CHICAGO — Playing in the Under Armour All-America game is not necessarily an automatic ticket to the Major League draft or a big time college baseball program.
But it appears to be the next best thing.
More than 30 previous participants in an annual game at Wrigley Field — now in its 10th year — have reached the big leagues. Dozens of others have been drafted. Still more have gone on to college baseball careers.
Forty players — the cream of the crop of high school baseball from around the nation — took the first steps on similar journeys on Saturday night, showcased in the home of the defending World Series champion Cubs and under the watchful eyes of some 200 pro scouts.
“It’s a great way for (players) to know what they’re going to see as they move on, whether it’s the college game or professional,” said Jason Budden, senior vice president of marketing and brand for Factory Athletics.
“These kids have succeeded at almost every level and this is there chance to come out to a historic ballpark, on a historic stage,” Budden said. “It’s a great way to have that experience before they head into their senior years and it’s going to help them prepare for their careers.”
The players were split into two 20-man rosters and the American stars beat the Nationals 2-1 in 11 innings under the lights on a pleasant summer night.
But the result was beside the point.
For the players, many already committed to colleges, it was a chance to display their talents, attract some attention and learn from coaches and other elite players at their age level.
“It’s an incredible experience to get to come and play at Wrigley and be around a bunch of great coaches and great players and learn as much as you can and take it all home,” said JT Ginn, a catcher from Brandon, Miss. “I’ve picked up a lot of stuff, (especially) the mental part. You learn so much about it.”
As for the game, Green Hope’s (Cary, N.C.) Jordyn Adams singled up the middle with none out and runners at second and third in the last of the 11th, collecting a game-winning RBI as he brought Jarred Kelenic home from third with the game-winning run.
Pitchers dominated much of the game and each team managed just two hits through five scoreless innings.
The Americans broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the sixth with two out, runners on second and third as National right-hander and LSU commit Jaden Hill threw a wild pitch on a ball four to Adams, allowing Ben Harris of Milton (Alpharetta, Ga.) to score from third for a 1-0 lead.
Nationals infielder Triston Casas tied the game with a one-out double to left in the eighth off left-hander Garrett Wade to score Nander De Sedas from third.
Saturday’s game was organized by the Baseball Factory, a Maryland-based firm specializing in baseball scouting, development and training and recruiting. It hosts some 600 yearly events.
Under Armour is the game’s longtime sponsor while Baseball Factory handles scouting, selection and event operations.
The Cubs added their own touches, using their regular public address announcer and longtime organist as well as full video board operations. And in a bow to Wrigley Field tradition, the 80-year-old manually-operated center field scoreboard was also in use.
Saturday’s festivities included a pre-game home run derby. Infielder Nolan Gorman of beat De Sedas 6-5 in the final.
But De Sedas may have had the most impressive blast, crushing one homer just below the left field video board.
Among recent Under Armour All-Americans was Cubs shortstop Addison Russell, who played in the game as an underclassman and went on to be a 2016 Major League All-Star and World Series champion.
“We’ve had over 30 guys come through the game who have played at the Major League level,” Budden said. “If you look at the past year’s draft, we had the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks and eight first rounders from last year’s game.”
Of 323 draft eligible players from previous Under Armour games, 284 have been selected in the Major League Draft, including 83 first-round selections.
Budden said in past seasons, all 30 major league teams have been represented at the game.