08/07/2004 6:37 AM ET
High school All-Stars square off
East meets West in AFLAC All-American Classic
By Nelson Coffin / Special to MLB.com
ABERDEEN, Md. -- The night before the AFLAC All-American Baseball Classic at Ripken Stadium, future Hall of Fame member Cal Ripken Jr. told the 40 All-Star players gathered at the Wyndham Baltimore Hotel not to get caught up in things "outside the white lines."
|Ike Davis' go-ahead home run earned him the AFLAC All-American Baseball Classic MVP award. (Nelson Coffin)
The Baltimore Orioles great implored the high school standouts to concentrate on the game and on doing the right things.
Ripken was the honorary chairman of the event, at which the inaugural Jackie Robinson Award was given to the AFLAC National High School Player of the Year, shortstop Justin Upton of Great Bridge High in Chesapeake, Va. The award was presented by Robinson's widow, Rachel Robinson.
Ripken told the players to be ready to face adversity when they embark on their professional and/or collegiate careers.
"In my first year in the minors (in the Rookie League) at Bluefield, West Virginia, I played in 60 games and made 31 errors, all of them different," the two-time American League MVP said. "I made errors every way you can make an error. And I didn't hit a home run. But you can't give up. You have to believe in yourself and your own abilities."
Although Upton was the co-favorite to win the award with outfielder Cameron Maybin of T.C. Roberson High in Arden, N.C., the fleet shortstop expressed surprise at his good fortune.
"Because we all had good stats, I think it was up for grabs," Upton said. "I have no clue why they chose me."
Maybe it was the .565 batting average, the eight home runs or the 23 RBIs that swayed the selectors. Then again, maybe it was the 30 steals and off-the-charts 1.138 slugging percentage that caught their attention.
Or could it be that Upton's impressive fielding and cannon arm were the keys to separating him from the rest of the pack?
Having such rich bloodlines didn't hurt. Upton's brother, B.J., was the second overall pick in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft and was called up recently to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Several publications and scouting services are touting the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Justin as at least a top-three pick in next year's draft.
"I can't fathom what happened," Justin said about him and his brother's upward mobility. "It's just crazy."
Even his peers are caught up in the Upton fan club.
"He (Upton) has phenomenal skills. He runs like the wind and has a very strong arm," said power hitter/pitcher Iain Sebastian, of Columbus (Ga.) High, one of the other five nominees for the prestigious award. "I'm happy for him."
Maybin, the North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year, has also wowed the coaches and selectors with a variety of skills.
Maybin's power stroke has attracted most of the attention at practice sessions held at St. Paul's School in Brooklandville, Md. The cozy field there could not hold Maybin's blasts that whistled through the trees ringing the outfield.
"He has more power than any high school player in the United States," said Perfect Game USA scout Jerry Ford as he watched some of the All-Stars take batting practice. "In a showcase game, he hit one ball 470 feet with a wooden bat."
Maybin admitted being disappointed by not winning the award but did not dwell on the negative.
"I guess they figured he (Upton) had a better year than I did," he said. "Congratulations to him."
Maybin, who plays summer ball in Cincinnati, stroked 13 home runs and batted .500 for T.C. Roberson High, scoring 53 times and stealing 21 bases.
Ford said Maybin runs 60 yards in a snappy 6.4 or 6.5 seconds.
Sebastian also fell a little short of earning the prestigious AFLAC award, although after the kind of year he had, the 225-pound pitcher/hitter doesn't have too many complaints.
Austin Jackson of Ryan High in Denton, Tex., pitcher Sean O'Sullivan of Valhalla High in El Cajon, Calif. and pitcher/shortstop Zach Putnam of Pioneer High in Ann Arbor, Mich. were the other finalists for the Jackie Robinson Award.
"It was an honor just to be nominated," Sebastian said.
Sebastian led Columbus High to an 11-1 thrashing of Northgate in the Class AAAA Georgia state championship game last spring.
His statistics at Columbus High certainly warranted his status as one of the premiere prep players in the nation.
The right-hander completed an unbeaten (14-0, 1.86 ERA, 116 strikeouts in 79 innings) campaign on the mound by tossing a two-hitter against Northgate in the title game. The left-handed swinging Sebastian showed his versatility by smacking three hits in four trips to the plate with three RBIs in the contest to cap off a 35-2 record for the Blue Devils.
For the season, Sebastian slugged a dozen homers, knocked in 42 runs and batted .390.
"I'm really prepared to play with the best of the best," he said. "But that doesn't mean that they're going to take it easy on me. I'll be a bundle of nerves out there. I've never played in front of that many people before."
Ripken was the leading vote-getter on a form given to the All-Stars asking them about their baseball role model.
Ken Griffey, Jr., Nolan Ryan, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and Roger Clemens were the other popular choices.
Names from the past who surfaced on a couple of forms were Glenn Davis, Sandy Koufax and Yogi Berra.
Hank Blalock's name also surfaced on West outfielder John Drennen's form. Drennen, who scored the first run for the West All-Stars in the game, attends Rancho Bernardo High in San Diego, Blalock's alma mater.
Angels shortstop David Eckstein also received consideration from one player.
Upton wasn't the only All-Star with Major League family connections. Ike Davis of Chaparral High in Scottsdale, Ariz. is the son of former flamethrower Ron Davis, who played for the Twins and Yankees. Matt Lea of Houston High in Memphis is the son of onetime Expos and Twins pitcher Charlie Lea. Likewise, Steven Johnson of St. Paul's School in Baltimore is the son of former Orioles, Tigers and Pirates hurler Dave Johnson.
In the actual game, the West All-Stars defeated the East, 4-2, in front of 4,006 fans. The game featured 27 strikeouts, four errors, five wild pitches and a host of interesting plays, including the defensive play of the game by Upton. With the bases loaded and two down in the sixth and the West ahead, 2-1, Upton leaped to knock down a liner off the bat of Ben Booker of Lorena High in Bruceville, Texas. The Jackie Robinson Award winner picked up the ball and rifled it to second base a split-second before Kyle Maxie of North Forest High in Hattiesburg, Miss. arrived.
Upton, however, also dropped a popup that went for a two-base error to ignite a two-run West rally in the eighth. Davis was the MVP for the winners after blasting the go-ahead home run in the second. The game will be shown on Fox Sports Net on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.
Andrew McCutcheon of Fort Meade High in Florida had a banner day at the plate for the East. He led his team with four hits and had several members of the media hoping he would be named MVP. Davis' home run, however, put the West ahead for good and sealed the award.
Jordan Danks of Round Rock High in Texas won the home-run hitting contest, 6-4, over Maybin. Danks blasted the second pitch he saw in the showdown round well over the 310-foot marker in right field to top Maybin, who did not go deep in any of his final 10 swings. A $15,000 check was presented in honor of Danks' achievement to the Division of Pediatric Oncology at the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore. The All-Stars visited
young cancer patients a couple days before the game.
Nelson Coffin is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.