For the majority of travelers bustling through the busy airports of Chicago, Illinois, Thursday August 6 appeared like just another day. But this day was different for a select group of rising young stars. This day, 36 rising high school seniors made their way towards baggage claim to begin what would be one of the most exciting, action-packed weekends of their lives to date. For three days the next generation of college and professional baseball gathered in Chicago to demonstrate their highly touted skills in front of professional scouts, college coaches, family and friends, and hundreds of young fans. The weekend was filled with great events that culminated in the 2009 Under Armour All-America Game, powered by Baseball Factory.
As the players arrived, they settled in and spent time getting to know one another. In late afternoon the players boarded the bus for historic Wrigley Field, host of the 2009 Under Armour All-America Game for the second straight year. Players, along with their families, were able to tour Wrigley Field before the welcome dinner at the Stadium Club. The tour was a great way for players to see firsthand into the life of a big leaguer as they walked the halls where so many legends had gone before them. Dinner in the Stadium Club came next, after which players were recognized and presented with their game-day jerseys by legendary Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. Cal and his brother, Billy Ripken, were keynote speakers for the event, an appearance that created a buzz among the players and served as the perfect jump start to an incredible baseball weekend. Cal and Billy shared their unquestionable experience and knowledge of the game and provided great insight into the world of professional baseball to the young stars, some of whom will likely follow in their footsteps. The night concluded with a short Q & A, and who better to help guide the impressionable young players then the 21-year career player, 19-time All-Star, Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr.
Despite a gloomy forecast, players set out Friday morning excited for the day ahead. Their schedule began with a walk through workout that included defensive drills, as well as hitting work in the cages at the University of Illinois, Chicago. This wasn’t an ordinary workout, however, but one that included several MLB alumni. Cal & Billy Ripken worked with the All-American’s in the cages as well as on the infield. Chris Perez, current right-handed pitcher for the Cleveland Indians and former Baseball Factory player was also in attendance to offer advice and instruction to the young pitchers. Catchers spent time working out with Gary Bennett, a former catcher who spent 13-years in the Major Leagues. The other MLB alum to join the All-Americas during the morning workout was Doug Glanville, former 1st round draft pick and 9 year MLB veteran who currently serves as a consultant for Baseball Factory. It was great opportunity for the young players to learn from current and past professional players and to see the veterans working with the next generation of stars.
Though dark skies threatened to dampen the workout all morning, the rain held off just long enough, only reaching a steady fall as the players broke for lunch. Following lunch, the players took the field in the light rain for a showcase style workout in front of over 60 professional scouts and college coaches who braved the unfavorable conditions. Despite the rain it was a successful workout and for the All-Americans a very exciting day on the diamond.
The rain subsided into the evening as players and coaches headed to U.S. Cellular Field to watch the Chicago White Sox take on the Cleveland Indians. As part of the pre-game ceremonies, the 36 All-Americans were recognized in front of the crowd in honor of their selection to the Under Armour All-America game.
Saturday morning brought an extra air of excitement as the players loaded the bus for Wrigley Field to begin a day they won’t soon forget. As they walked through the storied hallways of Wrigley, they arrived at the clubhouse to find lockers adorned with their names and game-day jerseys hung as though a big league team were about to take the field. The morning pre-game festivities included batting practice, infield/outfield warm-ups and also featured a home run derby. Eight players were selected from the workout the previous day to participate in the 2009 Mattingly Sports Home Run Derby. One by one, players were eliminated until only two were left standing: Olmsted Falls, OH native Stetson Allie, representing Team One and Nick Castellanos, of Davie, FL, representing Baseball Factory. In the finals Castallanos out hit Allie 2 – 1, launching two shots over the fence in left to claim the Home Run Derby title. It wouldn’t be the only hardware Nick collected during the Under Armour All-American festivities.
As game time approached friends, families, scouts and coaches began filling field level seats of the Friendly Confines. In an impressive showing, the Under Armour All-America game was attended by over 75 professional scouts and college coaches including an Assistant General Manager, two Organizational Vice Presidents, Seven Scouting Directors, the Major League Scouting Bureau, the defending NCAA Division I Champions and many more. In total 28 of the 30 MLB teams were represented at the All-America game.* One more special guest was in attendance Saturday, on-hand to speak to baseball’s future as well as throw out the ceremonial first pitch. This guest was none other than Hall of Famer, Mr. Cub himself, Ernie Banks. With that the 2009 Under Armour All-America Game was set to begin.
Baseball Factory took the field for the first inning with A.J. Cole (Winter Springs, FL) on the mound. Team One was not able to start anything in the first half and sent right-handed pitcher Jameson Taillon to the mound. Against the top of Baseball Factory’s line-up, Taillon struck out all three batters he faced with a fastball that touched 95 mph and a breaking ball that fooled hitters. His performance would later earn him the Team One MVP award. In the second, Team One struck first when Austin Wilson (Los Angeles, CA) smashed a solo shot to left, giving Team One the lead 1-0. Baseball Factory answered in the home half of the third, tying the game at one run a piece. Heading into the home half of the fourth with a one-run lead, Team One sent lefty Evan Rutchyj (Windsor, Ontario) to the mound. Baseball Factory’s Trey Griffin (Stockbridge, GA) stepped to the plate with a runner in scoring position and was able to come through with a game tying double. Griffin then demonstrated his above average speed, stealing home to give Baseball Factory the 3-2 lead.
Baseball Factory would explode for eight more runs scattered throughout the rest of the game, with Nick Castallanos leading the way. The 6’4” third baseman from Davie, FL. had a day to remember at the plate. Castallanos went 4 for 4, with 4 doubles, a walk, a stolen base and the Baseball Factory MVP award. His teammate Yordy Cabrera (Lakeland, FL) contributed to his team’s commanding lead over Team One, going deep for a solo home run in the bottom of the sixth inning. Team One didn’t give up, and their offensive efforts were given a boost by outfielder Reggie Golden (Wetumpka, AL). Golden demonstrated his raw power, blasting a three-run homerun to left center field that was a few feet short of exiting the stadium and landing on Waveland Avenue. However, in the end his home run wouldn’t be enough and Baseball Factory defeated Team One 11 to 6 in the 2009 Under Armour All-America game.
Last year’s Under Armour All-America game saw seven participants selected in the first round of the MLB amateur draft and this year’s class promises to be just as successful, if not more. Whether it’s at the professional level, or playing college baseball, the class of 2010 certainly has the talent to continue their baseball careers. The 2009 Under Armour All-America game was a great experience for these rising young stars and for those in attendance it was a glimpse into baseball’s bright future.
*The numbers above only represent the scouts and college coaches that checked in with Baseball Factory at the event