On Twitter this morning, Oakland pitcher and former CMWS (2005 and 2006) and Area Code Games (2004) participant, Brett Anderson, asked ESPN’s Keith Law if he’d ever been to Farmington in August for the Connie Mack World Series. Law said that he had not due to the simultaneous annual scheduling of the CMWS and Area Code Games. This is an issue for top underclassmen each summer whose club organizations happen to still be alive after Connie Mack state and regional play concludes. Fortunately for both events only 10 teams can make it to Farmington each year, and only two are there the entire week, so often players find little conflict in terms of attending both events if only for a portion of each. For instance, in 2009 Farmington’s own Jake McCasland was the scheduled starter in the opening round of the CMWS as well as a participant in the tourney’s homerun derby. He obviously was obligated and thrilled to participate in the CMWS as long as his club had not been eliminated.
Once, however, they were knocked out, Jake boarded a plane to California to pitch at Area Code. This is common for players with invitations to Area Code who do not wish to abandon their club and/or miss the annual CMWS festivities. Additionally, players who elect to play for organizations like the Midland Redskins, South Troy Dodgers, Florida Legends, East Cobb Yankees, Arizona Firebirds, or Strike Zone Cardinals do so understanding that the clubs’ expectations are to play into the middle of August ever single season. While these clubs are without question among the finest in the country, playing for them can mean less time to spend on the ever-developing national showcase circuit.
Showcases are designed to present recruitable players to recruiters, be it professional scouts or collegiate coaches. A great deal of what amateur club coaches and financiers as well as prep coaches are trying to accomplish is “helping kids reach the next level.” It is next to impossible to walk into any indoor facility or read any amateur club’s website “about us” page without hearing something about the “next level” and how their club is second to none with regards to helping kids reach whatever that is. And those are the good guys. The bad guys are the people suggesting to kids that playing club baseball is no longer necessary or beneficial.
That is how we arrived at the national showcase circuit, a circuit that Bryce Harper made famous during his amateur ascension. Players in this circuit have allegiance to no one and have practically no concept of what “team” constitutes. They immediately hit the road following the end of the school season in pursuit of BP rounds and 60-yard dashes. The showcase circuit is a joke to fans of baseball because it effectively strips the game of any intrinsic meaning or value in favor of dollars and exposure.
The CMWS is somewhat of a throwback relative to the national showcase circuit in that it actually fields teams of players who have spent a minimum of a couple of months together, and in some cases years to a decade together. This in many ways is analogous to school ball except for that the talent level tends to be considerably higher. The thought of a school team succeeding in an event like the CMWS is laughable, but the idea that “team” matters is certainly a reflection of the school baseball concept. This isn’t to discredit players who outside of school baseball have no means of exposure during the non-spring months other than showcases. This is common in rural areas, inner cities, and areas like Wyoming and Iowa where club baseball options are limited or nonexistent because the school season takes place during the summer months. Brandon Nimmo is a product of that sort of environment, and he landed in the first round and now has a chance to really learn what team baseball means within the professional ranks.
The Area Code Games have much more in common with a basic showcase than they do with something like the CMWS. Teams are assembled in glorified random fashion based loosely on geography. Yes, the talent level is through the roof. A great deal of the top NCAA recruits as well as the early portion of any draft will have experience in Area Code, but the same can be said for many events including the CMWS. The PG All-American game (formerly Aflac) is held the Sunday after Area Codes and the CMWS and has many players from both rostered. It’s always sort of an end-of-the-summer shindig bringing together the best players from the CMWS and Area Codes into one facility for a handful of high profile innings. Aside from a select few Midland and 18U Team USA rosters, the PG/Aflac rosters are the best assembled annually. This year is no different, but once again, there is zero team concept involved and the sample size tends to be so small and meaningless that talent evaluators have less to go by than what they would find at an event like the CMWS where players actually give a shit what the score is.
The difference between events like Area Code and the CMWS as well as the PG/Aflac All-American Game is that the fans in the CMWS root for the players, but they also root for the teams. At events like Area Codes and other showcase-style recruiting events, the name on the front of any player’s jersey is of little concern to anyone either on the field or in the stands, and the score on the scoreboard is worth far less than each player’s box score line. Perhaps the perfect example is Strike Zone Cardinal Damion Lovato’s final at-bat in the CMWS, which took place in the 8th inning Monday night against the South Troy Dodgers. Damion hit a triple after breaking his hamate bone on a foul ball earlier in the game. Something tells me that any player at Area Codes would have probably sat the at-bat out, but the Cards needed him to contribute, and so he gave his team the best he had. I, as a baseball fan, greatly prefer the Connie Mack World Series and selfless performances like Lovato’s to any showcase-style event like the Area Code Games.