08/06/12 3:26 PM ET
Area Code Baseball Games showcases young talent
By Jesse Sanchez / MLB.com
Martarano's appearance stirs murmurs in the crowd. Cameras are quickly positioned by fans and fresh pages in scouts' notebooks are prepared for one of the top high school players in the country, a player who everyone has heard about, but few have seen in person. Martarano is from Fruitland, Idaho, but he might as well be from Scotland's Loch Ness. He is definitely not from baseball powerhouses like Arizona, California, Texas and Florida, where they play baseball year-round. Martarano is from a small community about 50 miles outside Boise, a town not far from the Oregon border, and a place where they play baseball five months out of the year and three of them are in bad weather.
But for next five days, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound third baseman will take the same field with 250 of the best high school players in the country in sunny Southern California. Martarano has the opportunity to prove that he's not just a baseball monster in the small town where he lives. But don't blink or you might miss the young infielder. Just like his father Victor did in the late 1980s, Martarano has committed to play football at Boise State University, a school that has no baseball program.
"It's tough. Joe also plays three sports, but we don't know any different," Victor said. "We're at a disadvantage against kids from Florida and California because they can play baseball all year, but we are competing. We are doing just fine and we're getting used to the velocity here."
The scouts that sit behind home plate to watch Martarano don't clap, they write notes. And what is written on those notebooks helps determine the future of collegiate and professional baseball in the United States. The truth is, it doesn't matter if the prospect grew up in a valley in Idaho, near mountains in Alaska, close to the beaches in California or by some legendary lake in Great Britain, as long he can play now and get better later.
Welcome to Blair Field, the normal home to Long Beach State's baseball Dirtbags, and the top baseball classes for 2013, '14 and '15 for the week.
The eight teams that make up the Area Code Baseball Games are named after Major League teams and associated with different regions in the United States. Martarano, who plays for the Kansas City Royals, a squad made up from players from the Northwest, played his first game on Sunday against the Oakland Athletics from Northern California. Also competing in the showcase are the Texas Rangers (Texas and Louisiana), Cincinnati Reds (Four Corners and Hawaii), Chicago White Sox (Midwest region), Milwaukee Brewers (Southern California), New York Yankees (Northeast region) and the Washington Nationals (Southeast region and Virginia).
The event features three days with four games and two days with three games. This year's event kicked off Sunday with player evaluations and two games. There are at least 300 scouts at the 2012 Area Code Baseball Games, and they represent every Major League team. There are also hundreds of college recruiters from big and small baseball programs across the country.
Area Code Baseball, originally created 26 years ago by Bob Williams, was acquired by Student Sports Inc. in 2002 and then by ESPN in 2008. Overall, more than 500 Major League players have participated in the Area Code Baseball Games.
"This is a tournament with people that can change your life," said former Major League ballplayer Jermaine Clark, who manages the Oakland team. "There are people here who can give you college scholarships that will prepare you to be a productive person in the world, and there are also pro baseball teams that are giving people life-changing money. I don't care if you have played against Cuba or team Venezuela, it's not bigger than this."
The names that make up the rosters for the 2012 Area Code Baseball Games could be household names one day, names like outfielder Dominic Smith (Brewers), catcher Reese McGuire (Royals), pitcher Kohl Stewart (Rangers), outfielder/pitcher Trey Ball (White Sox), first baseman Rowdy Tellez (Athletics) and catcher Jeremy Martinez (Brewers). Other players, prospects like Cavan Biggio (Rangers), Kacy Clemens (Rangers), Brody Weiss (Reds) and Gunnar Buhner (Royals) already stand out because their fathers played in the big leagues.
"Every parent here is a proud parent," said former Major League ballplayer Jay Buhner. "You all want your kids to do well and I want my son do well, but whatever happens, good or bad, it's going to be a learning experience for them. It's going to be huge for them and help them push the envelope and try to compete at the next level."
The young Buhner is one of 16 players from the state of Washington on the Kansas City team. Martarano is one of three from Idaho.
Mother Nature is not always their friend.
"Let's face it, there are high school baseball Meccas out there, but what about the other places like the Midwest, the Dakotas, and the kids from Idaho," Jay Buhner said. "There are some kids here from Alaska that can play. For those kids, it's a great way to put a face on radar screen."
The Area Code Baseball Games is part of the high school prospect circuit highlighted by Perfect Game National Showcase shortly after Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft in June and the Tournament of Stars later in the month. The East Coast Pro Showcase takes place in July, followed by the two nationally televised All-American games in August and the World Wood Bat Association in Jupiter, Fla., in October. Scouts then follow the prospects through their high school seasons.
Martarano knows how important this week is. He will get 12 to 15 at-bats this week before he disappears again. But he has finally surfaced to the scouts, and now only his future remains unknown.