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Big League Break

Reprinted From:
The Washington Post

Looking for a Big-League Break;
Area Baseball Players Demonstrate Skills for Pro Scouts
Preston Williams
Staff Writer

Adrenaline flooding his insides, Woodbridge right-hander Joe McLain could feel hundreds of eyeballs boring through him. There was no score and nobody on base, but the gravity of the situation was palpable. McLain felt as though his entire baseball future might hinge on these precious pending pitches.

This was no game. In fact, it was January, and McLain wasn't even facing a batter when he tried to unleash his all-time best offerings. This was last winter at the Baseball Factory All-American Weekend at Dodgertown, the Los Angeles Dodgers' spring training facility in Vero Beach, Fla., where scouts from all 30 major league teams flock annually to check out much of the top high school baseball talent in the country.

"That's what initially started getting me letters in the mail--being seen down there," said McLain, the 2000 All-Extra Player of the Year who has committed to Coastal Carolina. "That was a big part of the recruiting process for me."

McLain this year is one of six local players--three from Woodbridge-- chosen to take part in the all-star weekend Jan 12-14. McLain made The Baseball Factory's 2001 Preseason All-American second team. Teammate Alan Day, a pitcher/outfielder, and North Stafford outfielder Ricky Scanlon were picked to the third team.

Woodbridge pitcher Billy Freeman, Osbourn Park pitcher Jeff Dagenhart and Hylton outfielder Jason Brown, each an honorable mention, are the other local players eligible to take part in the showcase.

McLain's baseball career has not been the same since his Dodgertown appearance in January. With strong showings of their own, the other locals perhaps could coax similar results.

"For pitchers, they had kind of a bullpen where they had all the scouts there with radar guns, and each pitcher got to throw an individual bullpen, " McLain said. "I got to throw as hard as I could and show off my pitches to all the scouts."

McLain, who last spring went 6-1 with six complete games while batting .432 with 22 RBI, clocked in at 89 mph in Florida, about 6 mph faster than he had thrown a few months before at another showcase. During this robust audition, he caught a glimpse of the scouts holding up their radar guns, so impressed with the performance they were eagerly sharing the results. The pitcher thought he was about to burst.

"To see so many scouts there, the adrenaline is like nothing I've ever felt before," said McLain, ranked No. 75 on Baseball America's national prospect list. "[But this time] I don't think I'm going to worry too much about my performance. I'm not going to go out and slack off, but I'm going to try to have a little more fun and not be so uptight about how I'm doing."

The participants stay in the same quarters that house the Dodgers during spring training. After a series of minicamps, drills and guest speakers, the players divide into teams for the final day of the event.

With a scholarship secured, McLain will try to parlay another sharp Dodgertown showing into a lofty draft position come June. Woodbridge teammate Day, set to play at Villanova, is in a similar position.

"It's a rare opportunity," said Day, another All-Extra choice last season (.372 batting average, 7-2 with a 1.92 earned run average), revered by scouts for his outfield arm. "We want to have that option of going to college or going on to the [pro] level. It will be important to the spring because they'll come out to see us if they liked what they saw. It will make it even more fun to compete and maybe get drafted somewhere decent."

With Woodbridge's McLain, Day and Freeman all chosen for the event, it bodes well for the Vikings' chances this spring. Last year the team finished 16-6 but fell in the Northwestern Region quarterfinals to North Stafford. "It's not a feather in the cap of the program; it's more of a feather in the cap of those players for scouts to think they're worth coming down there," Woodbridge Coach Frank Chimento said. "It really says a lot about how hard they've worked to be able to go to something like that. It's lucky they go to our school, and the result of their hard work reflects well on our program and will bring exposure to us in the spring."

The other area third-teamer chosen, North Stafford's Scanlon, is a player McLain and Day might remember well. Scanlon drove in the winning run off McLain in a 2-1 victory in the region quarterfinals last season after helping his team grab a third consecutive Commonwealth District tournament title. Scanlon's hit was a single to left, a ball Day charged, barehanded and fired home but not in time to retire the runner.

Scanlon batted .271, with 16 runs, 10 RBI, 5 doubles, 10 walks and 18 steals.

Whether they are at Dodgertown to pitch, hit, field or some combination, one of the main challenges for any player there is to try not to press too hard, a feat in itself.

"When you have 100 radar guns behind you, you think you have to overpower it," Day said. "You can't really let that bother you, but how can you not with all the radar guns? [But] it's not like this one thing will predict everything for your future."

Washington Post

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