Diamonds in the rough

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 22, 2003

It is appropriate for Andalusia and Opp to be the hometowns of two of the state's brightest young baseball stars.

Andalusia has a rich baseball history and Opp is "The City of Opportunity."

Both communities support youth baseball programs among the best in the state with the American Legion Post 80 squad and the Opp Dixie Majors and Dixie Pre-Majors.

Two high school baseball players from Covington County recently played against the USA Junior National Team in Marietta, Ga.

Andalusia pitcher Tyler Wilson and Opp catcher Brock Kelley were among the 20 players selected from the state to play the USA squad as members of Team Alabama.

Wilson and Kelley both attended the Alabama Baseball Coaches Association Southwest Showcase and were among the 25 players selected to advance to Birmingham. They were among the top 100 players in the state with 25 players from four regional showcases advancing to Birmingham.

The 100 players to advance from the regional showcases were re-evaluated in Birmingham and the field was narrowed down to the top 20 players to make up Team Alabama.

Once the team was compiled, the players packed their bags and headed east to Georgia for a barnstorming tour. Team Alabama was slated to play Team Canada and the USA Junior National squad.

Team Alabama did not get the chance to take the diamond against Team Canada due to poor weather.

The USA Junior National Team, however, did face Team Alabama and won all three games to improve to 13-1-1 on the summer.

Wilson pitched two innings against the highly-touted USA squad, which is made up of a collection of top picks from the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, and allowed two unearned runs on four hits and two walks. He struck out one batter.

Kelley also pitched in the game and allowed two runs on four hits in one inning of work.

The USA Junior National Team won the game by a final score of 9-2. Wilson nor Kelley had an at-bat in the game.

The two teams returned to the diamond the next day for a doubleheader. Kelley got three at-bats and went 0-3 on the day. He was not alone.

The USA Junior National team dominated Team Alabama in the first game as pitchers Jeff Manship and Armando Carrasco combined to pitch a no-hitter. Team Alabama did get players on base via three walks.

In the second game, Team Alabama managed to get five hits. The USA Junior National Team, however, did not give up a run for a 2-0 win. Kelley was 0-for-1 in the second game.

One of the highlights for Kelley was throwing out two baserunners who attempted to steal a base.

Wilson's highlights included striking out a batter and picking off a runner at second base.

Team Alabama Assistant Coach Chris Hutcheson said both Wilson and Kelley performed well in Georgia.

Hutcheson said Kelley "played very well" and even caught the eye of a few people.

Kelley said it was a fun experience without a lot of pressure.

"It was fun. I met a lot of people and there were some good players over there," Kelley said. "We got a lot of exposure."

He said batters struggled for good reason against the USA squad.

"There was a lot of good pitching," Kelley said.

"I was more excited than nervous," Kelley added. "It was just an opportunity and not a life-or-death situation. It was just a chance to show my skills."

Overall, Kelley evaluated himself as doing a good job.

"I did decent," he said. "I had a lot of fun. It's amazing how much fun I had.

Wilson also did himself proud.

"Tyler threw very well," Hutcheson said. "Tyler touched 89 on the gun and had a good breaking ball."

The Andalusia and Post 80 pitcher also evaluated his performance in Georgia as good.

"I did all right," Wilson said. "I didn't have my best stuff. I gave up two runs and struck out one."

He said the whole experience was great.

"It was fun the whole time," Wilson said. "It was a good experience because we were meeting new people and meeting people who might be stars and on TV one day."

Kelley and Wilson are among those who could be on TV one day, even if they might not think so or want to admit it.

The members of the USA Junior National Team include some of the brightest young baseball prospects and are names that could soon be heard when tuning into a MLB game.

Team members are pitcher Daniel Bard, pitcher/outfielder Jonathan Barratt, pitcher/infielder Eric Berger, pitcher/catcher C.J. Bressoud, pitcher/infielder Matt Bush, pitcher/infielder Billy Butler, pitcher Armando Carrsaco, outfielder Brad Chalk, pitcher Erik Davis, outfielder Nathan Faulkner, infielder Seth Garrison, infielder/outfielder Sean Henry, pitcher Blake Holler, pitcher Eric Hurley, catcher Billy Killian, pitcher/outfielder Chuck Lofgren, pitcher Jeff Manship, catcher Neil Walker, infielder/outfielder Jon Willard and infielder Chris Valaika.

The members of Team Alabama could also one day play professional baseball.

Team members are outfielder Matt Busbee, outfielder Brian Piazza, shortstop Josh Donaldson, first baseman Wes Henderson, third baseman John Parker Wilson, outfielder Bear Burnette, shortstop Kyle Moore, second baseman Brian Pierce, catcher Ryan Jenkins, pitcher Brandon Flaherty, pitcher Tyler Wilson, pitcher James Oliver, pitcher Donovan Hand, catcher Brock Kelley, pitcher Ty Latham, pitcher Austin Lee, pitcher David Robertson and pitcher Cliff Mullins.