The 2023 MLB World Select team arrived at Surprise Stadium, the Spring Training home of the Royals and Rangers, last Tuesday for the first day of the MLB College Showcase.
Before enhancing their baseball skills at the scheduled practice day, the 31 international high school players marveled at the amenities that big league players experience.
“It's just the amount of fields they have here,” Australian right-handed pitcher Alistair Tanner said. “It's like huge, huge training facilities, which is something we never get back home, and it's just great to be here.”
The Showcase welcomed amateur athletes, all under age 20, from Europe (Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain), Asia (China), South America (Brazil), North America (Curaçao, Nicaragua) and Australia to the Valley.
Last year’s event, which was the first in three years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, was so impactful that 10 players returned this year.
“It was just about maturing as a baseball player,” Tanner said. “Last year, I didn't have my greatest [performance], but I learned so much from Roger [McDowell] and guys like Marco [Mendoza], and I thought it'd be a great time to come back and show them what I've improved on.”
The showcase is an initiative that MLB has employed to grow the game internationally. Players participate in an 11-day experience that includes visits to local Arizona colleges and universities, games against teams at various levels and a pro-style workout day for college recruiters and professional scouts.
“It's huge for Major League Baseball to make this game worldwide, because as the sport grows, you see the better product,” two-time World Series champion David Eckstein said. “I think we all were just fascinated by the World Baseball Classic and what that brought us.”
Players endured a nearly four-hour practice session at Surprise Stadium, where coaches broke down the fundamentals of baseball and worked with players in individual position groups. Tanner continued to improve his body language on the mound, how he commands his pitches and working counts against batters.
Czech infielder Viktor Hluchý, 19, wanted to get the ball out faster and increase his overall baseball knowledge. The second-year returnee also dealt with adapting to the dry heat of Arizona compared to the Czech Republic’s cold weather.
The team jumped straight into games on Wednesday, facing local high school, college and professional teams. Those contests allowed players to showcase their abilities against quality opponents with scouts and recruiters in attendance. Throughout the experience, players meet with scouts to build relationships and potentially land a college or professional offer.
“They get a first look at the environment, at the colleges, the routes they can take … in order to get to their dream,” former MLB pitcher Rick van den Hurk said. “Most of the kids' dreams are reaching MLB. There are certain routes you can take and we expose them to those routes here, and they get to play against high competition [to] showcase their talents.”
The cultural melting pot also allowed players to learn about other cultures and how baseball is played in other regions of the world.
“Meeting all the guys from Europe and some parts of South America is so fun,” Tanner said. “Seeing guys of different cultures and all that draws a good experience.”
Time will tell if these young athletes achieve their Major League dreams, but being a part of this esteemed program is a step in the right direction.
“I'll tell you what, it's going to happen because these kids are talented,” two-time World Series champion Jeff Conine said. “They've got the drive, they're hungry and they're playing for a lot. They're playing for their country, [and] they're playing for themselves to get over here and play Major League Baseball.”