Jerry Dawson has witnessed a change at his annual baseball camp.
“It used to be that, if there were five good players out of 50, it was considered a successful camp,” said Dawson, Scottsdale Chaparral High School’s coach for 35 years. “Now, if I have five bad players, it’s a surprise.”
Such is the trend in Arizona high school baseball.
With camps and travel teams taking advantage of year-round availability to play, players are becoming polished much earlier, and it is leading to greater group success on the diamond.
The results are tangible.
Baseball America, a well-respected national baseball magazine, has Phoenix Brophy ranked the second-best team in the nation in its top 50 poll. Scottsdale Horizon — with fireballers Tim Alderson and Kevin Rhoderick — is ranked 11th, and both teams were in the top five at one point.
It’s impossible to know how these teams would fare against the rest of the nation, but the recognition stamps Arizona’s reputation on the national stage.
Having local products such as Paul Konerko (Chaparral), Shea Hillenbrand (Mesa Mountain View) and Andre Ethier (Phoenix St. Mary’s) in the big leagues help, too.
In 2006, 28 Arizona players were taken in the major league baseball draft, seven more than in any year since 2000. Fourteen of those were East Valley products.
The success is evident, but some worry that it is being taken too far.
When Bill Moore started the Garden of Gears baseball club in 1982 in Mesa, it was the first traveling team in Arizona.
Now, you might get dizzy trying to keep club baseball teams straight. Players pore through Web sites and pamphlets, carefully choosing the club team that will maximize their ability.
Though he concedes baseball here has taken off in the past 10 years, Mesa Community College coach Tony Cirelli yearns for the time when a sport would stay specific to its season.
“I like guys playing multiple sports,” Cirelli said. “There’s just something about being in front of those lights on a Friday night (playing football). I knew I wasn’t going to make the NFL, but it’s special.”
Going back, however, seems unlikely. Not when a player of Alderson’s caliber can command a six-figure signing bonus out of high school.
Moore said high school baseball in Arizona is “absolutely” at its peak.
“The kids are more polished, and they’re getting more attention,” Dawson said. “Arizona baseball is at its best.”
In the recent Cleats National Tournament at Horizon — a tournament that included some top talent from Nevada, California, Colorado and Oregon — six Arizona teams went a combined 14-4, and all four semifinalists were from Arizona.