The best and the brightest high school juniors from 36 states, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela flocked to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis this past weekend for the 10th Annual Perfect Game National Showcase, and what a show they put on. The late Kirby Puckett, honored with a huge banner high atop the field in right-center, appeared to gaze down upon the young players and smile. And smile he should.
Some of these guys will be first-round draft picks next year. Many will enroll at some of the top baseball colleges in the country. A few will become millionaires in a short time. Maybe a couple will make the Hall of Fame some day, just like Puckett, the former Twins star who was inducted in 2001 and died too young in 2006.
There were 250 players on 11 teams, and they played 17 games in four days under the watchful eyes of more than 400 major league and college scouts. If a player scratched, they wrote it down. When Mitchell Shifflett, of Midlothian, Va., ran a sizzling 6.11 in the 60-yard dash, a PG record, scouts did a double-take and other players cheered. When Stetson Allie, of Olmstead Falls, Ohio, uncorked a 98 mph heater, batters cringed and scouts smiled. A foul ball off Allie, wild and sometimes dangerous, was considered a fine accomplishment, the cause for cheers from the dugout. And when Justin O'Conner won the Home Run Derby and belted one 450 feet, there were oohs and aahs.
If you've never been to one of these National Showcases, you cannot imagine the array of talent that arrives from all over the country. Parents described the experience as a real eye-opener for themselves and their sons, and a great opportunity to see how these young kids -- and that's what they are -- compare to some of the best talent from coast to coast. There were 47 players from Florida and 43 from California, which you might expect, along with 24 from Texas and 21 from Georgia. Christian Carmichael came all the way from Kamehameha High School in Hawaii, and it's a long way from paradise to a domed stadium in Minnesota.
All of the players hoped to impress the pro scouts in attendance, looking toward the 2010 draft. Many wanted to impress the college scouts, although 79 of the 250 players at the Dome -- nearly one-third -- have already made their college commitments. Eight of the players in Minneapolis have already decided to join the North Carolina Tar Heels in the fall of 2010. Seven are headed to the University of Alabama, five to San Diego, four to UCLA and three apiece to Miami, LSU, Arizona State and Oregon State.
The National Showcase was immediately followed in the Metrodome by the Junior National Showcase, featuring some of the top juniors-to-be in the country who will graduate in 2011 and be eligible for the draft then. There was one crossover game, featuring 2011 grads against 2010 grads, and the younger kids prevailed in a pitchers duel, one of many low-scoring games that featured fastballs in the 90s, nasty sliders, sharp curves and deceptive changeups.
The rules lent themselves to low-scoring games -- there were no walks, no hit-batters and a limit of five hitters per inning -- but it was obvious from the first game that the pitchers would dominate the hitters in an event like this. Many of these batters are not accustomed to seeing 92 and 94 mph heaters on a regular basis, and it showed. There were lots of good swings, however, and the batters appeared to relish the challenge.
The vast majority of the players left Minneapolis with a smile and good memories. Their names are mostly anonymous now, but they'll be heard from again.