Sunday night the Major League baseball season began its historic 2013 season when the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers battled in an American League game to open the ’13’ campaign. That’s right, the Astros are now in the American League, as the team to be named later in the Milwaukee Brewers joining the Senior Circuit in 1998. A full house showed up as the Astros made their A.L. debut with a win.
Yesterday the schedule began in earnest with 20-year-old Bryce Harper hitting two dingers and 25-year-old Clayton Kershaw joining Bob Lemon as the only pitchers in history to both homer and spin a shutout on opening day. Lemon did the trick for Cleveland at home in 1953 against the White Sox.
As for my Red Sox, they opened up in the Bronx where 22-year-old left fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. made his major league debut contributing significantly to the Red Sox 8-2 win without getting a base hit; scoring twice, knocking in a run, saving a run with a great catch and allowing another to score utilizing his speed.
All apropos as the today’s story is about the future!
Last week I had the honor of traveling to Cary North Carolina in the company of about 30 other men, some young, some well, not quite as young and a couple just a bit older, I’m one of the bit olders. The purpose of the journey was to participate in USA Baseball’s second annual National High School Invitational baseball tournament.
Sixteen teams gathered from all over the country to compete in this baseball extravaganza and what a festival of America’s pastime it was! I saw a few young men play who, in a matter of a few months, will be very wealthy young men. I saw high school baseball at its absolute finest and the Venice High School team was among the best of the lot!
The Indians of Venice entered the week ranked second in the country in the Baseball America prep poll. It is the highest rank they have ever attained and although very flattering, frankly it doesn’t mean all that much. For the only poll that matters is the one after the season has ended and that has been the focus of the coaching staff and players as they have gone about their daily business.
They disposed of Tennessee’s Christian Brothers High School their first game 5-1 behind junior pitcher Brandon Elmy which brought them face to face with Cathedral Catholic of California. It was a classic matchup as they entered the tournament ranked three in the nation.
The Indians came out swinging, scoring four in the second inning and with a lead of 5-3 put the ball in the hands of the kid they call simply, “Coop”, tacked on a couple of runs and made their way to the final four with a 7-3 win.
Miami bound Cooper Hammond dominated Cathedral with four innings of dazzling relief work. Something the Venice Indians have grown accustomed to the past couple of years.
This set up the following days matchup with another California powerhouse, Harvard Westlake High School.
This day belonged to Harvard as the Indians bats could not get untracked and they took it on the chin 6-0.
All that remained was a battle for third place and a confrontation with Woodland High School of Texas the following morning. Woodland came into the tournament the number one ranked team in the nation and they had lost to yet another California team, Mater Dei, the tournaments reigning champ.
The game would be played at 8:30 AM on Saturday.
There are two things to know about tournament baseball. The obvious one is that a team will always get deep into their pitching. The other is that an 8:30 AM start time for young men 16, 17 and 18 years old is, to say the least, not optimum.
The early morning game was as much as anything a test of their metal!
It was a chilly North Carolina morn as the Indians lined the field to begin their quest for a winning tournament. It was a battle of public school squads with the Indians throwing, for the first time this season, junior Ryan Miller.
“Mils” acquitted himself well, throwing 53 pitches in 4 2/3 innings, 37 for strikes and left leading 2-1.
Hammond came into the game with a runner on second and two outs. A single into left field tied the game and a series of miscues put Woodland ahead 3-2. A pall fell over the Indians when a lead off double by Danny Raynor in the bottom of the fifth, did not result in them tieing the score but they were far from done. They plated three runs in the sixth with the key hit coming from a most unlikely source, pitcher Cooper Hammond.
In “Coop’s” first at bat of the season, he stroked a two run double providing himself and the Indians the margin of victory.
The Indians finished the tournament 3-1 won and captured third place out of the sixteen teams. Mater Dei repeated as the tournament champs beating Harvard Westlake. It is a testament to Venice High School baseball and what they have come to expect of themselves that in their week in North Carolina they defeated the top ranked team in the nation, the number three ranked team in the nation and although gratified, they came home a little disappointed.
The Indians receive the accolades of the USA Baseball staff following their win on Saturday over Woodland.
My thoughts as I look back on a terrific week of baseball….
Catcher/Third Baseman Mike Rivera is the straw that stirs the drink. He walks the walk and all he cares about is winning!
“Coop” is not only exceptionally talented, he possesses the immeasurable intangibles which make him a winner.
Colten Lightner showed his metal, battling a stomach flu for two days and contributing to the Indians success both at bat and on the field.
There is no more even keeled high school player I have ever seen than Brandon “Elmo” Elmy.
Center fielder Danny Raynor quietly goes about his business, contributing key hits along the way and playing solid defense.
This is a special group of individuals who understand what it means to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Each knows their role and understands that each of them is a contributor to the success of this team!
“Yesterday’s dead and tomorrow is blind” and Mike Rivera summed it all up at the post game press conference. ” I don’t care what I do as long as we win a state championship”!
One day at a time!
Back to Work!