JUPITER, Fla.—Safi Wazaz is only 13 years old, but he knows the meaning of hard work.
The native of Connecticut took himself from being a subpar baseball player, in his own words, to being one of the most impressive young first basemen at Roger Dean Stadium during USA Baseball's 14U National Team East championships.
Wazaz worked his way onto the Stealth Baseball roster, eventually landing a spot in the middle of the lineup and becoming a mainstay at first for the travel team. Standing out among the crowd at the event in Jupiter, the young infielder is hoping his hard work will pay off by way of earning a position with the National Team Development Program.
“It would be an honor to be selected, especially for me because I used to suck," Wazaz said. “After that, I started to hit and do strength and conditioning every day for almost two years. You could see a drastic change in my game … I went from one to 10."
Wazaz isn't the only one who's seen a noticeable change. Chris Kuselias, Stealth Baseball's head coach, has worked with the 5-foot-9, 170-pound teen for three years and knows exactly how far he's come and what it's taken for him to get there.
“When I first met Safi he was 10," Kuselias said. “He came on a tournament with us and I said, 'You're not ready and you're not going to be,' and he said, 'Yes I am, coach. I'm ready. I'm good enough.' I put him out there and didn't think (much) of it, and then I saw him a year later and it was like he was a different person. He has really impressed me and I think he's impressed his teammates."
Those early comments from his coach and other doubters were what drove Wazaz to want to put more time into getting better and stronger, to help his game in any way he could.
“It's something I decided to do on my own," Wazaz said of getting a trainer. “I felt like I wanted to get better at the game because I really loved to play."
So far, Kuselias believes the hard work has paid off.
“The biggest change I've seen from him is his strength," Kuselias said. “He goes to strength and conditioning training religiously twice a week. While other kids are playing video games or watching TV or whatever they do, he's in with a personal trainer, stretching or working on his game. He has come so far."
Wazaz's discipline and drive go well beyond that of most of his peers, but they are what Kuselias would consider routine for the first baseman, and what make him such a great young leader for his squad.
“Safi is not a loud guy," Kuselias said. “He's not in your face, he's not a rah-rah guy. He leads by example. What he does is he plays serious all the time and he's always focused on the game.
“(Friday) when it was pouring rain out and everybody else was in the hotel, he was taking batting practice. He leads by example. He's a very cerebral hitter, he doesn't swing at bad pitches, and he's willing to take a walk just to help the team, because he's a team player."
Wazaz applies his work ethic beyond the diamond as well.
“Safi is one of the hardest-working players you'll ever find," Kuselias said. “He's a very good student first of all, a straight-A student, and a very smart kid. He goes to a difficult and challenging private school and he works his butt off in the classroom and on the field. He's the consummate student-athlete."
During the tournament at Roger Dean Stadium, the lefthanded hitter proved to be a standout student of the game, showing impressive baseball instincts both at the plate and in the field. He credits that ability to the time he's put in.
“That's definitely from just the amount of games we play," Wazaz said. “Being from the Northeast, we can't play as many games as people from down here (in Florida), but you still have to pick up on the little things during every game."
Wazaz believes hitting is the strongest part of his game, though he acknowledges that he can play first base pretty well, too. He prefers to take his turn at the dish over anything else, and doesn't believe that he does anything in particular to stand out on the field or make an impression. He's just going out and playing his game.
“I don't want to sound cliché, but I just try to work hard every day and play my best," Wazaz said.