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Youth Baseball

Compton academy gets boost from golf outing

Hunter, Matthews co-host event in Newport Beach for 2nd straight year
MLB.com

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Much of the Southern California baseball community gathered at Newport Beach Country Club on Monday to help support the next generation of athletes coming up behind them.

A number of former and current Major Leaguers took to the links for this year's Celebrity Golf Invitational, which benefits the MLB Youth Academy in Compton, Calif. Former All-Stars Torii Hunter and Gary Matthews Jr. co-hosted the event at the Newport Beach Country Club for a second consecutive year.

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Much of the Southern California baseball community gathered at Newport Beach Country Club on Monday to help support the next generation of athletes coming up behind them.

A number of former and current Major Leaguers took to the links for this year's Celebrity Golf Invitational, which benefits the MLB Youth Academy in Compton, Calif. Former All-Stars Torii Hunter and Gary Matthews Jr. co-hosted the event at the Newport Beach Country Club for a second consecutive year.

Hunter assumed hosting duties for the annual fundraiser from Hall of Famer Frank Robinson beginning in 2016, and partnered with Matthews, his former Angels teammate, in '17. Proceeds from the event will support the academy through the nonprofit Major League Baseball Youth Foundation.

"It's something that's near and dear to my heart," Hunter said. "Everything they have to offer at the academy is something that I stand for."

Video: Hunter on UYA Golf outing, Mauer's retirement

The MLB Youth Academy in Compton aims to expand baseball's reach in communities where kids might not otherwise have access to the facilities, equipment and instruction required to play the sport. The facility spans 20 acres of the Compton College campus and features multiple playing fields, training areas, batting cages and pitching mounds. It offers free year-round baseball and softball instruction as well as educational resources and programs such as SAT and ACT prep courses and tutoring.

Since the Compton academy opened its doors in 2006, more than 500 of its student-athletes have gone on to play collegiate softball or baseball and more than 160 have been drafted by MLB clubs, including last year's No. 2 pick, Hunter Greene, the Reds' third-ranked prospect (No. 22 overall), per MLB Pipeline. Greene, who started going to the academy when he was 7 years old, attended Monday's event but couldn't play because he's rehabbing an ulnar collateral ligament sprain this offseason.

"I remember I was looking down on him, now he's looking down on me," said Ken Landreaux, a former All-Star outfielder who won a World Series with the Dodgers in 1981 and has been an instructor at the academy since it opened. "You don't ever want to forget where you started. Life's a cycle. They've gotten a helping hand, and hopefully they turn around and they present a helping hand."

Like many academy alumni, Greene jumped at the opportunity to support the place that was so important to his development. The academy has now produced several Major Leaguers -- including the Yankees' Aaron Hicks and Kyle Higashioka, the Mets' Dominic Smith, the A's Khris Davis and the Phillies' J.P. Crawford and Vince Velasquez -- and they maintain an active presence at the facility and in the community.

"For me, it's really easy to give back because it's the people I care about, that I love and appreciate, who helped me get here," said Greene, who fondly recalled playing alongside several future big leaguers as a child. "To be around those guys and be able to get that mentorship at that age when I was young, it helped me not just to be a good baseball player, but a good person as well."

"To whom much is given, much is expected," said Trayce Thompson, who went to the academy as a teenager. A Southern California native, Thompson played two seasons with the Dodgers from 2016-17 and is currently a free agent after splitting the 2018 campaign between the A's and White Sox.

"You're supposed to give back and do what you can to help kids out, especially the kids at the academy. Most of them aren't as fortunate as I was growing up with my dad [former NBA player Mychal Thompson] being who he was. I try to give back as much as I can, because I remember when I was a kid -- the gesture goes really far."

The Compton academy was the first such facility built by MLB, and seven more have since opened in Cincinnati, Dallas, Gurabo (Puerto Rico), Houston, Kansas City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Three more are in development in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

"I think [the academy] sends a strong message that we care," said former Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who touted his foursome with Red Sox bench coach Ron Roenicke, former Dodgers teammate Mickey Hatcher and Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey as the team to beat. "This is one piece of the pie. We've got to continue to grow and continue to give kids opportunities all over the country. ... We need to build fields, we need to go out there and get kids excited about baseball."

Video: Scioscia talks retirement, Angels on High Heat

Others in attendance included MLB executive vice president of baseball and softball development and former Angels general manager Tony Reagins; MLB vice president for youth and facility development, director of the Compton academy and former Angel Darrell Miller; and former Major Leaguers Kenny Lofton, Chuck Finley, Bob Boone, Garret Anderson, Shawn Green, Mark Gubicza, Derrek Lee, Vince Coleman, Dmitri Young, Gary Matthews Sr., Darren Oliver, Jerry Hairston Jr., Jerry Hairston Sr., Brett Tomko and Sergio Santos.

"All the guys that are here, they want to be here. We didn't beg them," Hunter said. "They wanted to come here because there's some fruit coming out of the academy and they see the fruit. People want to be a part of something great."

Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.

MLB, US Embassy host clinic for Japanese youth

MLB.com

TOKYO -- Major League Baseball's ongoing commitment to its youth outreach programs, coupled with its desire to continue to grow the game globally, has been a running theme throughout the current Japan All-Star Series.

While much of the focus of the tournament is directed toward the on-field play between the Major League All-Stars and Samurai Japan, the youth element is always present, as was the case Saturday at the Tokyo Dome, hours before Game 2 of the six-game tournament.

View Full Game Coverage

TOKYO -- Major League Baseball's ongoing commitment to its youth outreach programs, coupled with its desire to continue to grow the game globally, has been a running theme throughout the current Japan All-Star Series.

While much of the focus of the tournament is directed toward the on-field play between the Major League All-Stars and Samurai Japan, the youth element is always present, as was the case Saturday at the Tokyo Dome, hours before Game 2 of the six-game tournament.

View Full Game Coverage

Twenty-six middle-school kids, ages 13 to 14, were invited onto the field to participate in a baseball clinic with several members of the Major League All-Star team.

A foursome of Whit Merrifield, Rhys Hoskins, Enrique Hernandez and Ronald Acuna Jr. held a station-by-station tutorial in the outfield area of the Dome, an exercise designed to help the kids further develop their basic baseball skills.

Video: MLB stars run clinic, spend time with young players

"Their fundamentals were really impressive," Merrifield said. "It's not even close to where I was at that age. It was quite impressive, and hopefully, they can keep the desire to get better and continue to improve and play on this field someday."

The event was hosted by the U.S. Embassy, in conjunction with a campaign titled "Go For the Gold," which pairs participating countries in the Olympics with schools in various cities in Japan, the host country of the 2020 Summer Olympics.

The United States was paired with Setagaya, an area outside of Tokyo, and it has focused on both sports and educational-related activities, all of which will be held in advance of, and leading up to, the 2020 Games.

Saturday's clinic on the field at the Tokyo Dome was just one activity planned around the "Go For Gold" initiative. Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky's visit to Setagaya three months ago, when she held a clinic for young Japanese swimmers at a pool in the city, was another.

At the baseball clinic, the young ballplayers were given an up-close view of the four Major Leaguers, who presented their tutorials with help from interpreters who were positioned at each station.

Hoskins, explaining to the kids that he plays both the infield and the outfield for the Phillies, asked them specifically which positions they played, and he offered his expertise in ensuring their approach is the most efficient and accurate as their play in the field.

"These kids are a lot more fundamentally sound than I was [when I was a kid]," Hoskins said. "It's quite obvious that the passion they have for baseball is quite high. That's really cool to see at such a young age."

At the end of the clinic, the players presented the players with gifts, as is customary in Japan when people from different nations meet in a gesture of goodwill.

"I was a kid with big dreams once, and I know how much it means for kids to be here and it's something that they'll never forget," Hernandez said. "I wish we had some more time with them, so we could do a little more with them. You can tell they had a lot of fun. At the end of the day, this is why we play. The kids are our future, and we know how big this is for them."

The clinic was actually the second event of the day for the foursome. The afternoon began with a visit to the MLB Cafe, an officially licensed restaurant located adjacent to the Tokyo Dome.

The venue offers the general experience one would find in a typical upscale sports bar -- libations, food and large-screen televisions to watch games. It's fair to say the restaurant, which opened three years ago, had never actually hosted an actual Major League player. That changed on Saturday, when the four players filed into the main room for a meet-and-greet with the lunchtime crowd.

The event included a question-and-answer session, in addition to the opportunity to meet the players through a raffle.

Each player pulled names out of a box, lottery style, and the winners were gifted with a variety of baseballs and jerseys, autographed by the players.

Video: Hoskins, Hernandez on what it's like to play in Japan

"The fans have been amazing so far," Hernandez said to the crowd. "Japan has always been a place that I have wanted to come visit. I get to experience this amazing culture that you have here. Playing at the Tokyo Dome has been great."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

Play Ball holds unforgettable 1st event in Hawaii

Special to MLB.com

HONOLULU -- Upon returning to his home state of Hawaii, Padres reliever Kirby Yates makes it a point to enjoy some fresh "poke" (pronounced POH-kay) -- a Hawaiian staple of seasoned raw fish.

A Kauai native and product of Kauai High School, Yates usually returns to the "808 state" in the offseason to spend down time with family and friends. However, this offseason homecoming trip also involves some business.

HONOLULU -- Upon returning to his home state of Hawaii, Padres reliever Kirby Yates makes it a point to enjoy some fresh "poke" (pronounced POH-kay) -- a Hawaiian staple of seasoned raw fish.

A Kauai native and product of Kauai High School, Yates usually returns to the "808 state" in the offseason to spend down time with family and friends. However, this offseason homecoming trip also involves some business.

Video: MLB stars prepare in Hawaii for Japan Series

Yates is part of the Major League squad taking part in the Hawaii Workout, a stopover trip that began Saturday afternoon at Les Murakami Stadium on the University of Hawaii at Manoa campus in Honolulu. He is joined by 2018 All-Stars Yadier Molina (Cardinals), J.T. Realmuto (Marlins catcher), Mitch Haniger (Mariners outfielder) and Eugenio Suarez (Reds infielder), as well as star rookie outfielders Juan Soto (Nationals) and Ronald Acuna Jr. (Braves).

MLB stars prepare in Hawaii for Japan Series

Video: Kirby Yates discusses Hawaii workouts, Japan Series

Players, coaches and support staff are spending the weekend on Oahu before heading to Japan for the 2018 Japan All-Star Series, which pits MLB players against counterparts from Nippon Professional Baseball in seven games from Nov. 8-15.

Tweet from @PlayBall: BP thrown by Juan Soto? So awesome. #PlayBall pic.twitter.com/eV0cAsQQ2k

"The last time I was standing on this field was for my last high school game, so I'm very fortunate to be invited to come and be a part of something like this," said Yates, who was one of the players who engaged in light warmup drills and took batting practice before spending time with hundreds of young ballplayers at the Play Ball event Saturday. "To see the kids' faces and having them scream my name, it's pretty surreal.

"Whenever you see [a Major Leaguer] who is actually doing it, who grew up playing here, went to high school and played on this field, then can make it to the next level and come back with an MLB uniform, it's important to let them know that it can be done. I hope that they feel like they can accomplish anything."

Players from the University of Hawaii also participated in the Play Ball event. Local youth baseball and softball players learned from their hometown heroes at the professional and collegiate levels, and visited multiple stations, including home run derby, base running and bat-and-ball games. The experience marked the first time Play Ball was held in Hawaii.

Tweet from @PlayBall: Home runs for everyone. #PlayBall pic.twitter.com/iENSZkivEx

"We're all star-struck, we're seeing guys we watch on TV and who we've seen growing up," University of Hawaii senior infielder Ethan Lopez said after snapping a selfie with All-Star Series manager Don Mattingly. "Just to see them on our field, playing catch and doing things we do as players, it's an amazing experience. I'm trying to take it all in; even watching the way they warm up, and where they position their gloves, these big-name guys are in our home stadium. It's fun to have an experience like this."

Video: Manager Don Mattingly discusses Hawaii workouts

Prior to the Play Ball event, the 2018 Little League World Series champions from Hawaii were honored, and players had the rare opportunity to take pictures with and learn from their big league idols during the workout.

"I'm looking forward to hanging out with the MLB players and the UH players, too, because I want to see and learn their different styles of playing the game," said Ka'olu Holt, an eighth-grader at Kamehameha Schools Kapalama, who was the winning pitcher in the Little League title game.

Holt said he set his sights on meeting Molina.

"Yadier is one of my favorite players, and he's on my favorite team," Holt said. "This is a great opportunity for us to thank the people who have supported us, and so that we can give back to the little kids watching us who want to play baseball, too."

Video: Yadier Molina discusses working out in Hawaii

Ceremonial baseballs were used during Saturday's festivities to mark Major League Baseball's nationwide tour geared toward bringing Play Ball to all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

The All-Star Series extends a longtime tradition that dates back to 1908, and will mark the 37th time that Major Leaguers have toured Japan for exhibition games. The series will be played in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagoya, and MLB Network will provide extensive coverage, including live game telecasts from Nov. 9-15.

Kyle Galdeira is a contributor to MLB.com.

Play Ball enthralls kids at ST home of KC, Texas

MLB.com

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Baseball thrives year-round in the Grand Canyon State.

The D-backs play here and there are 15 teams that prepare for the regular season during Spring Training in Arizona. There's extended spring training, the Arizona Rookie League, instructs, the Arizona Fall League and thousands of youth players who suit up across the state every day.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Baseball thrives year-round in the Grand Canyon State.

The D-backs play here and there are 15 teams that prepare for the regular season during Spring Training in Arizona. There's extended spring training, the Arizona Rookie League, instructs, the Arizona Fall League and thousands of youth players who suit up across the state every day.

It's the perfect setting to Play Ball.

Timed in conjunction with the Arizona Fall League's Fall Stars Game, the latest edition of Play Ball featured close to 300 local participants at the Surprise Recreation Campus, the Spring Training home of the Royals and Rangers. The event, sponsored by Major League Baseball, the Arizona Fall League and the City of Surprise, featured hitting and fielding drills, baserunning and agility workouts on Texas Rangers Field 5. All participants received a Play Ball T-shirt, bat-and-ball set and special wristbands.

"Arizona is a baseball hotbed and the ability to piggyback on the Fall Stars Game is great in this baseball community," said Chuck Fox, senior manager for baseball and softball development for MLB. "Play Ball is everywhere and it's growing. It's not only about the kids that have played, it's about getting kids that have never played the game, who come in and get introduced to the game and leave here thinking how cool it is."

Steve Cobb, the director of the Arizona Fall League, was also in attendance. AFL players Jon Duplantier, Daulton Varsho and Pavin Smith of the D-backs, and the Marlins' No. 17 prospect Jordan Yamato were special guests.

"It's so cool to see those kids put on the T-shirt, smack their gloves and want to play," Cobb said. "I can relate to that and it's great that Play Ball has been incorporated into the Fall Stars Game. It should be a part of this game, because we have the best young players here, and it's important that those young kids get the chance to see them play."

Play Ball launched in June 2015, and it has operated events in hundreds of cities across the country. This year, the program expanded to locations outside of the continental United States, more proof that baseball is alive and well in all age groups across the globe.

"The year has gone extremely well, and we continue to reach communities that we have not reached before," said Tony Reagins, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball and softball development. "I think the highlight of the summer was the event in Alaska, where we had 24 hours of baseball. The U.S. Conference of Mayors continues to rally around the effort and do programs at the grassroots level in their cities. Minor League Baseball has a large group that has had activations in their communities and internally, our department has done great work. We have reached north of a one million kids this year."

In all, there were close to 30 Play Ball activations in 2018, and more could be on the way before the end of the calendar year.

These are a few of the many highlights from Play Ball in 2018:

• In April, the Play Ball activation in Puerto Rico featured more than 450 participants from all over the island. The next month, Major League Baseball played host to the first bi-national Play Ball event with more than 600 participants from Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas.

• Also, in May, more than 300 young players from all over the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon participated in an activation in conjunction with the Mexico Series between the Indians and Twins in Monterrey, Mexico.

• The Play Ball event in Alaska was held in Fairbanks on June 21, the Summer Solstice, in celebration of the Midnight Sun Game, a contest that dates back to 1906.

• There have been Play Ball events in Canada and Panama.

• What's more, there are tentative plans for more international Play Ball activations in 2019, including an event in England during the London Series between the Red Sox and the Yankees in June.

• A Play Ball activation was also held Saturday in Hawaii.

"It's about creating opportunities for young people around the country, internationally and keeping the game alive," Reagins said. "That's what we are trying to do. We are continuing to expand and revitalize the game."

Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.

Dodgers Dreamfield hosts Play Ball event

MLB.com

LOS ANGELES -- There was a noticeable buzz at the Dodgers Dreamfield at Bishop Canyon on Saturday morning.

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LOS ANGELES -- There was a noticeable buzz at the Dodgers Dreamfield at Bishop Canyon on Saturday morning.

:: World Series schedule and results ::

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More than 300 local kids, all outfitted in blue Dodgers caps, gathered for a special Play Ball event at the Elysium Park youth field, located near Dodger Stadium, where just hours earlier the Dodgers earned a thrilling walk-off victory over the Red Sox in Friday night's marathon World Series Game 3.

"I think everybody's on somewhat of a high this morning," said Nichol Whiteman, executive director of the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation. "It didn't matter how old you were, where you were, whatever; you kind of woke up with a pop this morning."

Former Dodgers Shawn Green, Mickey Hatcher, Billy Ashley and Dennis Powell, as well as "This Is Us" actress Mackenzie Hancsicsak were on hand for the event, which is one of hundreds held throughout the country since Major League Baseball's Play Ball initiative launched in 2015.

The initiative aims to increase participation in all forms of baseball and softball activities among all age groups, especially youth, an emphasis of Commissioner Rob Manfred's since he assumed his role in 2015.

"Clearly it's important for baseball to target younger kids and get them excited about the game and continue to build that lifelong passion for baseball," Green said. "This is the type of program where it gets kids to tune into baseball, and not just for the World Series or for next year, but for life."

Saturday's event featured a number of baseball and softball activities that highlight the many ways the game can be played. The kids in attendance were from various Los Angeles-based youth groups -- including Dodgers RBI, Northeast Los Angeles Little League, LAPD Youth Foundation Programs Unit, Boys & Girls Clubs of Ramona and Boys & Girls Clubs of Hollywood -- and each received a bat and ball set and Play Ball-branded gear to take home. Some participants were recognized on the field as part of the pregame festivities in advance of Game 4 of the World Series.

Many of the Play Ball programs are aimed at reaching underprivileged youth, who may not otherwise have access to baseball and softball equipment, instruction and playing fields.

"There's a lot of kids who can't afford to go out there and play the game of baseball," Hatcher said. "We've got to do our best to find a way to get them out here on the field, get them involved in something where they're involved with other kids, other people, and they feel comfortable about life, they feel good about themselves."

With the World Series in town for Games 3, 4 and 5, baseball's spotlight is focused on Los Angeles, where the Dodgers have an active community presence with many current and former players routinely turning out for local youth events and charitable efforts.

The increased attention provided a unique opportunity to highlight the various youth programs and initiatives MLB and the Dodgers have put forth in the city, including Play Ball and the Dodgers' Dream Fields, of which Saturday's venue is one of 50 the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation and its partners have completed since 2003. The foundation recently extended its initial commitment with an additional $10 million to reach 75 fields by the 75th anniversary of the Dodgers' move to Los Angeles.

"We love that Play Ball has become such a heightened campaign," Whiteman said. "It really is helping us place an emphasis on the fact that sports -- and specifically baseball and softball -- can have a real impact in the lives of kids, especially in underserved communities here in Los Angeles."

Baseball and softball participation combined to rank as the most participated team sports in the United States in 2017 (25.1 million participants), according to a report by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, and since the launch of Play Ball in 2015, baseball has seen a 49.1 percent growth in casual participation.

"Our goal is to continue to push and do more and try to touch more communities and get more kids involved as much as we can in baseball, softball and girls baseball," said Tony Reagins, MLB's executive vice president for baseball and softball development. "Our work will never be done, really, as long as there are young people that are out there that we haven't engaged."

Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Youth event rebranded to Hank Aaron Invitational

MLB.com

LOS ANGELES -- Commissioner Rob Manfred announced on Friday that one of Major League Baseball's most important youth initiatives will be renamed in honor of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron. In addition, the program will be expanded to be part of Hank Aaron Week at SunTrust Park in Atlanta next summer.

Manfred and Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark made the joint announcement with Aaron before Game 3 of the World Series between the Red Sox and the Dodgers.

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LOS ANGELES -- Commissioner Rob Manfred announced on Friday that one of Major League Baseball's most important youth initiatives will be renamed in honor of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron. In addition, the program will be expanded to be part of Hank Aaron Week at SunTrust Park in Atlanta next summer.

Manfred and Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark made the joint announcement with Aaron before Game 3 of the World Series between the Red Sox and the Dodgers.

View Full Game Coverage

The program, previously known as the Elite Development Invitational, will now be known as the Hank Aaron Invitational. The event is a five-day camp for approximately 250 high school-age kids each summer at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida. It's designed to hone baseball and life skills and provide information on college eligibility.

"It's kind of the crown jewel of all of our youth programs," Manfred said. "Hundreds of racially diverse high school-age players have participated in the program. And it's a Spring Training type of environment and experience for really talented young players."

As part of Hank Aaron Week in Atlanta, 44 of the top players -- to signify Aaron's number -- will be chosen to play a game at the Braves' new home. That week includes baseball's Diversity Business Summit as well as cultural activities that emphasize the role of Atlanta in the civil rights movement.

Among the former Major League players and managers who've served as instructors at Dodgertown since the program's inception in 2015: Ken Griffey Jr., Dave Winfield, Eric Davis, Reggie Smith, Marquis Grissom, Tom Gordon, Jerry Manuel and Bo Porter.

The MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation covers all costs for the players.

"I'm humbled to have this program named in my honor and thrilled the showcase game will be played at SunTrust Park," Aaron said. "I applaud MLB and the Braves in their efforts to continue to assist with outreach so that opportunities are available to all."

Participants in the Hank Aaron Invitational are selected from the MLB Youth Academy network, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Association, USA Baseball, the Buck O'Neil Scouts Association, MLB Clubs & Scouts and individual active and former players.

More than 100 alumni of the program are either playing professionally in Minor League systems or at the collegiate level. Among the notable alumni: Hunter Greene of the Reds, Osiris Johnson of the Marlins, Taj Bradley of the Rays and Bryce Bush of the White Sox.

"We think over the last four years we made great strides in terms of youth participation," Manfred said. "Baseball has been the fastest growing [youth sport] and is the most played sport by kids under 12.

"I think equally important, the programs have helped us on the diversity front. If you look at the first round of our Draft the last five years, 20 percent of the players are African-American. We only have eight percent in the big leagues right now. So that's a good number for us. It portends well for the future."

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

Young arms impress at WWBA Championships

Teenage pitchers show poise, command at Breakthrough Series youth competition
MLB.com

LAKE WORTH, Fla. -- Pitching against elite competition in front of scouts thousands of miles from home can be intimidating.

So when Pablo Santos got the nod in the Breakthrough Series team's opening game of the 2018 World Wood Bat Association Freshman Championships on Friday at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the 14-year-old listened to "hype music" to stay focused.

LAKE WORTH, Fla. -- Pitching against elite competition in front of scouts thousands of miles from home can be intimidating.

So when Pablo Santos got the nod in the Breakthrough Series team's opening game of the 2018 World Wood Bat Association Freshman Championships on Friday at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the 14-year-old listened to "hype music" to stay focused.

It seemed to work, as the 5-foot-11, 150-pounder didn't allow a run in a 7-2 victory.

"I tried to keep my composure and take everything out and focus on pitching," said Santos, who attends Don Bosco Preparatory in New Jersey. "I didn't try to overthink anything, so I don't put pressure on myself. I like to stay mentally focused so that way, I'm just thinking about me and the batter and what I'm going to do next. I really don't try to do anything out of my league, try to keep it simple and play my game."

The Breakthrough Series, which was established in 2008, is a joint effort between MLB and USA Baseball to promote baseball as a viable collegiate and professional option for youth from minority backgrounds.

Santos, who has already received interest from top collegiate baseball programs such as Clemson, Florida and Virginia, throws a two-seam fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. He believes it takes a person with "high composure" to be a pitcher.

"Sometimes I get nervous when there's a lot of scouts, knowing I have to do good, but on the mound, I feel that's the place where I'm settled," Santos said.

Video: Players at the U15 trials discuss their experiences

In settings such as this one, former big leaguer and Breakthrough Series pitching coach Marvin Freeman tries to reassure his players that all they're trying to do is execute a pitch. If they can stay in the moment, they can eliminate the noise and things outside of their control -- like scouts or defensive errors.

Freeman also encourages the players to focus on their two best pitches to the point of being able to use them in any situation.

"Get strike one, stay aggressive, keep the ball down and trust the stuff that you have," Freeman said. "Anything else outside of that, you can't control."

Gilbert Saunders III came on in relief during Saturday's 5-3 loss at Santaluces Sports Complex, hoping to keep the game close. He did so by not allowing an earned run.

According to Perfect Game's scouting report, the 15-year-old right-hander "repeats his mechanics well with a good use of his lower half, short stride down the mound and good tempo throughout." The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder throws a four-seam fastball, changeup and curveball -- each for strikes, with good feel.

Saunders, who attends the Hill School in Gilbertsville, Pa., also plays basketball and water polo, the latter of which he credits for his arm strength and conditioning.

"My main focus is be the bulldog," Saunders said. "Normally when people aren't able to throw strikes, they kind of let loose, but Coach Freeman has pounded in my head, 'Keep throwing the ball hard, keep trying to locate, it's going to get there eventually.'"

Former big leaguer and Breakthrough Series coach Homer Bush has been impressed with the young staff's ability to control and change speeds.

The level of competition, in Bush's opinion, brings out the best in players. And by simply taking the mound, pitchers get a better understanding of what hitters are doing in the box. Students of the game learn best by competing.

"One thing I'm noticing with these young players is they come with live arms, but at the same time, they're able to locate, they can go to a strike when they need it, which is fastball down and away or down and in most the time," Bush said. "That's extremely important. That usually is what puts them ahead of the pack and gets them invited here, because they can fill up the strike zone. But the plus feature is you see them using the curveball or the changeup at the right time, and that's what's impressive for me at 14, 15 years old."

Christina De Nicola is an editorial producer for MLB.com.

MLB's Breakthrough Series advances at WWBA

Young players garnering attention from scouts, colleges
MLB.com

JUPITER, Fla. -- All week, Major League Baseball's Breakthrough Series squad has shown it can compete with the elite at Perfect Game's talent-rich World Wood Bat Association (WWBA) World Championship at the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex.

In their first ever appearance in the prestigious 18U tournament, Breakthrough Series has advanced into bracket play, and the players have caught the attention of the dozens of college and professional scouts who have flocked to one of the marquee wood bat events.

JUPITER, Fla. -- All week, Major League Baseball's Breakthrough Series squad has shown it can compete with the elite at Perfect Game's talent-rich World Wood Bat Association (WWBA) World Championship at the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex.

In their first ever appearance in the prestigious 18U tournament, Breakthrough Series has advanced into bracket play, and the players have caught the attention of the dozens of college and professional scouts who have flocked to one of the marquee wood bat events.

Sunday morning, Breakthrough Series rallied from four runs down in the first inning to defeat the Dallas Patriots Scout squad, 13-4.

"At the end of the day, all the kids down here, we really want them to have the opportunity to have a chance to play in front of the scouts and the college coaches," MLB senior director of baseball development Del Matthews said. "So, I'm extremely pleased with how we competed [Saturday], and how we fought back from a four-run deficit [Sunday] in the first inning."

The win in the morning was on Field 4 of the Roger Dean complex, which is the Spring Training home of the Marlins and Cardinals. That particular field has seen its share of history. Such stars as Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Delgado and Giancarlo Stanton once scrimmaged in Spring Training on it. In 2005, Delgado, then with the Marlins, blasted a home run to right field that bounced across the street and shattered a window in the housing development. On the same field in spring of 2013, the late Jose Fernandez accidently pegged Stanton in the back of the helmet with a pitch.

Since Thursday, more than 80 teams have been using the same back fields that are training grounds for big league and Minor League players.

"This means a lot," Breakthrough Series outfielder Emanuel Dean said. "We're just going out there to have fun and lead the way for everybody else, and set an example."

Dean, 18, is from Anaheim, Calif., and he's a UCLA commit.

The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder is no stranger to big stages. In July, he participated in the high school Home Run Derby at Nationals Park during the All-Star festivities. He finished with a respectable 18 homers in the home of the Washington Nationals. He also had the chance to meet All-Stars Adam Jones of the Orioles and Aaron Hicks of the Yankees.

"I didn't come out on top, but it was so much fun," Dean said. "It was amazing. You've just got to keep working to get better as a baseball player. You can't let it get to your head, you've got to be humble and just keep on moving forward."

Video: Mental preparation at the WWBA U14 Pitching Trials

Breakthrough Series launched in 2008 as a joint partnership between USA Baseball and Major League Baseball. Their performance in Jupiter has grabbed the attention of the scouts.

"The scouting has been great," Matthews said. "Everybody has been very pleased by the style of play, and how well the players are competing. They're talking about how they like the players, and how they have progressed. College coaches are asking about the players, asking about the uncommitted players. So, it's been positive in all aspects."

Breakthrough Series has 26 players on the roster, and at least 16 have commited to either Division I colleges, or junior colleges.

"These are some of the top players in the country," Matthews said.

Because the Perfect Game tournament is during the school year, Breakthrough Series requires its players to attend study halls at night, to not fall behind in the classroom.

They also have top-notch coaches, including former big leaguer Marquis Grissom, whose son, Marquis Jr., is a pitcher at Counterpane High School in Atlanta.

"There's an edge when you've played in the big leagues, or you've played in the Minor Leagues," Matthews said. "You've had an opportunity to tell the kids how it's going to be. This is what you need to expect. This is how you go about your business. Who better to give that information to than somebody like Marquis Grissom, who played in the big leagues for 15 years, and has four or five Gold Gloves.

"That's really what separates us from everybody else. We are development-oriented. That's ultimately what we want to see. We want to see the players get better, and we want to give them the information right after the game, to let them know how they can continue to improve themselves."

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.

Sons of dads with MLB ties join forces on team

Cairo, Moore have learned a lot from famous fathers
MLB.com

JUPITER, Fla. -- They're close friends who live halfway across the country from each other, and they share the bond of both having fathers connected to Major League Baseball.

Meet the double-play combination for the Royals Scout Team 18U squad competing at the Perfect Game World Wood Bat Association World Championship this week at the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex. At shortstop is Robert Moore, a 16-year-old from Leawood, Kan., and over at second is Christian Cairo, 17, from Clearwater, Fla.

JUPITER, Fla. -- They're close friends who live halfway across the country from each other, and they share the bond of both having fathers connected to Major League Baseball.

Meet the double-play combination for the Royals Scout Team 18U squad competing at the Perfect Game World Wood Bat Association World Championship this week at the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex. At shortstop is Robert Moore, a 16-year-old from Leawood, Kan., and over at second is Christian Cairo, 17, from Clearwater, Fla.

Although they see each other infrequently, they have a brotherhood through baseball. Their fathers are well accomplished in the game. Dayton Moore is the longtime general manager of the Kansas City Royals, who put together the 2015 World Series championship team. Miguel Cairo played for nine teams during his 17-year big league career, which ended in '12.

"My dad has taught me a lot, but it's mainly my mom [Marianne] that got me into baseball, to be honest," Robert Moore said Sunday morning. "My mom kind of introduced me to the games, because my dad wasn't totally around the first few years. It was my mom and my grandpa. But my dad since then has really taught me where to be, and basically how to play."

Moore joked that when he just started playing baseball, his mom would basically put the ball on the tee, and start filming.

Moore is a standout shortstop ranked 23rd by Perfect Game. The Shawnee Mission East High School infielder is an early commitment to the University of Arkansas.

Cairo, who plays second base and shortstop, attends Calvary Christian High School in Clearwater. He is committed to Louisiana State University.

"My dad has taught me a lot," Cairo said. "He's taught me little things. I've grown up around it, and picking things up from everyone as you get older."

Barring either signing to play professional baseball beforehand, Moore and Cairo will be competing against each other in the Southeastern Conference.

"It's going to be exciting," Cairo said. "We're going to have some fun with it. Not doubt."

"I'll have him over his first weekend in Fayetteville," Moore said.

The Perfect Game showcase is being conducted at the Spring Training site of the Marlins and Cardinals, and it features some of the best high school players in the country.

"If you're really, really good, you still could be done playing when you're 30 years old," Moore said. "We're 16 and 17 years old, and we have an opportunity to compete right here."

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.

Kansas City Royals

Carl Crawford's son could 'be better than his dad'

Justin Crawford, 14, competing with BreakThrough Series team
MLB.com

LAKE WORTH, Fla. -- Justin Crawford doesn't remember whether he threw a strike during his first baseball memory, but he does know it helped shape his love of the game.

A 4-year-old Crawford threw out the first pitch to his Major League dad, Carl, before a Rays game at Tropicana Field in the late 2000s.

LAKE WORTH, Fla. -- Justin Crawford doesn't remember whether he threw a strike during his first baseball memory, but he does know it helped shape his love of the game.

A 4-year-old Crawford threw out the first pitch to his Major League dad, Carl, before a Rays game at Tropicana Field in the late 2000s.

"He used to take me to the clubhouse with all the players, so my dad mostly, but even all the players would show me the ropes," Justin Crawford said. "My dad obviously is a big part of my life with baseball and got me to where I am today.

"I would say it helps me out a little bit. He would take me out to the field during batting practice, and those balls are obviously hit a lot harder, so I guess it made it a little easier for me. Just help me maybe adjust to the game a lot easier and just knowing what those balls are like off the bat."

Being the son of a former big leaguer added pressure early on, but the 14-year-old Crawford is starting to make a name for himself as he follows in his father's footsteps.

Video: Mental preparation at the WWBA U14 Pitching Trials

"At times, when I was younger, I did, but as I play now I don't feel it anymore," Crawford said. "I just play the game." 

Crawford, who used to play football and basketball but is now focusing on baseball, is competing with the BreakThrough Series team at the 2018 WWBA Freshman Championships this weekend in South Florida.

The Breakthrough Series, which was established in 2008, is a joint effort between MLB and USA Baseball to promote baseball as a viable collegiate and professional option for youth from minority backgrounds.

"I was extremely excited because I put in a lot of work to get here, and to know that it paid off feels amazing," said Crawford, who attends Rolling Hills Preparatory in Torrance, Calif. "All these teams here and players I'm playing with are all amazing guys and good people to be around. The competition is great."

Tweet from @CDeNicola13: Carl Crawford���s son, Justin, competing for the BreakThrough Series team in Palm Beach earlier today. pic.twitter.com/iH4q7R4xv4

According to Perfect Game's scouting report, Crawford is a 5-foot-11, 140-pound outfielder with room to fill out. He has smooth glove skills and will develop more arm strength as he adds weight. A left-handed hitter, his swing projects nicely with strength.

Former big leaguer Homer Bush, one of the BreakThrough Series team's coaches, sees a young player who knows the strike zone and has a good swing.

"The athleticism jumps off the charts, and then once you see how he handles himself at the plate, you can tell he's gotten some really good coaching along the way," Bush said. "But the first thing a coach usually notices is pure athleticism.

"He has a very high-level approach at the plate. The approach that he has and the swing path that he has, you just don't fall into that. That usually comes with some coaching that's pretty good."

One of the people to credit for that mature approach is former big leaguer Junior Spivey, who has been coaching Crawford since he was 6.

Spivey projects Crawford as a top-of-the-order player who uses his legs as an asset. He has tried preaching "understanding his abilities and what he brings to the table."

"He has a chance to be better than his dad," said Spivey, who came to see Crawford play on Saturday at Santaluces Sports Complex. "He's driven, he's hungry, he just wants the information, he loves to be coached. He's a coach's dream because he wants to be coached, and you just coach him up, and he understands the game and understands that no stage's too big for him."

Christina De Nicola is an editorial producer for MLB.com based in Miami.

Ways to Play youth tourney tries new pace rules

Some of baseball's brightest young talent competed over weekend in Georgia
MLB.com

MLB and Perfect Game hosted a unique baseball experience over the weekend at Perfect Game Park South in Emerson, Ga., with the second annual Ways to Play tournament.

The tournament featured some of the best youth teams in the country competing with different pace-of-play rules, including all at-bats starting with a 1-1 count and no around-the-horn throws between outs. Batters must also keep one foot within the batter's box at all times, and mound visits are limited to four per game. If a game is tied after nine innings, extra frames begin with a runner on second base.

MLB and Perfect Game hosted a unique baseball experience over the weekend at Perfect Game Park South in Emerson, Ga., with the second annual Ways to Play tournament.

The tournament featured some of the best youth teams in the country competing with different pace-of-play rules, including all at-bats starting with a 1-1 count and no around-the-horn throws between outs. Batters must also keep one foot within the batter's box at all times, and mound visits are limited to four per game. If a game is tied after nine innings, extra frames begin with a runner on second base.

The unique rules encourage aggressive play, while also easing wear and tear on pitchers' arms.

The event, which was first played last year in Atlanta, was the second this month after a tournament at MLB's Youth Academy in Compton, Calif.

"When you talk about the pace of the game and having the kids be more aggressive, wanting to see the kids swing the bat and play the game at an up-tempo pace, we think the 1-1 count is conducive to that," MLB's senior director for baseball development Del Matthews said. "The players have to lock in from the first pitch. ... It's great to see them adjust, it's great to see them try new things. It's all part of the evaluation process and their development."

A team made up of participants from MLB's Breakthrough Series -- a joint development program between USA Baseball and MLB -- finished as the runner-up in the tournament, losing in the championship game, 6-4, to Canes National. The Breakthrough Series, which was established in 2008, focuses on developing players on and off the field and provides a platform for players to perform for scouts and college coaches. The program had three events in Kansas City, Compton and Bradenton, Fla., in June and saw 25 alumni selected in the 2018 MLB Draft.

Michael Harris II of the Breakthrough Series team was named Most Valuable Pitcher, while Canes National outfielder Corbin Carroll, a top 2018 Draft prospect, earned Most Valuable Player honors.

Tweet from @PerfectGameUSA: And Corbin Carroll (WA) with another HR at Ways to Play powered by MLB and PG. 97 mph off his bat and went 390 feet. Special player @TrackManBB https://t.co/M7qqn5YLY8 pic.twitter.com/3zVxdANqvo

Harris followed up a dominant pitching performance against the Dullins Dodgers on Saturday by hitting a game-tying, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning in Sunday's semifinal game.

Tweet from @MoneyyyMikeee: Love the Game ������������🔥 pic.twitter.com/sWHA8QptHC

"[Harris] is probably one of the best two-way players at this level," said MLB Breakthrough Series coach Marvin Freeman, who played 10 years in the Majors from 1986-96 with the Phillies, Braves, Rockies and White Sox. "He's a total professional. He's probably the hardest-working, quietest kid I've been around, and his talent speaks for itself. When he's on that field, I just sit back. I wish I had 10 Mike Harrises on my team."

Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.

Youth tourney makes 'exciting' rule changes

Special to MLB.com

COMPTON -- Major League Baseball and Perfect Game joined forces at MLB's Compton Youth Academy for the first West Coast Ways To Play tournament, featuring eight of the top travel teams and some of the top Draft prospects in Southern California and Las Vegas.

What makes the Ways to Play tournament unique is the rules to help speed up the games. Batters begin the at-bat with a 1-1 count and must keep a foot in the box.

COMPTON -- Major League Baseball and Perfect Game joined forces at MLB's Compton Youth Academy for the first West Coast Ways To Play tournament, featuring eight of the top travel teams and some of the top Draft prospects in Southern California and Las Vegas.

What makes the Ways to Play tournament unique is the rules to help speed up the games. Batters begin the at-bat with a 1-1 count and must keep a foot in the box.

Additional rules include no throwing the ball around the horn between outs and a maximum of only four mound visits per game. Should a game be tied after nine innings, all subsequent innings start with a runner on second base.

"An event like this is important because it's both of our missions to help grow the game and we believe that by trying new and exciting ways to speed the game up, it makes it more enjoyable for players at the amateur level," Perfect Game CEO Brad Clement said of his organization's partnership with Major League Baseball.

Darrell Miller, vice president of Youth and Facility Development for MLB, believes the tournament's unique rules quicken the pace of games and also alleviate wear and tear on young arms.

"This is an instant-gratification generation, they want things now and they want it quick, the idea is to make the adjustment in sports," Miller said. "For kids in these tournaments, they're able to play more games and throw less pitches, thereby reducing stress in the young arms, all in same amount of time."

The Ways To Play South tournament, which was first played last year in Atlanta, is joined this year by this weekend's tournament in Southern California. 

"This is the first time we've done this on the West Coast," Clement said, "and we're excited to have some of the top travel teams participating, and are especially glad to have the Compton Youth Academy team, as well as some of the top prospects in the next couple of years' drafts."

Those top prospects include first baseman Joseph Naranjo, who has committed to play next season for Cal State Fullerton, Thomas Dilandri, an outfielder who will play at TCU, and third basemen Jaden Agassi, son of tennis stars Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf who has committed to USC.

Also playing in the tournament was Kyle Karros, son of former Los Angeles Dodger Eric Karros, who was there watching and had some thoughts regarding the current speed of the game.

"For the average fan, especially in today's fast-pace society where it's now, now, now, it can be a bit of an issue. On the other hand, I'm a bit of a traditionalist, I like the thought of the game, the cerebral aspect," Karros said, adding that he wasn't opposed to trying new things.

"Events such as this, it can be applicable. They work at this level. I like the idea of not throwing the ball around the infield, that adds a little time. I like the idea of batters staying in the box. I think the experimentation at the youth level makes a lot of sense."

The reaction from players and families has been positive, according to Miller, and he believes it can help the future of baseball.

"People love the game, it's a great game," he said. "Let's teach the kids to play in a timely fashion. Hustle in, hustle out, stay in the batter's box."

Miller also likes seeing the catchers calling their own games, which isn't a tournament rule.

"Let the kids call their own game, they have enough information," Miller said. "They know the game better than we think they do."

The tournament consists of eight teams, each playing three games, two on the first day. Saturday's games are single elimination, with the losing teams moving on to the consolation bracket and winning teams advancing to the championship round. On Sunday, the first three games match Saturday's losing teams, with the two winning teams meeting for the championship.

Glenn Rabney is a contributor to MLB.com based in Los Angeles.

Souza, D-backs take part in PLAY event

MLB.com

PHOENIX -- For D-backs outfielder Steven Souza Jr., the time he spent working with a group of kids as part of the National PLAY campaign, which promotes the importance of children living a healthy lifestyle and disability inclusion, was an experience he won't forget.

The program was created in 2004 by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society to raise awareness about children's health issues and the obesity epidemic in the United States.

PHOENIX -- For D-backs outfielder Steven Souza Jr., the time he spent working with a group of kids as part of the National PLAY campaign, which promotes the importance of children living a healthy lifestyle and disability inclusion, was an experience he won't forget.

The program was created in 2004 by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society to raise awareness about children's health issues and the obesity epidemic in the United States.

Children from the National Down Syndrome Society took part in the PLAY event Wednesday with the support of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which advocates for the full inclusion of people with disabilities in society.

The D-backs' training staff, including head athletic trainer Ken Crenshaw, assistant athletic trainer Ryan DiPanfilo and strength and conditioning coach Nate Shaw, also participated in Wednesday's event.

"I went around and asked them where they were from and it was amazing how many different countries were represented," Souza said. "It was so cool to be able to be around them. They were so excited that it made my day."

Shaw put the kids through some agility drills and showed them different exercises.

"It was a pretty cool thing," Shaw said. "These kids were really into it. They just loved being out on the grass running around. To see the big smiles on their faces made it worthwhile for me. It was special."

PLAY, which stands for Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth, has conducted more than 300 events inside all 30 Major League ballparks reaching tens of thousands of America's young people with their message.

"I just talked to them about making some healthy choices in life and making sure they got away from the video games and got outside when they could," Souza said. "Seeing them today was energizing and reminded me why I love what I get to do every day."

Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.

Arizona Diamondbacks, Steven Souza Jr.

Father, son share riveting story at T12 showcase

MLB.com

TORONTO -- At 17 years old, Tyrell Schofield-Sam is getting opportunities his father never had.

He capped a weekend at the Blue Jays' Tournament 12 showcase with a pair of RBIs in the championship game to help clinch a 5-2 victory for Ontario Green over team Alberta. He hit .278 in six games at the tournament and solidified himself as one of Canada's top prospects.

TORONTO -- At 17 years old, Tyrell Schofield-Sam is getting opportunities his father never had.

He capped a weekend at the Blue Jays' Tournament 12 showcase with a pair of RBIs in the championship game to help clinch a 5-2 victory for Ontario Green over team Alberta. He hit .278 in six games at the tournament and solidified himself as one of Canada's top prospects.

When Schofield-Sam's father, Frankie Gurnie Sam, was 17 years old, his life was completely different.

"I was homeless," Sam said. "Sleeping in the staircases of apartment buildings."

At 16 years old, Sam immigrated to Canada with his mother from Saint Vincent. He hardly knew his father when his family moved from the island, and within a year of living in Toronto he was kicked out of his house.

"I made a vow to myself," Sam said. "I will never ever let my kids go through what I went through; I will be there for them no matter what."

Over the past five days, that vow brought Sam to Canada's marquee baseball showcase at Rogers Centre to watch his son continue his pursuit of his dream.

"I want to play in the MLB," Schofield-Sam said.

Schofield-Sam has loved baseball since he was very young. His mother used to bring him in his stroller to watch his father play slow-pitch. While he watched he was quietly absorbing far more than his father realized.

"I came home and he was 3 years old," Sam said, "and he said watch what I can do. ... He took me in the backyard, picked up the baseball, threw it in the air, and swung at it 10 times without missing."

It was a moment that has stuck with Sam. He quickly came to realize his son was athletically talented, but he also knew pursing baseball was going to come with sacrifices. Years later, when Schofield-Sam was 9, he told his father he wanted to devote himself to baseball.

"He said to me, 'Dad I really want to play baseball,'" Sam said. "I said, 'I'll make you a deal, you work hard, put in the time, and don't worry about it. Daddy's got your back, financially, don't worry about it, I've got your back.'"

Sam wants to provide his son with the support he never had. He works long hours driving a truck, heading off to work at 1 or 2 in the morning, without any sleep some days, just to help his son pursue his dream.

"I didn't get to do what I wanted to do as a kid," Sam said. "So I'm happy for him that I provide the support for him so he can accomplish his dreams."

Schofield-Sam spends his days bouncing between school and baseball workouts. He doesn't play video games or date, his dad says, instead he's up in his room doing push-ups and sit-ups. Sam says his son spends 23 hours a week working on baseball.

It's all in pursuit of the dream so many of these boys at the T12 showcase share. For so many of these parents, it's about providing their children with whatever support is necessary to help their children attain their goal. Now, it's up to the college and MLB scouts to decide who gets offers.

Sam says the future is in God's hands. Regardless of what happens next, Sam plans to be there for his son in ways that he was never afforded.

Aaron Rose is a reporter for MLB.com based in Toronto.

Nicoll hopes T12 provides 'vehicle' to college

MLB.com

TORONTO -- "This is about as much of a grandparenting as we do," Gene Wray said while holding his iPad up to videotape his grandson Brandon Nicoll's at-bat.

Gene and his wife, Linda, made the cross-country trip from Parksville, British Columbia, to the Rogers Centre to see their grandson play in his first Tournament 12 showcase.

TORONTO -- "This is about as much of a grandparenting as we do," Gene Wray said while holding his iPad up to videotape his grandson Brandon Nicoll's at-bat.

Gene and his wife, Linda, made the cross-country trip from Parksville, British Columbia, to the Rogers Centre to see their grandson play in his first Tournament 12 showcase.

They're nervous watching him as he stands with the bat over his right shoulder.

"We die every time he goes up," Gene Wray said. "But we never let him see."

Nicoll doesn't see them because he isn't looking for his grandparents. He's just focused on the game and doing whatever he can do to impress the college scouts in attendance.

The 17-year-old outfielder is finishing up his last year at Langley Secondary School in Langley, British Columbia, before he hopes to play collegiate baseball somewhere in the United States. He's hoping his baseball prowess can help finance that education.

"He really would like an education ... and baseball is that vehicle," Wray said. 

About 50 percent of the 160 players at this year's T12 event will get some sort of collegiate baseball scholarship, according to an MLB scout. Of those top players, only about 15 will get drafted into a Minor League system and maybe one will ever get into a Major League game.

Tweet from @BlueJays: Cesar Valero crushed some out of the yard today at #T12 Scout Day. Learn more about the highly touted prospect & T12: https://t.co/HtR0vb0aZo pic.twitter.com/t6chRNoxEx

Wray acknowledges that trying to impress the scouts can be a lot of pressure for a teenager, but if Nicoll is concerned, he doesn't show it.

"I don't feel any nerves," Nicoll said.

In four games at the T12 event, Nicoll has gone 4-for-10 with a walk, one RBI and two runs scored. He added a pair of home runs to left field on scout day that he said "felt nice."

To his grandparents, the home runs meant much more.

"It's hard to explain," Wray said as he rubbed the goose bumps on his arm. "I just want success for him."

Everyone has made sacrifices to help Nicoll pursue his dream. Last year, Nicoll moved away from home to stay with his aunt in Langley when he changed schools. He spent 50 weeks away from his home in Coombs, British Columbia, and he missed it.

"He even admitted to his dad, which is rare, that he was home sick this year," Wray said.

The decision to move away came with Nicoll's decision to focus solely on baseball. He grew up playing every sport, Linda says, but he excelled in hockey and baseball. Eventually, like so many other young Canadian athletes, he was faced with a decision to make.

Tweet from @BlueJaysAcademy: Blue Jays President and CEO, Mark Shapiro, speaks to players ahead of the first day of #T12 presented by @NewEraCap. pic.twitter.com/eRB62Drmv8

"You sort of have to make a choice of where you want to go because the travelling is unbelievable," Linda Wray said. "The two kids, one is going up island, one is going down island, one is going across to the main land, so let's try to just play one sport this year."

Nicoll says he chose baseball because he felt it was his better sport. He always played on the best local hockey team, but he felt he wasn't among the best players on the team.

"In baseball I always seemed to be one of the better players on the team," Nicoll said.

Whatever the future holds for him, his family says they'll support him.

"We're in our mid-60s, and his other grandma is 92, and she told Gene, she said, I hope I live long enough to see Brandon succeed in what he wants to do." Linda said. "That's all we want."

Aaron Rose is a reporter for MLB.com.

Toronto Blue Jays