Having read about the Area Code Games for years, I finally had the opportunity this week to attend several days and catch about some or all of 5 games. A son of the couple who introduced my wife and I nearly 20 years ago caught for the Washington Nationals squad, and we jumped at the opportunity to join for our friends for a few days at Long Beach State, the sun-drenched home of the Dirtbags. Just a few weeks ago I was at Oregon State University’s campus in Eugene to see the West Coast League All-Star game. I was struck when visiting LB to see the posters promoting MLB alums. While Long Beach has legions of greats (Weaver, Tulowitzky, Vargas, Giambi), Oregon State also sports banners outside its stadium of a growing list of young pros.
For the baseball lover, the Area Code Games is heaven. No pomp and circumstance, just baseball. No singing Take Me Out to the Ball Game. The players are mostly high school juniors committed to top college programs. They will play next summer in Cape Cod, West Coast, or Northwoods League uniforms. I would say there were more scouts than parents in the stands. I saw very few cranks off the street.
For those unfamiliar with the Area Code Games, it works something like this. MLB organization have scouts responsible for identifying young talent in their assigned region. Each year they invite a group of talented high school boys to tryout for the Area Code showcase exhibition. Kids who are top prospects and have good tryouts are invited to play for that area scout’s MLB club. The Nationals featured boys from Virginia, Florida, North Carolina. The KC Royals, for some reason, had top talent from the Pacific Northwest. The White Sox featured players from the Midwest.
We saw the A’s, Nationals, Brewers, Yankees, White Sox, Rangers, Reds and Royals. Most games were 7 innings. Tuesday’s games were broadcast on ESPN3.
On Sunday night I attended a scouts’ symposium for the players. It was interesting to sit in a room full of players from all over the country who expect to be drafted high in next year’s MLB draft. A few will go high in the draft as high schools but most will go in middle or late rounds. Most will go on to have successful college careers and be drafted in higher rounds in a few years after proving themselves in the regular season and in the summer wood bat leagues. The purpose of the symposium was to make sure players and parents know what to expect.
The head of MLB’s scouting bureau as well as the directors of scouting for three MLB clubs (Mariners, White Sox and Orioles) led the discussion.
Players were told they were wanted at next year’s draft. The scouts nervously reported that this year’s signing date is fast-approaching. Scouts were asked about advisors and they seemed conflicted about their usefulness.
“If you’re in it for the money, you won’t make it,” said Joe Jordan of the Orioles. He pointed out that the road to the MLB is tough. You have to love the game and want to play it all the time.
Chuck Fox of the MLB Scouting Bureau ran through a powerpoint presentation that touched on the drug testing policy (you are tested one month prior to the draft), psychological exams (administered by the MLB and an additional one for some MLB clubs), and what you can negotiate (bonus and college scholarship plan).
I sat in the second row and turned around several times to notice pride in the faces of the young players and angst in the faces of their parents.
Now, back to baseball. I saw some brilliant players and I saw some pretty sloppy play. The sloppy play tended to be those players who got there because they have the bodies and the stats back home. The outstanding play was from those who came to stand out – skinny kids determined to perform beyond what their bodies and stats may show. Their goal is for a scout to scribble the letter “F” for follow next to their names in the program.
Austin Barr (K.C. Royals) of Camas, Washington, blocked very well.
Ryan “Red” Dowdell (Washington Nationals) of Arlington, Virginia, smartly threw to second rather than third on a double steal to freeze both runners and then tag-out the runner as he slid frantically into home.
Bralin Jackson of Raytown, Mo, drilled a triple to deep left-center off Colton Freeman from Hoover, Alabama.
Clint Coulter, Camas, Wa, went 3-3 against the Nationals and was named player of the day. He hit to all fiends.
Rhett Wiseman, a Mansfield, Massachusetts boy playing for the Yankees, crushed one to left but it was caught. The air at Long Beach, within a mile or so from the beach, is heavy. Several balls I saw off the bat looked like gapers but were just singles. Wiseman hit it off Tyler Gonzales (RHP) from San Antonio.
Mark McCoy (Yankees) of Barnegat, NJ, was 2-3 with a walk against the Nationals.
His teammate Karl Keglovits from Nazareth, PA, threw three scoreless innings against the Nats.
Avery Romero of St. Augustine, FL, played for the Nats and seemed to always find a way to get on base. A fine hitter.
Anyone else make it to the Area Cod Games? Any insights to share?