January 29, 2023

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Local HS stars get taste of Majors during Big League Weekend

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Great American Ball Park recently hosted five local high school baseball games during the annual “Big League Weekend,” which concluded the 11th annual Skyline Chili Reds Futures High School Showcase presented by Cincinnati Children’s Sports Medicine & Orthopaedics.

This year’s Showcase featured 86 baseball and softball teams from 81 Greater Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, Southeast Indiana and Dayton high schools, playing 45 games from April 9 to May 14. The event kicked off on April 9 at the P&G MLB Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy and wrapped up last Saturday with its marquee event: the seventh edition of “Big League Weekend.”

“Big League Weekend is a perfect culmination to the Reds Futures High School Showcase,” In-Game Sports CEO Tom Gamble said. “It worked out perfectly this year, with the last two days being five games at GABP [Great American Ball Park]. There can’t be anything cooler for a high school baseball player than getting a chance to play where the Reds play. Watching the reaction of the teams as they walk out of the dugout onto the field is priceless; seeing their genuine love for the opportunity is awesome.

“It clearly is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for these teams to play at GABP. The Reds make this possible for these teams, which takes the Showcase to a whole new level.”

The weekend kicked off with Dixie Heights defeating Covington Catholic, 7-3. The nightcap was a thriller, as Elder edged out Highlands, 8-5, in extra innings. The Panthers trailed 2-1 heading into the seventh inning, where they put up a four-spot, only to see Highlands rally with three runs of their own in the bottom half of the frame. Elder responded with three more in the eighth to seal the victory.

On Saturday, during the first leg of the day’s tripleheader, Alter and Roger Bacon combined to score 24 runs with the Spartans securing a 13-11 win. The third game saw Centerville hold on in a tight contest with Fairfield. The Elks escaped trouble in the seventh inning, stranding two Fairfield baserunners to preserve a 3-2 victory.

Squeezed between those two games featured what was the weekend’s biggest individual highlight, a 340-foot home run by Conner’s Kaden Early. The senior became just the second player in the event’s history to clear the wall at Great American Ball Park. The first came in 2015, when Harrison senior Michael Knollman hit the only home run of his high school career — a walk-off grand slam over the right field wall to beat Oak Hills.

Early’s three-run blast was also a timely one, as his big swing broke a 3-3 tie to pave the way for a 7-3 win.

“I hit it and I knew it was gone,” he told Channel 9. “I took my time going around the bases. That was awesome. Getting one here is a once in a lifetime experience.”

The win was Conner’s 27th on the season, a new school record. But for all the student-athletes, this weekend was as much about getting to play ball on a big league field as it was winning or losing.

“Unbelievable,” said Early to Channel 9 about the opportunity to play at Great American Ball Park. “It’s the first time Conner has gotten this experience. It was cool to come out here and play on the Reds field where a lot of greats have played and be in the same dugouts as a lot of those guys have been in. It’s really cool.”

Before the Reds took the field against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 24, teams that played in this year’s Showcase were invited to participate in the annual “March at the Majors” pregame parade. And on May 29, prior to the Reds facing the San Francisco Giants, MVPs from all Showcase games will also be presented with custom-engraved Louisville Slugger bats thanks to MSA Sport in a pregame ceremony at Great American Ball Park.

“The Showcase continues to become part of the fabric of high school baseball and softball in this region,” Reds Community Fund executive director Charley Frank said. “It’s impossible to quantify how much this overall concept has benefitted youth baseball and softball at a critical time in our sport’s history. The Reds are fortunate to have a partner like In-Game Sports that has the passion, experience, patience and skill set to keep working on this ambitious undertaking. They’ve driven a tremendous amount of energy and prestige toward high school baseball and softball.”

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