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Baseball prospects gain experience at Fall Classic Tournament

| Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, 8:51 p.m.
Woodland Hills freshman Jake Jessell was picked to be a member of a national team at the Arizona Sophomore/Freshman Fall Classic tournament in October. Submitted photo

Although baseball season is a few months away, Pine Richland sophomore Joey Professori already is practicing ... a lot.

He was eager to try training tips he learned as a member of a national team at the Arizona Sophomore/Freshman Fall Classic tournament in October.

Professori and two other area players were on teams sponsored by the Baseball Factory, a Maryland-based company specializing in player development and college placement of high school players.

Freshmen Jake Jessell of Woodland Hills and Matt Tarabek of Hempfield also played.

Nearly 40 players were selected following nationwide tryouts.

Major league instructors, including Rick Sofield, the Pirates' new first-base coach, coached teams.

Players competed at the Peoria Sports Complex, the spring training site for the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners.

“It was the best experience of my life,” said Professori. “It was great being with players from across the country.

“(Instructors) didn't sugarcoat things. As a catcher, I was told to strengthen my arm for throws to second base.

“I was given some suggestions that should help me do that.”

Jessell, 15, learned he is a good catcher and a right-handed pitcher.

“Rick Sofield told me to relax,” Jessell said. “I have to learn to be myself.”

A Pirates fan, Jessell was happy Sofield was his coach.

Sofield enjoyed the tournament as much as the players.

“I've been involved with the Baseball Factory for a long time,” Sofield said. “It's a great experience for the kids.

“They get to meet players from all over. They put the cleats, the gloves and the eye black on and take it as seriously as (Major League players) do. It's an experience they'll remember for the rest of their lives.”

Professori was the catcher and Tarabek the pitcher on a team that reached the quarterfinals.

Colorado Rockies hitting coordinator Jim Johnson coached the squad.

“It was fun playing together and working with a player I knew,” said Tarabek, 14.

Hempfield varsity baseball coach Tim Buzzard expects Tarabek, who also played shortstop, to improve after competing.

“Being exposed to so many different players will give him a different perspective, make him more confident,” Buzzard said.

Because the focus of the tournament was player evaluation, not competition, official statistics were not kept, said Samantha Latzes, a marketing and operations associate with the Baseball Factory. Professori, Tarabek and Jessell said they had four to six hits each.

Jessell knew hitting a home run was out of the question.

“Those walls were designed for a major league player, not me,” he said. “They were awfully far away.”

Latzes said players will be invited to try out for other national events, a prospect that Tarabek likes.

“I'd like to go to one of these events when I'm a junior and college and pro scouts are really looking at you,” he said.

According to the Baseball Factory website, more than 270 Baseball Factory alumni have gone on to play in the big leagues, including C.C. Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Mark Teixeira and David Wright. Founded in 1994, the company conducts programs for more than 20,000 players ages 12 to 18 each year.

Karen Kadilak is a freelance writer.

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