FORT MYERS, Fla .– As the Florida sun set over JetBlue Park on Thursday morning, 23 hand-picked student-athletes worked to hone their skills and prepare for a weekend of balloon competition.
The 2021 WWBA Underclass World Championships in Fort Myers (September 30-October 4) are officially underway, as the Breakthrough Series team of Black and Latino athletes graduating in 2023 or 24 have arrived to show off their skills among a wide range. range of talent.
Made up of student-athletes from across the country, the Breakthrough Series team is led by former Major Leaguer Lou Collier. The coaches, who have been giving guidance and advice to players all morning, also include former MLB skipper Jerry Manuel and major league retirees Tye Waller, Sergio Santos and Antonio Grissom.
From the Midwest to the West Coast to the Northeast, the love of baseball is what brings these kids from all walks of life together. Some have experienced a tournament of this caliber in previous years, while others are enjoying the moment and enjoying the environment of a big league spring training park and Major League talent.
Class 2023 infielder Brandon McClain-Banks of Pittsburgh has said he hopes to make the most of the opportunity to be surrounded by great baseball minds who can help him raise his level of baseball. Game.
“It’s a great experience to be here,” said McClain-Banks. “I came here ready to play and to play. And it’s about having fun. It’s very exciting and I can’t wait to play.
The Barack Obama Academy product has a unique load and output with its swing, with a knack for hitting online workouts. He also has blazing speed which he uses to his advantage both on the court and at home plate.
“My approach is to hit hard drives or hard ground bullets,” he said. “I can use my speed to fly or in a sacrifice situation. I love to steal bags. I can steal the second, the third, maybe even the house, you never know.
McClain-Banks, who secured his spot on the Breakthrough Series team through the Pittsburgh Pirates’ RBI program, said his favorite aspect of the game was showing off leather.
“I really like to play,” he said. “I like to do diving games, highlight games, even routine games – I love playing on the court. I don’t know what’s about it, love it.
Another new face to the Breakthrough Series is outfielder Isaiah Shivers from Brooklyn, NY. Standing 6ft 1 and 180 pounds in sophomore, Shivers has a gentle left-handed swing that isn’t too busy, with the sound of the ball reverberating throughout the park to the right.
The Southern University commit was discovered during the ID Tour, showing that he is no longer an “unknown talent” in the game.
“It’s amazing to be a part of the Breakthrough series,” said Shivers. “I’ve always wanted to work hard and come here officially. It is an accomplishment to be here. It’s nice to be a guy under the radar and to shock the eyes.
He said he was looking to develop his baseball knowledge and mechanics from the experienced coaches available to him.
“I really want to work on my IQ and situational hitting,” Shivers said. “I want to be a wide spread hitter, the best defenseman I can be and be coachable.”
Two student-athletes who have participated in this stage in the past have once again returned to the field to show why they belong.
Isaac Hawthrone, a product of Woodcreek High School (Calif.) And the University of Santa Clara Engagement, said it was special to be able to play with those who look like him while still enjoying the game.
“It’s great to be here,” said Hawthrone. “It’s great to play with different African Americans from all over the country – and they are talented. It pushes you to another level.
Hawthrone, who is 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, said he is looking to improve his defensive skills while at Fort Myers.
“Coming here and being taught by MLB coaches takes you to another level. You learn so many new things that you never thought of, ”he said.
While Hawthrone’s work at first base will undergo some adjustments, his flat work with a bat in his hands is ahead of his class of 2023.
“My mindset is to stay fluid and let my hands work,” he said of his approach to the plate. “I’m not trying to overswing – just see the bullet well and grab the barrel.”
Another familiar face of the Breakthrough series is Michigan commit Dillon Head. A native of Glenwood, Ill., Who patrols the center of the field, Head has found success with his glove and being a catalyst to the plate.
“I try not to overdo it with my bat – just stay level, hit the lines, get on the base and do what I do best,” he said. “And defensively, the goal is not to drop anything – no flying zone.”
Head looked pretty impressive on the traveling central pitch during the team’s inffield / outfield session on Thursday morning, showing off an arm to accompany his ability to read the ball from the start.
“Me and my friend at home fight every day,” Head said. “Just line up flying balls, balls on the ground, work to get behind the ball, throw on a line – just work on the fundamentals.”
He said the Breakthrough series experience is one of a kind.
“It’s really like being a great player,” Head said. “It gives you the real experience, which is great. We all want to be in the big league one day and that only sets us up for that.”
The Breakthrough Series team will play Thursday afternoon, as well as Friday and Saturday (plus Sunday and Monday, if they advance).