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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

Yankees, MLB hold stickball tournament in Bronx

MLB.com

NEW YORK -- River Avenue in the Bronx is more than just a street that sells Yankees memorabilia and has Yankee Stadium in its backyard.

As part of the Play Ball initiative, the New York Emperors Stickball League, along with Major League Baseball and the Yankees, put on a stickball event under the No. 4 elevated train line on Saturday. Kids from ages 10-14 were invited to come out to participate in a tournament and enjoy the game from which baseball originated.

NEW YORK -- River Avenue in the Bronx is more than just a street that sells Yankees memorabilia and has Yankee Stadium in its backyard.

As part of the Play Ball initiative, the New York Emperors Stickball League, along with Major League Baseball and the Yankees, put on a stickball event under the No. 4 elevated train line on Saturday. Kids from ages 10-14 were invited to come out to participate in a tournament and enjoy the game from which baseball originated.

The event featured competition between four stickball teams, with preliminaries being held Saturday. In the first game, Royal Blue defeated Sky Blue, while the Red team and Royal Blue ended in a tie.

The semifinal and championship rounds are Saturday, Sept. 22. The winners of the championship round will be recognized in a pregame ceremony prior to the Yankees' 4:05 p.m. ET game vs. the Baltimore Orioles that day.

Tweet from @PlayBall: Some more stickball action on the streets in the Bronx! #PlayBall pic.twitter.com/yKEXew8T4V

No matter who wins the title, the kids get to enjoy the game and make new friends, according to New York Emperors Stickball coordinator Jennifer Lippold.

"This game helps us get along, in terms of our kids, they learn to appreciate sportsmanship, appreciate family in a sports venue," Lippold said. "We have wives, husbands, we have generations of families who play this game every Sunday in our league and participate, so getting families involved, seeing so many parents bring their kids to participate, is awesome. It allows us to join in and see our kids grow within the game.

"Also, our kids love it. [They] high-five, [experience] positive competition -- but there's a lot of trash talking in between, trust me -- and it allows the kids to appreciate, after the game is done, we're all cool, we're all friends, but we're going to compete and celebrate our efforts."

One participant, Tyler, hit a double in the first game. To him, it didn't matter who won. All Tyler wanted to do was have fun.

"I focus, I block out all outside distractions because my dad plays it and one day, I want to play with him," Tyler said.

Bill Ladson has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002. He covered the Nationals/Expos from 2002-2016. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

New York Yankees

Play Ball event in Brooklyn draws rave reviews

MLB.com

NEW YORK -- It was hard to tell what was the bigger hit on Saturday in Prospect Park, the MLB Play Ball Park or getting slimed. Both had a consistent line throughout the day at Nickelodeon's Worldwide Day of Play celebration.

More than 2,500 of New York City's youth flocked to Brooklyn to take part in the event. The Worldwide Day of Play is where kids and parents are encouraged to be active. It was the perfect place for a Major League Baseball Play Ball Park setup, a part of the Play Ball initiative, which is baseball's collective effort to encourage young people and communities to engage in baseball- or softball-related activities.

NEW YORK -- It was hard to tell what was the bigger hit on Saturday in Prospect Park, the MLB Play Ball Park or getting slimed. Both had a consistent line throughout the day at Nickelodeon's Worldwide Day of Play celebration.

More than 2,500 of New York City's youth flocked to Brooklyn to take part in the event. The Worldwide Day of Play is where kids and parents are encouraged to be active. It was the perfect place for a Major League Baseball Play Ball Park setup, a part of the Play Ball initiative, which is baseball's collective effort to encourage young people and communities to engage in baseball- or softball-related activities.

Many Major League Baseball employees volunteered their time to take part in the stations and were involved in teaching kids the fundamentals of the game. Mr. Met even made an appearance, throwing some batting practice and giving a few hugs.

Tweet from @Erinnicolefish: Mr. Met giving a bear hug at Nickelodeon���s Worldwide Day of Play Celebration today in Prospect Park. #MLB #PLAY pic.twitter.com/Xz8Sm5DRbm

David James, MLB's vice president of baseball and softball development, says they have put together about 35 Play Ball events across the country this year in an attempt to get more kids playing.

"What's most important is we're sending every kid home with a bat-and-ball set," James said. "Hopefully they have fun, they do it at home and then our endgame with the Play Ball initiative is that hopefully then they go to mom or dad, 'Hey, I want to sign up and play in my local league somewhere.'"

Danielle Oakry was one of the many adults at the park today, alongside her younger sister Alana.

Alana was sporting her Play Ball-branded T-shirt that was given to her last year at the event and was eager to start swinging the bat. Oakry believes in taking her sister to an event like this to encourage her to go out and do things that she knows her sister wouldn't do.

"I think it's good and it helps the kids to see things and do things that they wouldn't have the opportunity to do," Oakry said.

Oakry was joined by her friend and her friend's kids, and the group did nearly everything at the Worldwide Day of Play. They started with the Big Brothers, Big Sisters 5K and worked their way through the hula hoop, the mud runner, soccer, the bouncy mountain and of course -- slime -- before ending up at the Play Ball Park.

Tweet from @Erinnicolefish: The different MLB Play Ball Park stations at today���s Nickelodeon Worldwide Day of Play at Prospect Park. #MLB #PLAY pic.twitter.com/Vv5ZUesng4

"It's good to let the kids play -- especially in New York -- because there aren't a lot of places that you can do this without spending gobs of money," Oakry said. "So for everybody to come out here and be so generous, especially with Big Brothers, Big Sisters, I always take advantage to bring my little sister."

Although the line was long, the Play Ball event was well worth the experience for Oakry and Alana, as well as the 2,500 other children who traveled to Brooklyn to get some physical activity on their Saturday.

"I think they love the Major League Baseball experience," James said. "I think it sort of connects them to the game, to the brand, to see the MLB Network logo and everything like that."

Erin Fish is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York.

T12 players show dedication to game

Young talent not deterred by months of cold weather
MLB.com

TORONTO -- Ten centimeters of snow forced Kai Reum's journey to the Blue Jays' Tournament 12 (T12) baseball showcase to start a day early.

The 17-year-old outfielder left his home in Grand Prairie, Alberta, Wednesday afternoon and spent the night in the Calgary airport just to make the tournament at Rogers Centre.

TORONTO -- Ten centimeters of snow forced Kai Reum's journey to the Blue Jays' Tournament 12 (T12) baseball showcase to start a day early.

The 17-year-old outfielder left his home in Grand Prairie, Alberta, Wednesday afternoon and spent the night in the Calgary airport just to make the tournament at Rogers Centre.

"I was worried the flight might be canceled and I might miss it," Reum said. "So I flew out before, left school and got here."

While most of Canada's baseball talent grows up along the United States border where temperatures make outdoor baseball playable for a few months of the year, Team Alberta has a pair of players who are accustomed to long commutes and short baseball seasons.

Growing up in a town of just over 60,000, Reum says he's constantly traveling to make baseball tournaments in Central Alberta.

"Every weekend. Five hours minimum," Reum said.

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

Without a television to watch Blue Jays baseball, he adopted the sport from his father, who played collegiate baseball at Pacific University. The two would play catch outdoors until the weather turned and they were forced inside. These days, Reum works out at the local indoor baseball facility in Grand Prairie or he heads to his basement where he has a baseball tee and hockey net set up for practice.

The baseball season is short in northern Alberta, too short if you ask Reum's grandfather, Bob Reum.

"This spring they had to go out, I've got pictures of them trying to get the snow off the field," Bob said. "Just because there were four feet of snow or whatever there was. So they had to clear it with snow blowers."

Reum's teammate Justin Breen from Fort McMurray, Alberta, certainly knows the feeling of swinging a bat in freezing temperatures.

"If it's not right on the barrel, it hurts," Breen said laughing. "We've been playing in like -10 outside, right before it snows in Fort Mac."

Breen grew up in the most northerly town of anyone at the T12 showcase. He, too, had grown accustomed to the long commutes to baseball tournaments until this past year when he moved to Okotoks, Alberta, to join the Okotoks Dawgs Baseball Academy.

"It's demanding," Breen's mother, Danylle Breen said. "But it's just something that living as far as we do that you just do."

Last year, Breen took the long trip south to try out for the T12 event.

"Guys back home said usually scouts don't come up [to Fort McMurray] and scout from here," Breen said. "But I was like I'm still going to give it a try."

The trip paid off. He made the team and went 2-for-6 with three runs and three RBIs in his first appearance.

The future is uncertain for Reum and Breen. The two plan to play college baseball in the future though they remain uncommitted. An impressive showing at this weekend's showcase in front of dozens of MLB and collegiate scouts could go a long way to helping ensure a bright baseball future.

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

Toronto Blue Jays

Quebec Blue's Tremblay a T12 player to watch

Special to MLB.com

Thankfully, Nicolas Tremblay had a change of heart. He quit baseball at age 6, but with the convincing of a close friend, 9-year-old Tremblay was ready to pick up a bat and ball and give the sport another chance.

It's a good thing Tremblay did, as the 17-year-old will be one of the players to watch at this year's edition of Tournament 12 as a member of Quebec Blue.

Thankfully, Nicolas Tremblay had a change of heart. He quit baseball at age 6, but with the convincing of a close friend, 9-year-old Tremblay was ready to pick up a bat and ball and give the sport another chance.

It's a good thing Tremblay did, as the 17-year-old will be one of the players to watch at this year's edition of Tournament 12 as a member of Quebec Blue.

"I wasn't having any fun with baseball and decided to try soccer instead," recalled Tremblay. "I'm glad I changed my mind, because I can't imagine my life without baseball."

Tremblay, an outfielder, had the opportunity to showcase his skills a year ago at Tournament 12 when Quebec Blue reached the semifinals. He hit .308 (4-for-13) in five games. The event was an eye-opener for the Mont-Saint Hilaire, Quebec, native.

"It was amazing playing at Rogers Centre in front of all the scouts," Tremblay said. "It was one of the best baseball experiences in my life, and I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to play in Tournament 12 again."

Tremblay's 2017 performance at Tournament 12 caught the eye of Baseball Canada's Greg Hamilton, who invited him to the Junior National Team's Fall Instructional League Camp. Tremblay has since participated in four camps with the National Team program, and he is still eligible to compete with the squad in 2019.

"Nicolas is an athletic kid with quick hands [at the plate]," said Hamilton. "He plays [with] an up-tempo style and can impact a baseball game in many ways."

Tremblay remembers the moment he heard from Hamilton about the invite to the Junior National Team.

"I couldn't believe [the news] at first. I was almost crying when he called," said Tremblay. "Playing for Team Canada has been a dream come true, and I'm thankful that Tournament 12 provided me a chance to show what I can do on the field."

Focused on this year's Tournament 12 and hoping to lead Quebec Blue through the semifinals and into the championship contest, Tremblay is entering the event with a level of comfort that he didn't have last year.

"I know what to expect this year, and that will help me on the field," Tremblay said. "A year ago, everything at Tournament 12 was new for me -- the stadium, the scouts and the level of play. This year, I'll be more focused on helping my team win and showing all of the evaluators my tools."

Tremblay -- who says his running speed, arm and bat are the strongest parts to his game -- is looking to join a growing list of players from "La Belle Province" who have used Tournament 12 as a springboard to success at the next levels of the game.

"It's pretty cool when you see some of the guys who have played for Quebec at Tournament 12 and now having success at professional and college baseball," Tremblay said. "I want to add my name to that list."

Charles Leblanc, who's having a breakout season with Class A Advanced Down East in the Rangers' organization, and Edouard Julien, who captured Freshman All-America honours after a blistering season at Auburn University in 2018, are two Tournament 12 grads who are making strides at the next level.

The expectations are always high at Tournament 12 for Quebec Blue, and Tremblay is looking forward to representing his province.

"We have a good team with a lot of talent," Tremblay said. "It's going to be a lot of fun showing what we can do against the best players in Canada."

Adam Morissette is a contributor to MLB.com.

Toronto Blue Jays

Excitement palpable as Play Ball reaches Panama

Chen surveys talent as country gets first tour from youth initiative
MLB.com

Former Major League pitcher Bruce Chen saw the future of baseball in his home country of Panama on Wednesday morning.

In front of Chen stood more than 300 ecstatic participants, running, catching, throwing and hitting during this week's Play Ball event. The kids laughed and cheered for each other at each station. But most importantly, they had fun playing the sport they loved.

Former Major League pitcher Bruce Chen saw the future of baseball in his home country of Panama on Wednesday morning.

In front of Chen stood more than 300 ecstatic participants, running, catching, throwing and hitting during this week's Play Ball event. The kids laughed and cheered for each other at each station. But most importantly, they had fun playing the sport they loved.

Chen will see 600 more eager players this week.

"There is lots of talent here, and the people of Panama really love baseball," said Chen, who spent parts of 17 seasons with 11 teams in the Major Leagues. "It's our number one sport, and the love keeps growing each year. It's great to see the kids play."

Chen is a special guest instructor at first Play Ball activation in the Central American country this week. The three-city Play Ball tour in Panama started Wednesday at MVP Sport City in Panama City. It continues with stops at Estadio Gaby Santos, Chitre, Herrera, on Thursday and Estadio Kenny Serracin de David in David, Chiriquí, on Friday. There are 300 participants expected to attend each of the last two events.

Former Major League infielder Olmedo Saenz, who is from Chitre, is also serving a special guest instructor.

"Talking to kids, they are really excited to play and love that Major League Baseball is helping them learn and develop the game," Chen said. "We have players like Manny Sanguillen and Mariano Rivera. Me and Olmedo and others played Major League Baseball, but there can be more Major Leaguers from Panama in the future. We are very grateful to Major League Baseball for being in Panama to help develop players. It's huge."

This week's events in Panama feature hitting and fielding drills, baserunning and agility workouts. All participants will receive a Play Ball T-shirt, bat and ball set and special wristbands.

"There is a desire for kids around the world to participate and we want to make sure we reach those kids that have interest," said Tony Reagins, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball and softball development. "Panama has a long history in the game, and the kids there want to be a part of the Play Ball initiative. I'm glad we have support from former Major Leaguers like Bruce Chen and Olmedo Saenz to help us cover the country really well. We are excited to be a part of it."

Play Ball launched in June 2015, and it has operated events in hundreds of cities across the country. The program has expanded to locations outside of the continental United States.

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.

There have also been Play Ball events in Canada this year. There are tentative plans for a Play Ball event in England during the London Series between the Red Sox and the Yankees next June.

"The program is definitely becoming more popular and as we go forward, we are looking to expand Play Ball around the world even more," Reagins said. "What we are seeing is an increase in participation in the sport and we think our initiative has a lot to do with it because we are not only reaching boys and girls, along with young men and women that have played, but also the youth that have never played the game, and I think that goes a long way toward establishing life-long fans of 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.

MLB builds on Europe efforts with youth camp

Exec: 'This is a starting point for a lot of kids to really take baseball to the next level'
MLB.com

As it continues its efforts to broaden baseball's reach on a global level, MLB's European program enjoyed one of its most successful years in 2017, a hopeful sign of things to come. Recently, MLB Europe held the MLB All-Star European Camp in Regensburg, Germany, with 57 top players in Europe from ages 12 to 15.

MLB's efforts in Europe have taken on a more significant expansion in recent years, perhaps most notably with MLB scheduling its first regular-season games there for next season. And as part of the first ever MLB London Series, the league is sending two of its most storied franchises, as the Red Sox and Yankees will meet at 55,000-seat London Stadium on June 29-30.

As it continues its efforts to broaden baseball's reach on a global level, MLB's European program enjoyed one of its most successful years in 2017, a hopeful sign of things to come. Recently, MLB Europe held the MLB All-Star European Camp in Regensburg, Germany, with 57 top players in Europe from ages 12 to 15.

MLB's efforts in Europe have taken on a more significant expansion in recent years, perhaps most notably with MLB scheduling its first regular-season games there for next season. And as part of the first ever MLB London Series, the league is sending two of its most storied franchises, as the Red Sox and Yankees will meet at 55,000-seat London Stadium on June 29-30.

Yankees, Red Sox will take rivalry to London in 2019

Video: Yankees, Red Sox to play first MLB games in London

MLB's burgeoning presence overseas is reflective of its aspiration to widen its net of interest and talent. Among the countries represented at the MLB All-Star European Camp were Belgium, Czech Republic, Spain, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal, and the event was held at the same facility that hosted the World Baseball Classic qualifier in September 2012 for the '13 tournament.

The All-Star European Camp serves as a showcase of sorts to help amateur-level participants gain exposure to coaches and scouts in the United States. As baseball has become a more global game, with events such as the World Baseball Classic and baseball's return to the Olympics for the 2020 Games in Tokyo, so has its interest among international youth, MLB believes.

"This is a starting point for a lot of kids to really take baseball to the next level," said MLB European operations coordinator Martin Brunner, who, with the aid of other MLB Europe representatives Dan Bonanno, Bill Holmberg and Shawn Bowman, coordinated and ran the camp, which had MLB scouts on hand as well.

"Not everybody is made for pro ball or made to be a Major Leaguer. But I'm very sure that kids who are in the program today, we're going to see playing for the national teams in the World Baseball Classic or other international events," Brunner said.

Video: A look at the growth of baseball in Europe

With the success stories of European-born players such as Twins outfielder Max Kepler (Germany) and Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius (Netherlands), MLB is hoping that its pool of big league talent from Europe continues to widen, and it believes such an aspiration can manifest by on-hand engagement with European youth by affording them similar coaching and exposure to what many in the U.S. receive.

For some of the most ambitious amateurs in America, baseball is a 12-month sport, which isn't necessarily the case for those in Europe.

Video: Gregorius, Bogaerts on being teammates for Classic

MLB's efforts in Europe reflect the larger imprint that the league has attempted to make under Commissioner Rob Manfred, who has made a concerted effort to engage young audiences -- players and fans alike. In 2017, MLB Europe ran at least four similar programs in Spain, France and Germany.

"MLB's vision for these types of programs is to grow the game," said Joel Araujo, who works in MLB's international talent development department. "We have a mandate from Commissioner Manfred. He wants to grow the game to different parts [of the world] that aren't traditional baseball places. The idea is to give these players the opportunity to be seen by the scouts, whether they can be drafted or whether they go on to junior colleges or go off to be drafted by MLB clubs. That's the idea. It gives them the exposure and game experience. Hopefully this will pick up and continue to help grow the game."

"I think our youth programs are our most important initiative," Manfred said at the All-Star Game in July. "It's about our future in two respects. First of all, our game is compelling because we have the greatest athletes in the world, and we have to be out there competing and make sure that kids choose baseball so that we have great athletes for the future. But equally important, youth participation builds fans."

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.