Many of the brightest young baseball stars in Northern and Central California got a chance to shine at new Islanders Field in Lathrop this past weekend.
About 100 players with graduation years of 2021-23 took part in the NorCal World Series Underclass, hosted by Field Director Don Johns in partnership with NorCal Baseball and the World Series Elite League. Coaches from Pac-12 schools Oregon State and Oregon, along with Hawaii and Saint Mary's College were among many scouts who checked out the event.
What a showcase it turned out to be, both for the beautiful stadium and the teens with the bats and gloves. Talk about a win-win.
"The facility is unbelievable," says Rob Bruno, who heads NorCal Baseball along with Tony Crivello. "Islanders is an absolute jewel right in the middle of the Delta. It's fantastic. We are going to be holding a lot of our top events here. Between Don and Tony and I what we want here is the best of the best in Northern and Central California. We want this to be the premier field holding the premier events."
John Hunter, whose son Tyler is a rising junior at Bishop O'Dowd High, was in the stands at Islanders Field. His son, a hard-hitting third baseman, was on the field warming up.
"The World Series has been going on for a number of years and it's pretty legendary," John Hunter said. "... Every time he plays for Rob, he has a great time and it's always a great scene. He's always got scouts out here."
John Hunter appreciates that NorCal events are intensely competitive but also "very friendly."
"And that's a good combination," he said. "There's a huge something to dugout chemistry, and I think every kid really appreciates getting into a dugout where the kids are nice and supportive. They come back from a rough at-bat and it's not dead silence. Somebody is there to pick you up."
Moreover, it was love at first sight for John Hunter at Islanders Field.
"This facility is gorgeous," he said. "We didn't know what to expect when we came out here. This is like a little Field of Dreams. Beautiful. It really is. This is far beyond a number of junior colleges."
A WILL AND A WAY: Young Granada High left-hander Will Wentworth (Class of 2022), whose fastball currently tops at 87 mph, was enjoying the vibe at Islanders Field and making an impact as a college prospect.
"It's been going great. It's a beautiful day out here," Wentworth said as he prepared to play Saturday afternoon. "This is the first time I've been to this field, but it's really nice. It's beautiful. All these guys are pretty excited to play out here."
Wentworth's older brother, Troy, is a sophomore left-hander at UC Irvine. He throws 91-93 mph. Not surprisingly, Will grew up patterning his game after Troy.
"I tried to always do everything he does and just work as hard as I can to beat him," Will says of his brother.
Asked what he was looking to accomplish at Islanders Field and Wentworth sounded like a savvy veteran.
"I'm here to pitch," he said. "What will really matter is when I get up on the mound and I show all those guys that I've got the (velocity), all those guys that clock it. It's definitely a big deal for all them to see that. For all the other guys, I'd say definitely put on a clinic especially in batting practice."
Wentworth also enjoyed bonding with older players from different communities. His goals?
"Pro ball would be amazing if that's an opportunity for me, but definitely college. I want to go to college and do all that stuff. It's a big deal for me and my family," Wentworth says.
LEGENDARY CLUB: NorCal Baseball has had an illustrious history dating to the early 1990s. San Francisco Giants' three-time Gold Glove Award-winning shortstop Brandon Crawford is among the distinguished NorCal alums.
"We've had 53 big leaguers, going on 600 Division I players, 20 first-round picks, 11 (MLB) All-Stars and two MVPs (Jimmy Rollins and Dustin Pedroia," Bruno said proudly.
IN THE NEWS: Last Sunday the USA Baseball announced that Kyle Harrison from the HOOTS Program, LHP and California Player of the year was selected to the USA Baseball 18 National Team. Tyler Soderstrom, a catcher from the NorCal Baseball program was also selected to the National team. Both are projected to be early round selections in the 2020 MLB Draft.
IMPACT PLAYERS: Amador Valley High catcher Griffin Myers (class of 2021) and San Ramon Valley outfielder Casey Cummings (Class of 2021), also a football player, both made a mark at the NorCal World Series Underclass.