SAN DIEGO—Ballplayers come in all shapes and sizes, which was evident Sunday night in the Perfect Game All-American Classic at Petco Park.
The West team—which routed the East 13-0 in the most lopsided game of the event’s 14-year history—featured the tallest and shortest players among the 52 seniors-to-be who participated. Both 6-foot-10 lefthander Mitchell Stone (Deer Creek High, Edmond, Okla.) and 5-foot-9 Nick Allen (Francis Parker High, San Diego) made an impression in the game.
Stone was the tallest pitcher to take the mound at Petco since 6-foot-10 Chris Young was in the Padres rotation six years ago.
Extreme height brings its own set of challenges for a pitcher.
“You’ve got to be athletic,” said Stone, who touched 90-92 mph when he came on in the ninth inning. “I’ve done my best to improve my athleticism, the way I move. God’s given me a great gift, and I plan to use it out there.”
Stone said he has always been tall, although he’s not sure he will reach 7-feet without growing his hair out. “I’ve slowed down a little bit,” he said.
Asked to describe the worst and best things about being so tall, Stone said, “The worst thing is you’ve got to be able control your body really well. That’s something you have to focus on more than other pitchers. The best thing is you get to be big and intimidating.”
Allen wouldn’t know about that. He was listed at 5-9, 160 pounds in the program, and both measurements seemed generous.
“It’s something that pushes me when I get in the weight room or get on the field practicing,” Allen said. “I’m very confident in my game. So when I come out here, I just do it. I feel I’ve gained some people’s respect by doing it.”
Allen draws approval with outstanding defense. The glove plays.
That much has been evident since Allen became Francis Parker’s starting shortstop as a freshman. It’s what prompted Parker coach David Glassey to say Allen was more advanced in the field than former Lancers standout Nick Noonan, a first-round pick by San Francisco in the 2007 draft. It’s why Southern California offered Allen a scholarship two years ago (he accepted).
That defense was evident from the outset at Petco Park. In the first inning, Allen made a diving stop in the hole, jumped to his feet and threw out the East’s Adam Hall at first base for the game’s first out.
Two batters later, Allen’s return throw to catcher M.J. Melendez (Saint James School, Montgomery, Ala.) nailed the East’s Quentin Holmes (McClancy Memorial High, East Elmhurst, N.Y.) trying to score on a double steal.
“I wanted to come out and show my type of game, whether that was making a couple plays on defense or at the plate,” said Allen, who also singled twice and drove in a run.
Allen is still eager to add size.
“I want to put on weight,” he said, “and, who knows, I might grow a couple of inches. I’ve never had a growth spurt. There should be something in there. But if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. I’m OK with that.
“I just want to keep working on hitting, driving the ball . . . and keep working on the defensive aspects.”
West shortstop/pitcher Hunter Greene (Notre Dame High, Stevenson Ranch, Calif.) may have had an unfair advantage in the Home Run Challenge.
Greene was the guest of Giancarlo Stanton, a Notre Dame alum, at Petco four weeks ago when the Marlins outfielder was competing in the All-Star Home Run Derby.
“We have a great relationship with each other,” Greene said. “He comes back to the school all the time.
“I was able to share the Home Run Derby with him. I actually went up to the suite with him and hung out with him. It was great.”
Greene watched Stanton earn the Home Run Derby crown, setting a Derby record with 61 home runs in the event, two days after Greene had participated in the Junior Derby prior to the Futures Game at Petco.
This Sunday afternoon was Greene’s turn to blast balls into the seats and bash them off the Western Metal Company Building located beyond the left-field wall.
Greene hit 11 homers in the first round to reach the final against West outfielder Calvin Mitchell (Rancho Bernardo High, San Diego). Mitchell went first in the final round and hit four homers. Greene then stepped to the plate and won with five homers—on his first five swings.
“I was feeling it a little bit,” Greene said moments after 2016 Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. presented him with the Challenge award. “It came off my bat better than I thought. It was great.”
Greene then excused himself. He had to get to the bullpen to get loose. The righthander also was the starting pitcher for the West.
Greene, a UCLA commit, touched 96 mph in his inning of work. That matched the velocity displayed by East starter D.L. Hall (Houston County High, Warner Robins, Ga.).
The Music Man
A question was posed to the East’s Cash Case (The First Academy, Mount Dora, Fla.): Does he play more positions or musical instruments?
“I play eight positions, but only three instruments,” said Case, who is proficient at the piano, with a guitar or a saxophone. “I could learn more if you wanted.”
Case had to be the most versatile player on either roster.
He was listed as a shortstop on the roster, played second base in the game (going hitless in two at-bats) and is comfortable virtually everywhere else on the diamond.
“I can play anywhere I’m need, and I think my bat can play anywhere,” said Case, who has a verbal commitment to Notre Dame.
Case said he began playing the piano as a 5-year-old and added the other instruments not long thereafter.
“My dad stressed the importance of music and the arts at a young age,” Case said. “Having background in those things sets me apart from all these kids. Being a great athlete and a great musician is something I’m really proud of. With baseball, you have to practice every day and be really focused. It’s the same thing with music.”
Imagine if Case could combine the two pursuits. He has an idea.
“I’ve written a few songs on the guitar that I think could make a good walk-up song,” he said.
The West roster included corner infielder Jacob Gonzalez, the son of former major league outfielder Luis Gonzalez.
Jacob attends Chaparral High in Scottsdale, Ariz., and has a verbal commitment to TCU. He said getting a glimpse inside a major league clubhouse has made a significant difference for him.
“Seeing the attitude that they bring to the table everyday, the positivity and just how they go about their business every single day,” said Jacob, whose instruction from his father has been simple and to the point. “He just tells me to go out there and work hard and have fun.”
Father and son are noticeably different players. Luis was a lefthanded-hitting outfielder. Jacob is a righthanded-hitting corner infielder. There is at least one similarity, however.
“We both have the leg kick, but I think that just runs in the blood,” Jacob said.
Kirk Kenney is a sportswriter for the San Diego Union-Tribune.