Baseball Hotbeds: Golden Standard For Talent
When it comes to producing baseball players, California is the volume king. The Golden State has been the birthplace of 2,256 big leaguers, the most of any state by more than 800 players. It’s produced 24 Hall of Famers and legends across eras from Ted Williams to Tony Gwynn, Joe DiMaggio to Eddie Murray, Lefty Gomez to Randy Johnson, Bob Lemon to Tom Seaver and Dennis Eckersley to Trevor Hoffman. That doesn’t even count players like Walter Johnson (Fullerton Union High) and Bert Blyleven (Santiago High, Garden Grove) who were born elsewhere but came of age as baseball players in California.
And it’s not as if the best of California’s baseball-producing history is in the past. Aaron Judge, Nolan Arenado, Giancarlo Stanton, Ryan Braun, Dustin Pedroia, Cole Hamels, Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole make up the latest wave of stars born and raised in California, not to mention CC Sabathia, Chase Utley, Adam Jones, Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria, Michael Young, Adrian Gonzalez, Jimmy Rollins, Dan Haren and Jered Weaver since the 2000s began.
There are many reasons why California produces so many talented baseball players, but the underlying ones are fairly intuitive.
“The population and the weather,” said Rick Magnante, a Los Angeles native who has spent 49 years in professional baseball as a player, scout and coach and currently manages high Class A Stockton in the California League. “I would say those are the two biggest things. And then also when I grew up it was the national pastime. Baseball was everything there. It’s got its genesis in those three things.”
Indeed, California has been the nation’s most populous state every year since 1962, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and that massive population is able to play baseball year-round with the sun-splashed climate. On top of that, baseball is ever-present.
Within a three-hour radius from almost any point in Southern California, there are three major league teams, four minor league teams and 12 Division I college programs. From the primary population centers in Northern California, two major league teams, six minor league teams and nine Division I college programs are within reasonable driving distance. With those teams come community events, family outings and entire cities immersed in the game. For kids growing up in the state, it’s almost impossible to not be surrounded by—or drawn to—baseball at some point.
Pirates Focus On Improving Player Development
The fact that Pirates prospects tended to improve dramatically with new organizations did not go unnoticed by ownership.
“We’re probably getting a greater scope of athletes who are at least dabbling in baseball at some point than maybe other parts of the country, where you’re competing with football full-time or basketball like swaths of the upper Midwest,” one California-based American League crosschecker said.
The other significant factor is money. Between the tech and financial centers of the Bay Area and Silicon Valley in the north and the coastal paradises in Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego Counties in the south, California is home to 36 of the 100 wealthiest zip codes in the nation, according to Forbes. On it’s own, California is the fifth-largest economy in the world.
“It’s a big pool with a lot of resources,” the crosschecker said. “Parents have a good amount of cash, they can dump an incredible amount of resources into you, and then the weather lets you play year-round.”
Put it all together, and you have what California has been for decades: the top state
when it comes to quantity of big leaguers and stars.