Sun’s out, (radar) guns out.
On one of those impossibly beautiful late-summer days the Front Range is known for, top-flight high-school age baseball programs met up Saturday at the Northern Colorado Fall Classic, giving potential recruits and a wide swath of regional college coaches a chance to get in view of each other and continue the work of finding a place to play at the next level.
Developed by Triple Crown Sports and the University of Northern Colorado, the Fall Classic concludes Sunday – upperclass and underclass teams meet on terrific facilities and play in a unique format. Pitchers face a maximum of six batters per inning to help keep pitch counts reasonable, and no one is worrying about the score — that keeps things moving at a useful tempo that scouts appreciate.
“It’s an interesting, early-season get-together with a lot of teams; it’s just an hour out of Denver, so we get to play some very good competition,” said Marc Johnson, who coached 40 years of prep baseball and brought his Cherry Creek 17u team to the event. “The best competition in Colorado stays home this weekend, and it’s a good chance to match up. The combination of Triple Crown and UNC has been a good thing.”
The Bruins took on the 17u Slammers-Martin team Saturday at UNC’s Jackson Field and got off to a slow start, but began to hit the ball with authority. There were RBI doubles from Jacob Stoken and Luke Pezdirtz, a run-scoring single by Ethan Miller and a deep RBI triple from Tyler Schultz. In three of the middle innings, lefty Stephen Sigman came in and tied up the Slammers with his breaking ball and excellent location of all pitches.
Sigman is a stellar student at Cherry Creek and is eyeballing a strong academic setting like the University of Chicago, but he appreciated the chance to strengthen his case with area schools as well.
“Coming in from last year, I had a lot of struggles. I played for the Slammers in the summer, had some success and then came back to Creek in the fall,” Sigman said. “It was important to have this opportunity and perform against a solid team, to earn my spot and show what I can do. I thrive in competitive environments and love to play against good teams.”
Even if the Slammers-Martin team wasn’t at its sharpest early, there was a ton of baseball left to make things right until the end of the weekend.
“It’s a nice opportunity to get to Northern Colorado and have some school come out to see the boys. It’s a nice venue, and great competition,” said Slammers coach Billy Martin. “Anytime you get a chance to play a good team on a nice field, you got to get them going.”
One standout for the Slammers was ThunderRidge senior Jake Haze, who lashed a single to left field and walked, and also made the defensive play of the game from third base, on a bare-handed grab and throw of a bunt attempt.
“I’m hoping to maybe get a few more phone calls after the weekend. The weather is really nice, so you can’t ask for much better,” he said. “Playing Cherry Creek is always awesome – they have some of the best kids in the state, and Marc Johnson is a great coach. I kind of expect myself to make that (barehand) play – if I don’t make it, I’d feel disappointed in myself.”
Other teams playing this weekend include the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks Scout teams, WYCO Academy, Regis Jesuit, Rocky Mountain Baseball and the Demons out of Golden.
“This is a partnership with UNC, and an opportunity to help UNC’s baseball program, and to help the baseball community in Colorado and the surrounding area,” said TCS event director Chris Knabenshue, a UNC graduate who was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in 1982 and worked as an MLB scout for 20 years. “A lot of kids can get seen in a fairly small geographical area. The format is designed to showcase the players’ abilities, and kids won’t be strained to get out of an inning – to let them play and not put them in a vulnerable position this early in the fall.”