foot-3, 212-pound third baseman/right-hander from Las Vegas who has committed to Southern California, spent the final days of last week at the Underclass Area Code Games in Long Beach and then came down here to take part in his first PG showcase event.

“I just thought this looked like a great opportunity to play with a bunch of great guys. I always want to come out and compete at my best level … and it’s a lot of fun playing with the top guys,” he said.

Unlike conventional showcase events, the PG Underclass AA Games do not open with a workout session for the prospects. But they do take infield where arm velocities are recorded, and Agassi delivered the ball across the infield at 91 mph, the sixth best effort at the event (Puerto Rico’s Steven Ondina and Arkansas’ Cayden Wallace both threw 95 mph).

He also recorded an exit velo off the bat of 90 mph, which ranked in the top 25 percent (Mississippi’s Kelly Crumpton was No. 1 at 99 mph). A PG scout noted:

Jaden Agassi took a solid batting practice today and added a loud RBI doubles down the left field line (during game play). He makes solid contact with good potential for power.”

Agassi is home-schooled and he once played spring high school ball with either Las Vegas’ Bishop Gorman HS or Palo Verde HS, although he hasn’t done that the last two springs. He now spends his springs working out and getting stronger, just trying to improve in that aspect of the game.

He plays his travel-team ball with the Las Vegas Recruits (LVR), a program that has been dominant at the events PG hosts in Phoenix since 2016. His LVR teams, coached by Brad Maloff (a former UNLV player) and Evan Greusol (Oklahoma), have won four PG WWBA championships (2016 14u WMDC, 2016 Freshman WNC), 2017 Freshman WMLK and 2018 Upperclass WMLK).

Agassi has won three Most Valuable Pitcher awards (2016 PG Freshman West National Championship, 2017 PG Freshman West MLK Championship, 2018 PG 18u West Memorial Day Classic) and one Most Valuable Player award (2016 14u WWBA West Memorial Day Classic) while wearing an LVR uniform; he has been named to 16 PG all-tournament teams.

“It’s been very important to me, just competing with great coaches and great teammates,” Agassi said of his association with LVR. “Every tournament I try to get better. … My coaches always tell me that out of every 10 starts you’re going to have two that are really good and the rest are going to be OK or not-so-good. It’s just about how you fight through those OK and not-so-good starts.”

USC recruited him to its Los Angeles campus as a two-way player and he hopes to continue to both for as along as his coaches allow him to. “I thought about everything; location, the school, coaches. I just loved it all; it’s the perfect fit,” he said when asked what went into his decision to choose the Trojans’ program.

Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi have both been inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame with Graf entering in 2004 and Agassi in 2011.

Graf won 22 Grand Slam events (Australian Open, French Open, U.S. Open and Wimbledon) from 1987-96, including Wimbledon seven times; in 1988 she won the calendar-year Grand Slam by capturing all four events and also won an Olympic Gold Medal that year, a feat that became known as the Golden Slam.

Agassi won eight Grand Slam titles between 1992-2003 and is in ownership of a career Grand Slam by winning each of the four events at least once. Andre and Steffi have been very supportive of their son’s efforts and it has become expected to see at least one of them – and oftentimes both – at the MLB spring training fields in the Phoenix area watching Jaden perform.

“They’re the best parents I could have asked for,” Jaden said. “They’re very loving and they always come out and support me.”

Andre Agassi was in attendance at the PG Under AA Games on Monday but declined an offer to speak about his son when approached by PG. Graf spoke with Hello Magazine in 2014 and had this to say:

“(Jaden) plays baseball and it’s a lot of fun. He plays more baseball tournaments than we played tennis tournaments when we were young. In America they have a lot of organized sports for baseball, football, the big sports. They’ve got a kind of community; they have a lot of leagues. He did try soccer first; he tried one season.”

Jaden Agassi also tried tennis when he was a youngster, saying he’d just pick up a racket from time-to-time and just sort of mess around with it. “I didn’t have the same love for it as I did for baseball (but) every now and then I’ll still go out there and mess around,” he said.

So, here he was on Monday and Tuesday, performing with many of the most highly regarded prospects from the classes of 2020 and 2021.

The top 2020s included No. 4-ranked Dylan Crews (from Florida), No. 19 Nicholas Griffin (Arkansas), No. 21 Cayden Wallace (Arkansas) and No. 26 Daxton Fulton (Oklahoma). No. 1 Blaze Jordan (Mississippi), No. 3 Roc Riggio (California), No. 8 Irving Carter (Florida), No. 21 Jackson Baumeister (Florida), No. 23 Keegan Allen (Arkansas) and No. 25 Nick Anello (Florida) were among the top 2021s.

“I just want to come out of here a better player,” Agassi concluded. “Learn a few new things about myself, about the game of baseball; it’s a great opportunity. The most important thing is being the best player that I can possibly be.”

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