Last weekend, Great American Ball Park hosted five local high school baseball games for Big League Weekend as the conclusion to the 10th annual Skyline Chili Reds Futures High School Showcase presented by Cincinnati Children’s Sports Medicine & Orthopaedics.
This year’s Showcase featured 91 baseball and softball teams from 81 Greater Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, Southeast Indiana and Dayton high schools, playing 49 games from April 10 to May 15. The event kicked off on April 10 at the P&G MLB Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy and culminated with the crown jewel event at the home of the Reds.
In-Game Sports CEO Tom Gamble created this event 10 years ago. A lunch meeting with Reds Community Fund executive director Charley Frank to pitch the idea was the genesis for what is now one of the most popular high school sports events in the Cincinnati Tri-state each year. Gamble’s company also runs the Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown -- the annual football showcase -- so the thought was to mimic that successful event, but with baseball. Not too long after the inaugural showcase, they also introduced softball as the event rapidly grew to include more schools and a broader geography.
Gamble receives emails year-round from schools that see and hear about the event and are eager to participate. The schools understand what this unique opportunity means to their players. Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy even bought six of the bases used during the weekend that they will present as a gift to their six seniors.
“It’s such a special event every year. It’s a really big deal and doesn’t ever seem to get old,” Gamble said. “You put yourself in the position of these kids -- if you’re a young guy growing up in Greater Cincinnati, what do you envision? Your lifelong dream is to play for the Reds. At this stage of their lives, this is as close as they are going to get. Walking in the tunnel, stepping onto a big league field, seeing their names and school logo on the scoreboard … it’s truly special.”
Friday’s opener saw Dixie Heights defeat Beechwood 3-2 in nine innings followed by Centerville handling Edgewood 14-2. Saturday’s tripleheader started with Lakota West knocking off Loveland 7-2 and Badin beating CHCA 9-4 before Moeller outlasted undefeated Covington Catholic 3-2 in a dramatic extra-inning game to cap off the weekend.
The Moeller-Covington Catholic matchup was the focus heading into the weekend and the matchup between the eight-time state champion Crusaders and the 26-0-1 Colonels did not disappoint. In the bottom of the ninth, junior Griff Cady doubled home junior Nate Earley from first base to lift Moeller to victory and jumpstart an on-field celebration mirroring what fans are used to seeing over the years with the likes of Joey Votto and Eugenio Suárez.
“There is no doubt that the walk-off win will be remembered and talked about forever in Moeller history -- not only by our players but by all the fans that attended,” Moeller head coach Tim Held said. “This group of players and coaches will always remember this moment when they see GABP on TV or walk into the stadium.
“As a coach, I won’t forget standing in that third base coach’s box and watching my team jump the railing and stream on to the field to celebrate the win in the bottom of the ninth inning. There isn’t a better feeling than seeing your team so happy to pick up a win in that fashion in Great American Ball Park.”
Because of what playing at GABP represents and how rare of an opportunity it is, it can make preparing for the game a little more challenging. While all teams certainly want to win their game, there is an understanding of what this moment means to the kids. With this in mind, the coaches allow them to take it all in, while some expand their rosters and rotations in order to provide the experience to as many student-athletes as possible.
“Balancing the experience plus competing at a high level is the toughest part before the game begins,” Held said. “With the Reds personnel allowing us 60 minutes to prepare as we normally do before a game, I could sense the players falling into their normal routines. Then once the first pitch was thrown, I think everyone was focused on the game and what we needed to do to win.”
The Most Valuable Players from each High School Showcase game will be invited to Great American Ball Park on Sunday, May 23, to receive a commemorative bat, compliments of MSA Sport, in a pregame ceremony prior to the Reds vs. Brewers game at 1:10 p.m.