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Depth Of High School Baseball Talent Growing In Maryland

June 4, 2014

The 33rd Brooks Robinson Senior All-Star Game will be played at Camden Yards June 15 after the Orioles' game against Toronto. The game showcases some of the premier high school baseball players in the state, and will celebrate a local collegiate team flexing its muscle during the postseason.

"Everybody talks about Maryland lacrosse, but it's not always just lacrosse around here," said Ty Whitaker, assistant baseball coach at Eastern Tech. "Maryland baseball is very good, and we're proving it again. We're top 10 every year in putting kids in the major league draft, and what [the University of] Maryland did this weekend is amazing."

Whitaker is also the president of the Maryland State Association of Baseball Coaches, which puts on the Brooks Robinson Senior All-Star Game, and is savoring Maryland's run to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game and June 1 win in the Columbia Regional of the NCAA baseball tournament. Maryland beat Old Dominion during round one of the tournament May 30, and then swept top-seeded South Carolina May 31 and June 1 to earn its first trip to a Super Regional.

The Terps will play Virginia during a best-of-three series June 7-9 in Charlottesville, Va.

"Nearly one-third of Maryland's 35 man-roster are kids from the state of Maryland," Whitaker said. "I believe it's 13. Eleven of them played in the Brooks game."

Five more graduating high school seniors this year have already committed to Maryland, coached by John Szefc.

High school seniors Troy Stokes of Calvert Hall, Justin Morris of DeMatha, Jamal Wade of St. Paul's, Justin Meekins of Stephen Decatur and Taylor Bloom of Riverdale Baptist have committed to Maryland for next year, though there's a chance Stokes and Morris will get picked during the June 5 major league draft. 

"Morris is one of the best catchers I've ever seen around here, and there's a good chance Stokes will get picked as well," Whitaker said. "We'll see. If they don't get drafted or signed, they're headed to Maryland."

Morris would join his older brother, Zach Morris, at Maryland as will Jamal Wade, whose older brother, LaMonte, is the Terrapins' starting first baseman, No. 2 hitter and a sophomore. Both Zach Morris and LaMonte Wade are also alumni of the Brooks Robinson Senior All-Star Game, as are fellow Maryland players Chase Brewis and Ryan Selmer of Riverdale Baptist, Brandon Casas of Gilman, Kyle Convissar of Severna Park, Pat Hisle of Walt Whitman, Bradley Keith of DeMatha, Kevin Mooney of North Harford, Bobby Ruse of C. Milton Wright and Tayler Stiles of Bishop McNamara.

Sherwood's Anthony Papio -- who had two big RBIs during Maryland's 10-1 win against South Carolina June 1 -- and Ben Brewster of the Park School in north Baltimore, are the only two in-state players not to have played in the Brooks Robinson game.

***

Arundel coach Bernie Walter helped start the Maryland State Association of Baseball Coaches 31 years ago. The result was the first Crown All-Star Game in 1982 at Memorial Stadium.

"I was on the MPSSAA baseball tournament committee at the time, where I proposed an all-inclusive all-star baseball game -- public, private, parochial, from every district in Maryland," Walter said. "The committee said, 'Great -- we will help you arrange it.' So I went to the Orioles to speak with [then-Orioles farm director] Tommy Giordano. He said, 'Great,' but we had to use an Orioles sponsor."

The sponsor became Crown Petroleum, owned by Henry Rosenberg, whose good friend Brooks Robinson, a former third baseman for the Orioles, was the face and voice of its advertising campaign.

"Brooks was my only contact at Crown," Walter said. "I wrote Brooks a letter. Several months went by without a response. I thought it was dead in the water. Then I received a phone call from Brooks, who set a lunch meeting with a senior VP. I laid out the concept. He asked, 'Who would run this?' My response was the state coaches committee, which did not exist until that second. Then, he wanted to know who would actually do the work. I said I would. The deal was set.

"Then I went back to the committee for help. Two men stepped up immediately -- Chuck Bragg of Howard County and Mel Bacon of Cecil County. We had a tryout at Essex Community College. A large number of state high school coaches got involved, including the MPSSAA committee. Many [Maryland Scholastic Association] and statewide private and parochial school coaches joined in."

The result was the first Crown game, played in June 1982 at Memorial Stadium. Bill Ripken of Aberdeen, Craig Wilson of Annapolis and Tim Drummond of Thomas Stone played in the first game, while virtually every local major league player has been a part of it ever since.

"After the first game, the MSABC was organized with bylaws, etc.," Walter said. "Initially, everything revolved around the Crown All-Star Game. The organization grew from there. We had state conventions and clinics."

Walter became the organization's first president. Through his work with the MSABC, he has helped bring increased exposure to statewide baseball.

In 2009, the MSABC sponsored its first Futures Maryland team, a collection of high school juniors, who represented the state in the Midwest Classic in Joliet, Ill. Among the members of that team were Cardinal Gibbons' Dominic Fratantuono, who helped Towson University win the Colonial Athletic Association in 2013 and earn a trip to the NCAA tournament.

"That was big for us," said Whitaker, who coached the 2009 Futures team. "We won that first tournament. Since then, the Futures program has really taken off."

And it is getting bigger. Right now, the MSABC puts on two senior all-star games, which are played to pick the players for the Brooks Robinson game. For the first time this year, a pair of junior all-star games against two teams from Virginia will be played Aug. 11 at Prince George's Stadium in Bowie.

"We're calling it the Maryland Cup," Whitaker said. "We've invited 600 college coaches from around the country -- two Maryland teams against two Virginia teams. We don't want our parents traveling around the country and spending a lot of money. So we'll have it down at Bowie. And it's free."

The MSABC also sponsors Team Maryland, which represents the state in the Sunbelt Classic in Oklahoma and has also increased the exposure nationally. Walter helped create the team with the help of former Orioles pitcher Dave Johnson, who graduated from Overlea High School and played his college baseball at the Community College of Baltimore.

"One night, Dave phoned from Florida complaining about the massive media praise of Florida high school baseball and the lack of respect for Maryland high school baseball," Walter said. "He felt our kids would play baseball just as well."

Baltimore's amateur tradition includes teams such as Leone's, Johnny's and now Youse's Maryland Orioles, Brooklyn Optimist, Yankee Rebels, Putty Hill, Gordon Stores, Highland Federal, Wagners, Mike Auto Mart, and Mayo and Severna Park American Legion teams winning or contending annually for national championships.

"There was a postseason high school baseball tournament in Oklahoma that brought together state coaches association-sponsored all-star teams -- like Maryland," Walter said. "We got involved in that, and after a few years, Dave Norton took over operating the Crown and Brooks games with Tim O'Brien, Jason Woodward, Rod Cameron and Ty Whitaker serving as presidents of the organization."

The result is a fertile talent pool and a group of coaches galvanized in their promotion of the game and each other's players. 

"You look back on these last couple of years -- Towson, now Maryland in the tournament," Whitaker said. "Coaches from Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, Florida, they're all congratulating us for our success."

Whitaker will be one of this year's coaches in the Brooks Robinson game. He'll be joined on the North staff by Jimmy Foit of Frederick and Mike Franklin of Catoctin. John Childers of LaPlata, Dave Johnson of Parkside and Troy Brohawn of Cambridge-South Dorchester are the South coaches.

Foit was an all-state shortstop at Mount St. Joseph during the mid-1970s, while Brohawn pitched for the Arizona Diamondbacks during the 2001 World Series. He graduated from Cambridge-South Dorchester in 1990 and went on to play his college baseball at Nebraska. The San Francisco Giants selected him during the fourth round of the 1994 draft.

Now, he's back coaching at his alma mater and is a part of this year's south team, which includes Andrew Spinnenweber, Chris Ruszin and John Drexel of Chesapeake, which defeated Sherwood, 2-0, for the Maryland Class 4A championship at Ripken Stadium May 23. 

Also on the team are Broadneck's Brian Parreira, Severna Park's Greg Mayer, Arundel's Syeed Mahdi and South River's Kyle Canavan.

Southern's Steve Hogan helped the Bulldogs beat Parkside to win the Class 2A state title May 24, while Danny O'Hagan helped Reservoir win the Class 3A state title with a 2-0 win against North Harford May 24.

Jamal Wade and Mount St. Joe pitchers Josh Kenney and Peter Solomon will play for the North team. Solomon is headed to Notre Dame, but could also get selected during the major league draft. The North team also includes Cody Gwinn and Andy Szamski of Eastern Tech and Kurtis Ewers of Dulaney.

*** 

In 2009, Erik Bakich replaced Terry Rupp as the Terps' head baseball coach and named Walter as the team's director of operations. Walter took Bakich around the state, introducing him to local coaches and bridging a divide between College Park and the rest of the state.

The result was a turnaround both on the field and in the eyes of high school recruits from western Maryland to the Eastern Shore.

Bakich's first freshman class of 2010 included Convissar and Alex Ramsey of Severna Park and Jimmy Reed, a left-handed pitcher from St. John's Prep in Washington, D.C. Reed left Maryland after his junior year, when the St. Louis Cardinals selected him during the sixth round of the 2013 draft. He is now pitching for the Peoria Chiefs of the Midwest League.

Convissar is now the Terps' designated hitter and a four-time ACC Academic All-American. Last month, he was also named a national Academic All-American.

Zach Morris, a D.C.-area All-Metro pitcher at DeMatha, transferred in from the University of Cincinnati and redshirted in 2013.

"He wanted to come back because he liked what he was seeing with coach Szefc," Whitaker said. "If Justin Morris doesn't sign, Zach will get a chance to play with his brother. Coach Szefc's done a good job of recruiting. He's followed what Bernie and Bakich did and brought in some good players." 

Mike Shawaryn is from New Jersey and the Terps' No. 2 starter behind Jake Stinnett. Shawaryn played on last year's American Legion World Series champs and was drafted by the Kansas City Royals out of Gloucester Catholic High.

"Maryland's success has been outstanding pitching and solid defense," Walter said. "In the 14-2 streak, the offense hit under pressure, and the entire lineup has hit very well."