A dream is a hope and desire that should be in reach. It is something that should be achievable, however commands an amount of heart and hard work. It is a journey that inevitably will have its bumps, but eventually ends with the highlight of a lifetime. 2009 marked the inaugural year for the annual USSSA All-American Games held in Kissimmee, FL. The event was staffed by pro scouts, former MLB players, and industry specialists and scouted by numerous colleges and Major League Baseball Scouts. It was also the beginning of a legacy that is now known as the “Journey to the Dream”.
The “Journey to the Dream” experience begins when individuals attend their first Amatuer Baseball Report (ABR) camp, which serve a multitude of purposes from instruction to exposure. The highest level performers are invited to the USSSA All-American Games (AAG’s), which is the golden ticket in USSSA Baseball. The other route to Kissimmee is by a direct invitation from the ABR upon referral by either a professional scout, college scout, or ABR scout who has seen the player.
Although it would seem like being honored as a member of the “USSSA All-American Games” would suffice, that is not where this journey ends. The AAG’s is a 4-day event which includes a check in and practice on day one, 3 days of games, and a closing ceremony where the National Teams are announced. Throughout this weekend, the players experience an amount of diversity that is unbeatable with more than half of the 50 total states being represented. There is an aura about the field that has a subtle sense of being at ease; however, the competitive drive of the most highly talented players in USSSA still shines on.
As the games come to an end, the scouts collaborate in a scout room that is comparable to that on draft day and compare their notes on the AAG players. Boards containing various participants’ names are lined up and scouts decide which nine players will make up each respected age group’s National Team (15u, 16u, High School Varsity). The remaining players are selected the following weeks after much deliberation.
At the 15u and 16u age groups the National Team is invited back the following summer to play in the USSSA Gold Medal Games (GMG’s). The Gold Medal Games emulates the Olympics in a tournament featuring 12 countries from across the world in addition to the USSSA National Team. It gives the participants the opportunity to compete against some of the best players from around the world. Gold, Silver, and Bronze are awarded to the top 3 teams. The Bahamas, Great Brittan, France, Italy, Mexico, Canada, Venezuela, Peru, Puerto Rico, and the United States are amongst the former competing countries.
Quite possibly the ultimate goal in ones adventure through USSSA is to be a USSSA High School Varsity National Team member. This team travels abroad with all international expenses paid, to play in a tournament of choice by USSSA. In its first year the team was sent to Osaka, Japan. They toured around playing many semi- professional teams and learning about the Japanese take on baseball. They received the priceless gift of culture by complete emersion, where there were no English translations. It was a time to sit back and appreciate the smiles and laughter that proved to not be blocked by a language barrier. When the stars stepped on the field, actions took over, and words became meaningless.
In its second year (2011) USSSA entered its team into the Prague Baseball Week Tournament, which features the National Teams of countries who participate in the World Baseball classic against Major League Players. The 2012 National Team will be traveling to this same event. The talent is high and the stakes are even higher- international immortality.
Last year the young American team proved successful with a third place finish against teams with players that had over ten years experience more than the prep American squad. Leading its staff was National Team veteran Jacob Milliman who earned the win against A.I.S.T. (the eventual tournament champions) in game one. The hard hitting line-up was balanced around the prodigious power of Wyatt Matheson, a Texas signee and estimated top 5 round pick for the 2012 draft, and L.J. Newman a two way player at South Carolina- Upstate. North Florida bound Donnie Dewees was in the leadoff spot. Donnie had a monster senior year earning awards in multiple sports, and will also be competing again in Prague this June with the 2012 USSSA High School Varsity National Team. Bryant Hodge played both ways. The Oklahoma commit hit one of 8 homeruns in the 5 games. Matheson however was clearly the toughest out in the lineup. Blasting three homeruns and hitting close to .500 on the tournament, Matheson did nothing but impress. Matheson is currently ranked 47th by Baseball America, which would put him as a middle of the second round pick this summer.
In 2010 the team was led by Royals minor league pitcher and 2011 draft Jake Junis who also anchored the infield at short stop. Jake chose to forgoe the college experience and is presently playing rookie ball in Arizona. Brendon Hayden was one of the main bats in Japan and was drafted by the Phillies in the 36th round of the 2011 MLB draft. He chose to pass the draft and go to Virginia Tech where he finished the season with a .336 BA and was named to the ACC 2nd Team All-Conference. Other notable pitchers on the 2010 USSSA National team were Nathan Harsh (19th round pick by Rangers in 2011), Joe Filomeno, Sam Mahar, and Jacob Milliman. Joe Filomeno is making a splash at the University of Louisville where he has a 3.09 era posted. The lefty’s fastball has registered up to 97 mph this year. Filomeno is headed to the prestigious Cape Cod league after his season expires. Sam Mahar won SEC Freshman Player of the Week on 5/14/2012 for Kentucky and has managed to put together quality innings as a freshman for the previously top ranked school. Jacob Milliman, who chose junior college to try to increase draft stock, had a monster year for the panhandle powerhouse Pensacola State.
USSSA managed to construct another balanced team with power bats and power arms in 2011. The USSSA lineup for the “Prague Baseball Week” tournament was full of sophomores and juniors in high school who are currently committed to D1 programs. A few frontline pitchers were Thomas Olson, Bryant Hodge, and Chris Elander. Olson emerged as an ace for Dartmouth with his 1.69 era in 40 innings pitched. Bryant Hodge who still has his senior year left looks to be a possible top draft. Hodge is a crafty righty with a heavy fastball from the low to mid 90’s. If he forgoes the draft he will be off to the University of Oklahoma. Chris Elander was tough out of the pen and will look to be an impact arm off the bump for Florida International next year.
This year’s international team, who will be competing in the “Prague Baseball Week” tournament June 27th-July 1st, consists of just as many future stars. Players such as sophomore standout pitcher Cre Finfrock who is committed to Central Florida, veterans Donnie DeWees and Chris Elander, and Wisconsin’s Evan Kruczynski. Kruczynski is a power left handed pitcher who is signed with Eastern Carolina.
The truth behind this whole process is no matter where a player ends their journey; they can still leave with a truly unique experience. If they are so lucky and so talented to make it to that international opportunity, then they are merely living the dream for a few moments longer. The intangibles that players take out of the experience serve as drive for such talented participants. USSSA takes great pride in watching the players develop into stars on a national level.