The summer of 2012 is one that I would never forget, playing some of the best competition in the country in the Connie Mack League in Midland, OH.
Summer ball was one of my favorite times of the year. The weather was incredible, there was no school, and I was able to focus on my craft. After my senior year of high school, I was looking forward to playing with my local travel team that consisted of my closest friends from school, as well as other talented ball players who I had been playing with for years. It seemed like every one of us was going to continue our careers at the collegiate level, we were all very excited to play one last season together while we pushed ourselves to new heights.
One afternoon I received a call from a coach from the Midland Redskins Baseball
Organization. I had heard of Midland before but didn’t have an abundance of information about them. The coach called to explain that they were putting together a team of talented and devoted ball players from all over the country to continue their dominance in the 18u division. The team was based out of Cincinnati, Ohio and I would live there the entire summer. I was hesitant at first because of the lack of information I had about the organization, and I wanted to finish my high school career with the guys that helped me grow into the player I had become.
My dilemma was moving to an environment with players and coaches that I had never met or finishing out my high school career with the core group of players I knew and trusted. I spoke with the head coach at the time at the University of Maryland, Erik Bakich. Bakich told me that it’s an honor to be asked to play for the Midland team and that it would prepare me for college baseball in more ways than just baseball. He also told me that one of my closest friends from Pennsylvania, who was also committed to play baseball at Maryland was also invited to play for Midland. Once I heard that, my friend and I spoke about the opportunity and from there the decision was clear… we’re going to Midland, a week later I was on a plane to Cincinnati.
I was excited and nervous all at the same time. When I arrived at the facility there were pictures of all the former great baseball players that wore the Midland uniform including Ken Griffey Jr, Eric Hosmer, and Gerrit Cole. I instantly felt that I was in a place that was overflowing with championship pedigree, history, and a winning culture. The program was top notch in every aspect. We were assigned host families to live with that were incredibly generous, warm, and supportive of our individual success, as well as collective success. The entire area knew that come summertime, a new crop of players from all over the country would be rolling in to compete for a National Championship in New Mexico, the Connie Mack World Series Trophy. The Redskins had won the title three years in a row and were looking to extend their dynasty. I was beginning to understand the reference Coach Bakich made about how this experience would help prepare me for college.
As I met the other players, I recognized some of them from playing tournaments in
Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee. Guys like Ryan Burr, Andrew Benintendi, and Max Scrhock to name a few. We all seemed to know of each other from the baseball circuit, but once we put our uniforms on, we became hungry to get after other teams. The team assembled was a juggernaut, the best team I had ever been part of in terms of pure talent. We began the summer splitting our first tournament, winning two of four games. We played all over the country that summer, traveling into the darkness of night to the early hours of the morning from state to state, dominating the competition without mercy. From there we won over fifty games in a row before heading to Farmington, New Mexico for the Connie Mack World Series. At this point the team was no longer an assembly of some of the best players in the country, we were a team. We ate together, trained together, lifted together, spent all our free time together. It was a blessing and privilege to be on a team with such competitors that were like minded in our individual goals, as well as our collective goals.
We arrived in New Mexico and the experience was unlike anything I had ever been a part of and haven’t since then. There was a parade through the streets of Farmington with the eight teams that had won their respected regions. There was a team from California, New York, Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, and other states to name a few. So many different cultures, styles of play, and personalities were all in this town itching at a chance to hoist the National Championship trophy. People had made signs, cheered our names, wanted to take photos, and have us sign autographs. I imagined this was how Major Leaguers must feel at parades held in their honor after winning the World Series.
As the games began, we made it out of our bracket with one loss. We made It to the championship game against the California team in a winner take all game. They took the lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, and we were unable to regain the lead. We lost the championship, and the season was over. As sad as we were to lose, we were all so proud of the incredible run we had put together, finishing 56-4 on the summer. It’s hard to bring a group of guys together for a common goal, regardless of the talent that’s on the diamond. In the two and a half months that we played together, we grew not only as ball players but also as individuals.
I was very thankful that I stepped out of my comfort zone at the beginning of the
summer, moving away from home, being on my own, and holding myself accountable for the
challenge ahead. From a baseball perspective, I saw what it took to be great from my
teammates, and their drive pushed me to be better and work harder because I wasn’t going to let myself fall behind. Every player on that team would go on to play for a division 1, power 5 conference school, and eventually play professionally.
This Blog post is dedicated to the founder of the Midland Redskins, “Papa Joe” Hayden. Thank you for allowing me to experience what it was like to play at the highest amateur level, under the brightest lights, proudly wearing the Midland uniform. May you rest in peace, Papa Joe.