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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Perfect Game Trivia Question of the Day

David Rawnsley        
According to the Perfect Game 2009 Media Guide, what was the first event that Perfect Game ever ran?
Hint: The year was 1996.

The first Perfect Game Showcase was in 1997 with the inaugural World Showcase, quickly followed by the 1997 Pre-Draft Showcase. But the first “event” that Perfect Game set up was actually a league, the Iowa Spring Wood Bat League, which debuted in 1996.

Iowa, of course, does not have spring high school baseball, dating back to the days when healthy young men were needed on the farms during the spring in order to help get the year’s crop into the ground. Once the work was done, the boys could play baseball. Despite this antiquated schedule being revisited frequently by coaches and schools over the years, there seems to be no thought that there is going to be any change in the foreseeable future.

The Iowa Spring League eventually expanded into the Iowa Wood Bat Fall League as well. Three years ago the Spring League branched off with the Iowa Spring High School League, which has 13 teams from around the state playing a spring metal bat schedule that coincides with the Spring Wood Bat schedule.

There is also a PG-run Wisconsin Spring High School Team League that will be starting play this weekend, as there are parts of Wisconsin (although not the entire state) that play summer high school baseball.

Virtually every professional draft pick and Division I college scholarship recipient from the state of Iowa over the last 15 years has played in one of the PG sponsored leagues, including Big Leaguers such as Ryan Sweeney, Joel Hanrahan, Jeff Clement, Brad Nelson, Matt Macri and Joe Bisenius.

Ironically, one of the big attractions for scouts this spring in Iowa doesn’t even attend school in the state. Much has been written recently about LHP Jordan Shipers of South Harrison HS in Bethany, Mo. has him ranked #101 in the country in the 2010 draft class, a ranking that would put him in the third round. Given the paucity of quality high school left handers around the country this year, it wouldn’t be a big surprise if Shipers is the first high school southpaw selected.

Of course the other thing that stands out about the 5-11 Shipers, aside from his explosive low 90’s fastball and killer slider, is that South Harrison HS doesn’t have a baseball program. So this spring Shipers is making the drive from Bethany, which is located just over the Iowa-Missouri border on I-35, to various fields across Iowa each weekend to pitch. The drives aren’t really that far, as Bethany is actually just as close to Des Moines, the capital of Iowa, as Cedar Rapids, the home of Perfect Game.

Last Sunday was the first weekend of play in the Spring League and about two dozen scouts came out to see Shipers make his spring debut, along with watching SS Kellen Sweeney, RHP Jonathan Musser and the rest of the prospects play two games apiece.

Shipers showed good stuff, topping out at 91 mph and striking out five hitters in 2 1/3 innings before reaching his pitch count. He struggled with his mechanics a bit, understandable for this time of year in the Upper Midwest, walking four hitters and missing up and away frequently to right handed hitters, something he rarely does when in mid-season form.

Sweeney, who was making his first appearance outside since his August TJ surgery, stole the show as he often has done in the past, blasting a long home run and showing no ill effects from his layoff.

This Saturday the Spring League will play five games in Atlantic in the southwest portion of the state, and there is expected to be a larger turnout of scouts than there was last week, with more crosscheckers likely to make an appearance.

The featured game will be the 1 p.m. contest between the Black team featuring Shipers and Sweeney and the Red team that includes prospects such as Musser, OF-RHP Taylor Zeutenhorst, C Spencer Navin and SS Damek Tomscha.

Musser, a Nebraska signee, threw very well at the PG Indoor Pitchers/Catchers Showcase in February and again last Saturday, pitching in the upper 80’s with a sharp curveball. He could well move his name onto many teams’ draft lists over the next two months.

Making his spring debut for the Black team will be RHP Jon Keller, another Nebraska signee. Keller didn’t pitch at the Indoor due to a sprained ankle, but was 90-93 mph during the fall.

And if the scouts didn’t have enough to watch during the Black vs. Red game, they will also get a chance to watch 2011 LHP Braden Shull, a 6-4 southpaw who could end up being the top prospect in the Iowa 2011 class.
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