Ross youth relishes opportunity to play in All-American Games

| Wednesday, July 30, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The end of the school year does not signal the beginning of summer vacation for Greg Johnson.

It marks the beginning of baseball season.

The Ross resident with an unwavering dedication to baseball was rewarded for his efforts when he landed a place in the prestigious United States Specialty Sports Association All-American Games. Johnson will represent the Northeast 12-and-under team as it takes on seven other regions at the tournament, which was set for Aug. 1 to 4 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

“I'm going in there wanting to play the best players around, and I'm looking forward to it,” said Johnson, who will be an eighth-grader at North Hills Middle School in Ross.

In addition to the Northeast, the other 15-player teams are the Atlantic, Central, Far West, Great Lakes, Midwest, Northwest and Southeast.

For Johnson, this is an opportunity to compete against top players from across the country. The opposition isn't intimidating to Johnson, who instead relishes the opportunity to test himself.

“It's great playing against tough players,” he said.

Players tried out at different showcases across the country and the select few were graded on arm velocity, swing techniques, defensive techniques and a 60-yard dash time. Johnson participated in a showcase held in Sterling Heights, Mich., on May 23. Johnson recently turned 13 but because he was 12 at the time of the tryout, he is eligible to play for the 12-and-under team.

“I felt confident Greg had the ability to make a team like this,” said Brian Smith, coach of the Beaver Valley Red traveling team that Johnson has played on all summer.

Johnson's teammate Devan Barnett, who lives in Beaver County, also made the cut. The Northeast also held tryouts in Westhampton, N.J., and Salisbury, Md.

Traveling to a tournament will be nothing new for Johnson. While playing for Beaver Valley Red, which had racked up a 51-7 record as of July 23, Johnson said, he has had about four days off all summer. But that's the way he likes it. While other kids his age might be lying in the sand during a beach vacation, Johnson prefers playing in the dirt of an infield.

“I'd rather be playing baseball than just about anything,” Johnson said.

At 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds, Johnson is big for his age and has showcased the power that comes along with that. During a recent 6-0 winning streak for Beaver Valley Red, Johnson was in a groove in which he belted eight home runs and batted .520.

The USSSA All-American roster lists Johnson as an infielder. Smith said he expects Johnson to play either first or third base. No matter where he ends up on the field or in the batting lineup, Smith expects his player to hit the ground running.

“He'll be just fine,” said Smith. “This is going to challenge him, but he's more than talented enough to handle this.”

Ed Phillips is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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