While Esteban Maldonado is a Puerto Rico-native, it is clear that he has developed some Georgia state-pride as the region’s tournament director for Perfect Game’s Super25 series. Georgia has been full of talent over the past few years, but now with the Super25 tournaments, the state has the opportunity to prove its worth on the national level.
The Super25 Georgia Regionals started last weekend with the 10u through 14u age groups, and the talent was evident at every age level.
Notable performers from the weekend included Elijah Hilton of the 12u Home Plate- Schmits, who Maldonado claimed, “hit the cover off the ball” and was “one of the best hitters at 12 years old I’ve seen in a long time.” At the 13u level, Maldonado saw Austin Kelly of the PSA Sox Red, “hit about 6 home runs with left-handed with power… for 13u he had a lot of pop, he was clearing the fence with ease.” For the 14u Home Plate Dyal, Makenzie Stills was recorded hitting 84-85 mph on the gun, impressive velocity in such a young age group.
Maldonado was impressed with not just the talent in the tournaments, but the level of play and knowledge of the game despite their youth. Maldonado said, “I think overall in the young age groups that the quality of baseball was really, really good. In the 13u and 14u age groups you already expect a certain level of play, but at the younger age groups, it was very impressive to see how well they were playing… they knew how to play the game, they were very aggressive, and they were thinking ahead.” Even though Maldonado has enjoyed watching the younger age groups, he is excited for the older players to get their chance, beginning with the 15u tournament this weekend.
Along with being the Georgia Super25 Director, Maldonado also coaches the 11u, 12u and 17u teams for the Home Plate Chilidogs. The Home Plate organization has sent numerous players to the college and minor league ranks. This past week, the program produced its first ever big leaguer in David Buchanan, who made his first two career starts for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Maldonado and the other coaches of Home Plate try and make sure their players don’t just focus on showcasing their God-given abilities, but that they also play the game the right way. Maldonado said how the coaches try and teach the kids how to, “Play baseball the right way, go 100 percent. Hustle all the time no matter what.”
The coaches don’t only emphasize the game, however, as Maldonado explained how he and the coaches, “try to make sure the players know and understand that school is important in order to achieve what they want to achieve in the future.” This is evident by players on their 17u roster who are already committed to playing Division I baseball. They have a number of supremely talented players such as Bryant Harris and Cornelius Randolph (among others) who could put their entire focus into playing professionally, yet they are committed to play at UGA and Clemson, respectively.
The Home Plate program and its values fit perfectly with the principles of the new PG Super25 series. Amateur baseball can often put an emphasis on showcasing individual talents, which can often lead to the deteriorating of the team concept. The Super25 tournament emphasizes the team concept by having teams put together at the beginning of the series and kept as a unit throughout the summer.
The Super25 tournament also pits the best competition in the nation against each other. Organizations often play weaker competition in order to have better records and appear more prestigious, as well as to help their players’ talent stand out. Maldonado is against this mode of thought, and believes the Super25 series, “proves that you have a good team and want to compete. If you play teams from different regions, you can improve by being challenged in new ways, giving players a real opportunity to get better.”
Maldonado continued singing his praises of the Super25 format, stating how when teams choose to compete in this series, “you are going over there, you are playing on the same field, and you are going to compete. It will tell you where you are nationally, whether or not you’re one of the top teams or you need to work. It is the way things used to be done before organizations came in and tried to separate all the teams to try and give everyone a chance. I think that some teams get a false sense of reality of where they are, because they can go 15-0 but that doesn’t mean they are getting better. That doesn’t help anybody, you can’t get better if you don’t compete.”
As the Georgia Super25 director, Maldonado is excited for the region’s teams to prove themselves on the national level: “The fact that all the regions are represented, you always have something to prove. Everybody’s going to be there so we feel like we need to make a statement and prove that we do in fact have good talent in Georgia.”
Maldonado has dedicated himself to the Home Plate program and the youth ballplayers in Georgia. Now, with the Perfect Game Super25 series, Maldonado and his players can both improve through the higher levels of competition and prove their baseball acumen and ability to the rest of the country.