One of the premier features of the annual Area Code Games is SPARQ testing, which was first instituted at the Long Beach event about five years ago.
In the chronologically distant and technologically backward 1990s, scouts timed players with stop watches as they ran 60-yard dashes across the outfield turf. These and other neanderthal methods were used to measure a players speed, leaping ability and throwing arm strength.
Of course, these methods are pathetically and hopelessly outdated in the computer dominated and scientifically advanced world of the 21st century. SPARQ tests are designed to test rotational strength, fast twitch muscles, and explosive core power. In other words, speed, leaping ability and arm strength. Apparently, no athletes had cores prior to 2002.
The SPARQ testing was conducted on Tuesday at a softball field just north of Blair Field.
Tiny, fit, perky and immaculately groomed young SPARQ testers shuttled players from station to station. First is the ultra high tech height and weight calculation zone. Each player steps on a scale to determine his weight. He then has his height measured by standing next to a white paper banner marked in feet and inches. It’s stunning how exercise science has advanced!
Off they next go to the vertical jump station. The goal here, cleverly devised, is to jump as high as you can. No cores exploded, but several participants may in reality be kangaroos.
Jake Marisnick (Riverside Poly High, Calif.) jumped a stunning 35.8 inches and scraped the bottom of a jet landing at Long Beach Airport. He was followed by Kenny Diekroger, Kyrell Hudson (Evergreen High, Vancouver, Wash.) and the wonderfully named Slade Heathcott (Texas High, Texarkana, Texas), all of whom pogo-sticked between 34.9 and 34.7.
Prior to running the 60-yard dash, each team is led through a series of bizarre looking exercises. No one on the Brewer Blue squad was able to keep a straight face during an awkward squatting warmup drill which appeared to simulate the start of a sumo wrestling match. One player keeled over on his side, eliciting good natured howls of laughter from his pals.
Off to the races they went. Hudson smoked his competition, clocking one of the fastest Area Code SPARQ 60 times ever–6.33. Second was Michael Trout (Millville High, N.J.) who ripped off a 6.52 time. Matthew Moynihan (Cathedral Catholic High, San Diego) followed with a 6.58 effort, made all the more remarkable given his uncoventional snorting, arm flailing, leg spinning running style.
One racer veered off course at the start, circling like a slalom ski racer outside of one of the flourescent green cones used to mark the running lanes. "We won’t count that time" one of the SPARQ attendants informed him diplomatically.
Up next is the 20-yard side to side shuttle test, which appears to be designed to test how quickly one can fall flat on his face. This is easily the most frustrating test, since the turf is slippery and footing is difficult to maintain. A great deal of fast twitch cursing occurred as the athletes attempted to shuffle about. At the conclusion of this test, the chewed up and pock marked grass resembled, Vieques, the island in Puerto Rico the Navy uses for bombing practice.
Marisinick was once again the king, shuffling back and forth in 4.15 seconds. He was tied by Moynihan and they were closely followed by Noah Perio (De La Salle High, Concord, Calif.) at 4.19.
The final activity is the rotational power ball distance throw. Each contestant heaves a heavy rubber ball as far as he can. Imagine a toddler trying to heave a bowling ball and you’ll get the idea. Diekroger and Cade Kreuter (Valencia High, Newhall, Calif.) tied for the title in this discipline at 6300.
The final SPARQ rankings indicate the presence in Long Beach of several exceptional athletes. Diekroger finished first with a phenomenal 85.96 overall score. He was followed by Trout, Heathcott, Jon Walsh (Coppell High, Texas), Marisnick, Keenyn Walker (Judge Memorial High, Salt Lake City) and Moynihan.
Kidding aside, the SPARQ tests are invaluable aids to scouts in determining the athletic ability of the prospects participating in the Area Code games. Whatever modernistic labels one may want to attach, scouts always have and always will be interested in raw skills and tools.
In scouting position players, hitting ability trumps all else. Non hitting tools are of secondary consideration, but important nonetheless. Philosophies change over time, but baseball is still a sport played by athletes, John Kruk’s viewpoint notwithstanding.
Everyone has their own way of evaluating players. Most welcome modern technology, some eschew it. One of my favorite scouts is loveably cranky and outspoken but an infinitely wise and perceptive observer.
His credo, oft repeated, is: "I don’t need no one or nothing to tell me who can play!"
"I can tell who can play and who can’t!"