Before Team Rangers pulled away from Team Texas late for a 9-3 victory, a pitchers’ duel unfolded in the early innings at Globe Life Field on Tuesday night as All-Star teams from the RBI Senior Division at the Texas Rangers MLB Youth Academy at Mercy Street Sports Complex, Presented by Toyota, battled it out for bragging rights.
James Malone started for Team Texas. He pitched in some high-intensity situations during the academy’s RBI season, including fanning 18 Hard Hitters over seven innings of one-hit baseball to propel his Eagles to the semifinals of the Rangers RBI Wood Bat Tournament.
But the incoming junior at DeSoto High School admitted to having some butterflies when he took the mound Tuesday at Globe Life Field.
“It was pretty crazy, being on an MLB field,” Malone said. “It was a pretty fun experience.”
Team Rangers countered with Nick Flores, a pitcher with a year of experience at Frank Phillips College in Borger, Texas.
“I don’t really let that get to me,” Malone said of facing a more experienced starter. “Even though he already had a year under his belt, that’s fine with me. Just play the game, play hard.”
Flores, who returned to the academy this year for his final season of RBI eligibility, made the RBI All-Star team that traveled to Austin for the RBI Southwest Regionals in 2019, but a family situation kept him from making the trip. The RBI Regionals were canceled this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Flores was grateful for the opportunity to play at Globe Life Field on Tuesday.
“It’s an amazing experience. It’s really, really nice. Nicer than it looks on TV,” Flores said.
Flores’ catcher was a fellow collegiate player, Nick Chavez. After finishing his freshman year at Oklahoma Wesleyan, Chavez returned to the academy for his final year of RBI eligibility.
“I just try to get on the field any way I can, every time I get the chance,” Chavez said of what brought him back to the academy for 2020.
Malone settled in after allowing a first-inning run, finishing with four innings of one-run ball. Flores tossed three scoreless frames.
Team Rangers led 1-0 entering the bottom of the fourth. Matthew De Leon, an incoming senior at Skyline High School, then delivered an RBI single to tie it up and used heads-up baserunning give Team Texas a 2-1 lead.
“It felt amazing; it was a dream come true,” De Leon said of playing on a Major League field.
Julian Olivo, a 2020 graduate of Pinkston High School, took over on the mound for Team Texas in the top of the fifth and worked out of a bases-loaded jam. But Team Rangers scored twice in the sixth to take a 4-2 lead.
Team Texas got a run back in the bottom of the sixth to make it 4-3, but Team Rangers’ offense took over from there, scoring five runs in the top of the seventh to wrap up the game, which was played with a two-hour time limit.
Texas Rangers assistant general manager Josh Boyd was on hand for the contest. Knowing the game was played in place of the canceled RBI regionals made what the athletes did on the field significant to Boyd.
“What stands out to me here is the passion and energy they played with,” Boyd said. “I think about that, especially in a year like this where the game was taken away from them, from all of us, for months. To see them out here competing on every pitch, every out, for every run like this, at a brand-new ballpark, was exciting to watch.”
Team Rangers coach Orlando Prescott said the game showcased the strides academy athletes have made. Having academy participants return for their final year of RBI eligibility after playing a year at the collegiate level helped advance all the athletes.
“To have guys who come back from playing college ball, that just speaks to the quality of talent that we have and also the development that the players get in this program,” Prescott said. “It gives other athletes a guiding point of, ‘OK, there’s people from this program who have gone on to the next level,’ … and just figure out if it’s something that they’re able to do at the next level.”