E.A. Sports Today

It’s a small world

Missouri team travels some 750 miles to play in Choccolocco Park Spring Break Experience

Staley High senior right-hander Matt Russell is committed to Missouri State but with velocity in the 90s he’s likely to get drafted in June. (Photo courtesy Dave Wilson)

Choccolocco Park Spring Break Experience
Friday’s games
Jacksonville vs. Munford, 4:30 p.m. (SF)
Vestavia vs. Staley (Mo.), 4:30 p.m. (F1)
Munford vs. Staley (Mo.), 6:30 p.m. (SF)
Jacksonville vs. Clay Central, 6:30 p.m. (F1)

Saturday’s games
Moody vs. Staley (Mo.), 10 a.m. (SF)
Staley (Mo.) at Oxford, 1 p.m. (SF)
Munford vs. Vestavia, 1 p.m. (F1)
Vestavia vs. Moody, 4 p.m. (SF)
Munford at Oxford, 4 p.m. (F1)
Saks at Oxford, 7 p.m. (F1)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD — When Jake Wilson and Jarin Turner said their good lucks and farewells at the end of their January 2016 baseball showcase experience in Florida they probably figured it was the last time they’d ever see each other.

Turner was hitting the road back to Oxford, while Wilson had headed to Missouri. Probably the only time they might have seen each other again is if they crossed paths on a college field sometime in the future.

Oh what a small world baseball has become.

The former teammates will reunite later this week when Wilson and his Staley High School baseball team travels some 750 miles from Kansas City to play in the Choccolocco Park Spring Break Experience. The one-time battery mates might even face each other as teams play Saturday afternoon on the Signature Field.

“I pulled up the internet and wanted to read any articles Oxford had on their team,” Staley coach and Jake’s dad Dave Wilson said. “I found one about Jarin Turner and as I’m reading it, I’m thinking I know that name.

“I got to thinking about it more and thought he and Jarin were on the same team. It was funny — Jarin was actually the catcher for Jake on that team. I went back to that roster and there it said (beside Turner’s name) ‘Oxford, Alabama.’ I could not believe it.

“What it shows you more than anything is how unique the baseball community is and how you can run into players from all across the country. There’s some sort of special bond in baseball.”

Oxford coach Wes Brooks put feelers out for teams on the internet and got three takers – Staley and teams from Michigan and New York – and that was before the Park was named national high school field of the year. The notice was a little too short for the team from New York and the Michigan team is interested in coming next year as the travel window to Choccolocco Park fits just inside its school policy for sports travel.

Brooks has played in tournaments with teams as far away as Alaska before and has always enjoyed the experience. He was getting the same sense from the other 20 teams as it related to Staley this year; everybody wanted to play the out-of-owners. As it turns out, the Falcons will get Vestavia, Munford, Moody and, of course, the Yellow Jackets.

“I just think it’s neat for out-of-state schools to come and we’re getting a national field,” Brooks said.

He is hoping his connections in the coaching network and the growing reputation and popularity of Choccolocco Park as a sports destination will lead to even more interest. In time, he envisions the event dovetailing with the Birmingham-Huntsville Challenge or growing into a mega-event spread over multiple college and municipal facilities.

“I like going on trips and playing ball, but walking up to our field gets you in a great mood,” Brooks said.

Nearly two dozen teams are coming in for the inaugural Experience, seven from Calhoun County. Brooks did the scheduling for the event and then turned it all over to the City of Oxford, which will receive the entry fees, gate and concessions for the week. By not calling it a tournament he has more flexibility in drawing teams and scheduling games.

No one is coming farther to play than Staley this year. The Falcons’ season officially started Friday, but they will be playing their first games of the year on this trip.

They’re not just a team looking to get away from it all for a couple days. Two years ago they were state runner-ups and last year they spent some time at No. 1 before losing 3-2 in the last inning of the single-loss state quarterfinals.

They bring back only one starting pitcher and one full-time starting position player. Matt Russell is a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher who was 6-2 with a 1.94 ERA last year, runs it regularly in the 90s and has committed to Missouri State but is likely to be drafted in June. Junior centerfielder Roderick Criss is a Division I prospect who was all-state last year after hitting .389 with 29 RBIs and 12 stolen bases; he also was 1-0 as a pitcher with 10 strikes in 5-1/3 innings. Junior RHP/1B/DH Braedyn McLaughlin didn’t play varsity ball last year but already has verbally committed to Missouri.

“We want to play baseball,” Wilson said. “We know we’re coming down to an area where they’ve been playing for a couple weeks. “I look at the experience. We want to play good people. It helps us to find a little bit about ourselves and I think kids are always excited about competition.

“I just know the reputation of the baseball down there so anytime we get an opportunity to go down south and play. That’s what attracted me the most and when I got on the phone with Wes I was sold.”

Before getting into Oxford tonight, the Falcons’ 42 players on the trip worked out at Lipscomb in Nashville during the day and went to Vanderbilt’s game. They’ll work out Wednesday then head to Top Golf in Atlanta for some team building and fun before getting down to business.

Their two junior varsity teams will be playing Alexandria, Albertville and Handley. The varsity plays Vestavia and Munford on Friday, then Oxford and Moody on Saturday before heading back home.

“I think we’ve got the possibility to be a good team this year,” Wilson said. “Coming down there is going to help us later on when we get in our own state.”

Next week’s Experience
March 27
Alexandria vs. Vestavia, noon (SF)
Moody at Oxford, noon (F1)
Austin at Oxford, 3 p.m. (SF)
Alexandria vs. Saks, 3 p.m. (F1)
Hokes Bluff at Oxford, 6 p.m. (SF)
Austin vs. Saks, 6 p.m. (F1)

March 28
Hokes Bluff vs. Alexandria, 1 p.m. (SF)
Austin vs. Vestavia, 1 p.m. (F1)
Jacksonville vs. Randolph County, 4 p.m. (SF)
Austin vs. Piedmont, 4 p.m. (F1)
Piedmont vs. Saks (SF), 7 p.m.

March 29
White Plains vs. Gadsden City, 10 a.m. (SF)
Piedmont vs. Alexandria, 10 a.m. (F1)
White Plains at Oxford, 1 p.m. (SF)
Ohatchee vs. Gadsden City, 1 p.m. (F1)
Austin vs. Cleburne County, 4 p.m. (SF)
Ohatchee at Oxford, 4 p.m. (F1)

March 30
Cedar Bluff vs. Weaver, 1 p.m. (SF)
Etowah at Oxford, 1 p.m. (F1)
Gadsden City at Oxford, 4 p.m. (SF)
Piedmont vs. Cedar Bluff, 4 p.m. (F1)
White Plains vs. Weaver, 4 p.m. (F2)
Ohatchee vs. Cleburne County, 7 p.m. (SF)
Etowah vs. White Plains, 7 p.m. (F1)

March 31
Etowah vs. Weaver, 1 p.m. (SF)
Cedar Bluff vs. White Plains, 1 p.m. (F1)
Ohatchee vs. Spring Garden, 1 p.m. (F2)
Auburn at Oxford, 4 p.m. (SF)
Gadsden City vs. Cleburne County, 4 p.m. (F1)
Spring Garden vs. Cedar Bluff, 4 p.m. (F2)
Sparkman at Oxford, 7 p.m. (SF)
Auburn vs. Cleburne County, 7 p.m. (F1)
Gadsden City vs. Jacksonville, 7 p.m. (F2)

April 1
Etowah vs. Spring Garden, 10 a.m. (SF)
Weaver at Oxford, 10 a.m. (F1)
Auburn vs. White Plains, 10 a.m. (F2)
Etowah vs. Auburn, 1 p.m. (SF)
Spring Garden at Oxford, 1 p.m. (F1)
Cedar Bluff vs. Ohatchee, 1 p.m. (F2)

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