Against_All_Odds_Banner

Spotlight4_Header
           

Capital City Travel Baseball:
Where the Elite Meet to Compete

Travel baseball, also known as "travel ball," represents a form of competitive youth baseball that has grown enormously in popularity in the past 20 years.

Conversely, its rise in popularity parallels the decline of past top-echelon baseball programs, most notably Junior American Legion, which once dominated summer baseball among the 16-18 age group.

While old perceptions die slowly, today's reality is this: if your son, grandson, nephew or next door neighbor aspires to play professional baseball, or even collegiate baseball, his chances improve significantly by performing on a competitive team. Today, that likely means travel baseball.


Seventeen-year-old Zach Green of Rocklin personifies the ultimate travel baseball player from Northern California. For the second summer in a row, the Jesuit High School shortstop said goodbye to coaches and teammates to play in competitive tournaments with a Beaumont-based team, the Texas Sun Devils.

The Sun Devils, whose team expenses are paid by a Texas patron, played in a number of competitive tournaments this summer, including the prestigious East Cobb 18 and under (18U) and 17U tournaments in Marietta, Georgia. The team just concluded the BCS tournament in Fort Myers, Florida, finishing as winners of the 17U National Championship sponsored by Perfect Game USA (PG).

In between, Green sandwiched individual showcase events, including the PG National Showcase in Fort Myers, Florida and the 18U Tournament of Stars tryouts sponsored by USA Baseball at its Training Center in Cary, North Carolina. All of these tournaments afforded Green the ultimate opportunity to "be noticed" by a large number of pro and collegiate scouts.

 

Green_USA 
Zach Green (above) on last year's 16U USA Baseball team. Photo courtesy of the Green family.



Last summer, Green performed at a similar pace, culminating his experience by becoming just the 15th player from the Sacramento area to be selected to one of the prestigious USA Baseball teams.* Green and the other 19 members of the USA Baseball 16U team competed in the COPABE Pan Am 'AA' 16U Youth Championships in Mexico and swept the tournament, defeating teams from Cuba, Brazil, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Mexico in the Gold Medal game. Green batted .500, homered twice and doubled twice for a Ruthian-like OPS of 1.845, solidifying his growing reputation as one the world's elite players.


In 2010, Green also represented the West in the 2010 Area Codes Games, the granddaddy of the national showcase events celebrating its 25th year this summer. Despite a conflicting travel schedule preventing him from attending this year's tryouts, the 6'3" 205-pound Green was selected to this year's West team based on last year's performance. In August, he will compete in his second Area Codes Games, which is nearly as rare as a unicorn sighting.

His life is comparable in some respects to that of a minor league ballplayer, except for the long, uncomfortable bus rides, miserable food, and dingy hotels. Instead, Green benefits from all-expense paid travel, while often living with a host family in those cities where the tournaments are held.

As a result of his elite travel ball schedule, Green is befriending and competing against young men from across the United States, while honing his baseball skills to the sharpest point. The downside is that his parents Kym and Jesse Green were unable to see their son take one swing this summer due to their work commitments.

As with most high school players competing at this ultra-elite level, Zach Green has already made a commitment to a Division I college scholarship offer from Oregon State University. What sets Green apart from most "early commits" is that he accepted his offer in the fall of his sophomore year.

Make that über-elite.



One could make the case that Zach Green was "discovered" by another ultimate travel-baller, Andrew Susac, who was drafted this year as a catcher out of Oregon State in the second round of Major League Baseball's First Year Player Draft by the San Francisco Giants.

 Susac1

Four years ago, when Susac was a junior at Jesuit High and a rising star in Northern California baseball, he and several friends were working out at the RBI batting facility in Loomis (no longer in operation). Also watching the workout was Andrew's uncle, John Susac, who has been integrally involved in his nephew's career like a second father. John inquired about the lanky boy hitting in one of the cages, and asked where he went to high school. When he learned that Green was just a 7th grader, Johnny Susac went into hyper-drive, which is not uncommon when the subject pertains to baseball.

At that point in his life, John Susac had devoted umpteen hours to the development of his nephew. After school Andrew and younger brother Matt were supervised by grandmother Susac, but often they went next door to Uncle John's house to play catch and workout in his garage in the winter.

Seeing Andrew's enormous athletic potential, and perhaps more importantly the desire to excel, John developed what he calls a "Rambo workout" routine that helped catapult Andrew Susac into becoming one of the premier college catchers last year.

Recognizing the importance of a catcher's "pop time"—the time it takes for a catcher to receive the ball from the pitcher and throw it down to second base—Uncle Johnny conjured a drill where he fastened weights on Andrew's ankles and wrists. Then as the boy was crouched in a catcher's position  he would receive the throw, rotate  his feet and cock his arm in this unique athletic movement known only to catchers and do it fifty times. Then John would remove the weights and repeat the activity. They would go on to another round of fifty-on, then fifty-off. And do it again. And again. Until he could do it as easily as pouring a box of corn flakes. 

John Susac also filled a metal bat with sand and lead, requiring his protégé to swing the weighted bat against a boxer's punching bag to develop strength in the wrists and forearms. He developed this routine, which also incorporated jumping rope and other aerobic exercises, after reading sports journals and talking training tips with baseball experts.

When his brother Nick Susac picked up the boys from baka or grandma's, they'd often go out with dad for a round of complementary workouts.

Jesuit head coach Joe Potulny marvels at the Susac's story, offering this insight: "Maybe you could even say, for this day and age, that they (Nick and John) were rare by being maybe even too tough on Andrew." He counters by adding that Nick Susac never displayed a "homer-dad" attitude challenging the coach with, "...my kid never does anything wrong, nothing's his fault: he's a good player." If anything, it was the opposite attitude with Potulny.

When Andrew Susac performed at the elite high school showcase events—many of the same ones Green performed in the past two summers—his "pop times" of 1.76 seconds set tournament records and elicited eye-popping stares from college recruiters and big league scouts who knew that the average major league catcher delivers the ball on average in two seconds. This infinitesimal time difference could mean a pennant: literally. Just ask the New York Yankees to weigh the value of Red Sox pinch runner Dave Robert's stolen base in the ninth inning of Game Four of the 2004 American League Championship Series. A catcher with Andrew Susac's "pop time" probably nails Roberts at second base and propels the Yankees to another World Series.

In partnership, John and older brother Nick Susac coached the boys in Woodcreek Little League, where they won their league four of six years. This gave the Susac's the right to manage the All-Star teams, which honed their competitive tournament experience. When Andrew was 14, their Woodcreek team was one win away from going to the Junior Little League World Series.

Given the insight into running a tournament baseball program, the Susacs formed their own travel team, the Woodcreek Lobos for 12 and under players. Knowing little about starting a travel team, they consulted with  the AAU Commisioner, and were surprised to learn it was Jesuit High baseball coach Chris Fahey, who by then was known as a "travel team guru."


In the early 1990s, Fahey played on one of the area's earliest travel baseball teams, the Sacramento Solons.^ Shortly after, Fahey was chosen to manage the Jesuit High freshman team. At season's end, one of the parents suggested Chris should start a travel team providing the Jesuit players with a competitive option. He did and called them the Sacramento Capitols. Starting with a 15 and under (15U) team, in subsequent years the Capitols eventually fielded 15U, 16U and 17U teams.

 

 To read a sidebar about the area's first travel team,
the Sacramento Solons,  click through. Or wait until the end of this story where you'll find a link to the Solons story.


"At that time, everybody played Legion, Big League or whatever, and travel ball was this unknown," Fahey says.

In short order, Fahey found himself recruiting high-school aged players who eventually went on to major league careers (like Vallejo's C.C. Sabathia, now with the New York Yankees and Woodland's Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox). The Capitols became one of the top AAU programs in the country, finishing in the top five in their age division three times, including runner-up to a team from East Cobb, Georgia in the 17U division in 1997. That team, called the Capitol City Bombers, included the ever-feisty Pedroia.

In 1999, tired of the administrative requirements of travel ball, Fahey received a call from Rob Bruno. The founder of the premier 16U team in Northern California—the NorCal All-Stars--wanted to merge the Capitols/Bombers 15U team managed by Fahey into his program. Fahey agreed. Free from administrative minutiae, he served as field manager of the 15U NorCal team, which included another future major leaguer, Santa Clara's Troy Tulowitski of the Colorado Rockies.

Fahey, newly married and facing burnout, "retired" from AAU club ball, but stayed on as a coach with the Jesuit program. In time, he would play a key role in Andrew Susac's development when the young man entered the Marauder's program.



As a 14-year old, Andrew had been invited to play for the El Dorado Hills Vipers, a team founded in 2001 and run by Dan Sozzi. The Vipers, which featured some of the top 16-18-year-old players in the area, were playing a loose schedule of games against other travel teams and junior college clubs. When 14-year-old Susac and 13-year-old Jimmy Bosco (himself a future Jesuit player), joined the program, they were immediately forced to "play up" in age like few ever have in this region.

Sozzi remembers both boys more than held their own in a game against the Merced JC players, who were five to six years older. "Jimmy got several base hits. Andrew got couple of base hits and threw a runner out," remembers Sozzi. "They played just like everybody else did."

Adds proud Uncle John Susac, "Andrew didn't look like a 14-year-old behind the plate."

Sozzi, a banker with Golden Pacific Bank, told Susac that he expected the young man to behave with the maturity of an 18-year-old. "I didn't care how he played, but I did care about how he conducted himself and acted around his teammates."

When Sozzi hears the term "travel ball," he scrunches his face and quotes Rob Bruno: "Travel ball is Little League on wheels, because it's often more about the business side than the kids. And 'junior' has to play year-round because of a team's need to meet the bottom line." Sozzi prefers to label his team "college development baseball." Ironically, Susac and Bosco got an early dose of it before stepping on the Jesuit High School campus.

The Vipers reputation quickly spread as more top players flocked to Sozzi's team, partially because they had earned an automatic invitation by USA Baseball to compete in the 16U Championships held each June in Arizona. Appearance in that showcase has proven to be an ideal way for a young player to earn an invitation to the 16U National Team Trials held at USA Baseball's National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina.



The consensus top high school player in Sacramento in 2011 was J.D. Davis of Elk Grove High, who was selected Most Valuable Player (MVP) by both the Sacramento Bee and BaseballSacramento.com. Davis accelerated his career development by playing for a travel team clear across town: the Roseville Red Dogz.

The Red Dogz were the brainchild of Mark Blaser, the father of Nick and Dalton, who, like Davis, dominated this past high school season (See BaseballSacramento's All-Capitol Team). The Blaser boys led Roseville High School to its first Sac-Joaquin Section Division II Championship since 1984.

Mark, a former New York Yankee farmhand, formed the Red Dogz in 2002, originally as a way for the Orangevale Pony League to prepare for its annual Memorial Day series against neighboring Citrus Heights Pony. The Blasers (Nick 8, Dalton 7) along with Tyler Kuresa (Rosemont/University of Oregon) formed the nucleus of the team. In subsequent years, Mark Blaser and Tyler's dad Suki Kuresa entered the team in travel team competitions. 

 Susac4

Roseville Red Dogz after  winning a 13U USSSA tournament. Back row left to right: Coach Jim Peska, Beau Smith (Roseville), Shane Rae (Casa Robles), Tyler Kuresa, (Oakmont), Mark Blaser, Manager, John Peska (Woodcreek), Anthony Roberts (Roseville), Kevin Risso (Oakmont), Suki Kuresa, coach. Bottom row left to right: Alex Chaveria (Woodcreek), JD Davis (Elk Grove), John Silva (Roseville), Nick Blaser (Roseville), Freddie Cargile (Del Oro), Kory Grove (Oakmont), Cooper Johnson (Del Oro). Photo courtesy of Mark Blaser.


In 2005, the Red Dogz looked beyond their Roseville-based borders and invited Sacramento's top talent to play with them, which is when Davis joined the team. Blaser made sure to keep it affordable by charging players only their share of the tournament entry fee (plus a few dollars for baseballs). The Dogz traveled to Super Series and USSSA-sponsored tournaments in Southern California and Hawaii, claiming titles along the way.

In 2007, the Red Dogz compiled a 45-1 record, earning the #1 ranking in the country in the 14U division by Super Series. The following season as a 15U team, they won seven championships and twice came in second. Over the spring and summer, the Red Dogz amassed a 61-4 record. After the 2008 season, Blaser disbanded the team, as most of the players had moved on to high school ball and older travel teams.

J.D. Davis, for instance has played for the Vipers two seasons. This summer he and Nick Blaser reunited on ProPlayerBaseball's Collegiate team, while Dalton Blaser plays in the organization's lower age division.



With his sophomore season at Jesuit behind him, Andrew Susac suddenly emerged on the national radar at the East Cobb tournament while playing with the Vipers. John and Nick Susac coached the Vipers 17U team, which featured the Bee's MVP that year, Tyler Waldron (Golden Sierra High).

In two games, Andrew blasted three home runs, including a grand slam, and equally impressed behind the plate. Coach John Susac suddenly found himself fielding comments from college recruiters and pro scouts poking their head inside the fence wondering "who's your catcher?" not realizing he was also the kid's uncle.

Teammate Jimmy Bosco was tearing up it as well. He had just learned he made the NorCal Area Codes, while Susac hadn't made the cut. With the Viper's team scheduled to play in a San Diego tournament, Bosco's father told the Susacs Jimmy had received an invitation to play in the Perfect Game Junior National Showcase in San Bernadino. Nick and John weighed the merits of self-inviting Andrew (and having to pay the entry fee), as his stock was clearly on the upswing.

John Susac called the PG tournament director, who mentioned that several colleges had called asking if "the Susac kid is coming." John sensed the opportunity and enrolled Andrew in the showcase event. Because of his performance there, Andrew was invited to participate in the Junior Aflac All-American Showcase later that summer (due to a prior commitment, however, he was unable to attend).

When the Susac's returned home, the mailbox was bursting with letters from colleges recruiters. "Now, Andrew's profile is skyrocketing," John Susac says in that unique baseball-speak that is equal parts present tense and hindsight.

 Susac_Fenway

Susac batting in the Cape Cod League All-Star Game
July 28, 2010 at Fenway Park.
Photo courtesy of BeachSpikes Photos/Flickr





Where Andrew Susac was gaining national attention for his catching prowess, he was playing under the large shadow cast by Max Stassi of Yuba City, the consensus finest catcher on the West Coast (not to mention Susac's home market).

Stassi, as is widely known, hails from a baseball family. His father, Jim, was drafted by San Francisco, rising to Triple-A in the Giants organization. His father and uncle played professional ball, and the family lineage goes all the way back to Myril Hoag (Sacramento High) of the 1930s-era New York Yankees.

Jim Stassi took over the Yuba City baseball program in time to coach his three sons: Brock, Max and Jake. Together the Stassi family powered the Honkers to four consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section Division III titles, an amazing run that came to a close at Sacramento City College's Union Stadium last June when Stassi retired. Squarely in the middle of this amazing run was Amazin' Max, clearly the best of the Stassi prodigy.

Stassi_Ports
Max Stassi, Stockton Ports, 2011.

When Nick Susac saw Max play as a 7th grader he thought, "That kid's going to be a major leaguer: he had the walk, the talk, the work ethic. He's off the charts. He deserves everything he gets because he's that good."

Entering his junior year, Max had already made the Bee's All-Metro team twice (perhaps the only high schooler ever to make the team all four years in the city's history), played in the Area Codes games and more importantly already had committed to a scholarship offer from UCLA.

Despite this, UCLA was one of the dozen schools that sent Andrew Susac a recruitment letter. And when John and Nick plotted a strategy to visit the schools that summer they arranged to visit UCLA as well, knowing Andrew would never go there. As John noted, "We liked UCLA a lot. But they already had Stassi. It would be stupid to send your kid there: the two best catchers on the west coast."

Andrew Susac was extremely fortunate to have an uncle with such unbridled devotion, energy and support. It also enabled the Susacs to avoid NCAA recruiting limitations, because when John called (or fielded a college call) to arrange a recruiting visit it didn't count against the school's limited number of contacts with a parent and child.

The Susacs lit out on the ultimate west coast college baseball recruitment road trip, visiting coaches and facilities at UCLA, UC Irvine, Fullerton State, Long Beach State, Pepperdine, UC San Diego and San Diego State, plus both Arizona schools. Having family in Huntington Beach gave them a base of operations in Southern California.

They interviewed with the coaching staffs of some of the finest baseball programs in the country, several of which routinely play in the College World Series. What the Susacs didn't realize at the time was that they were thrust in the middle of a coaching carousel that would shake the foundation of SoCal baseball.

Fullerton Head Coach George Horton, whose Titan team won the CWS in 2004, was being lured by University of Oregon to restart its baseball program after a 26-year hiatus. Although the Susacs didn't meet with Horton during their visit to Fullerton (instead they talked with assistant coach Jason Gill), it was during the recruiting visit with UC Irvine and head coach Dave Serrano when they realized "something was weird." Unbeknown to them, Serrano was in discussions with Fullerton State to replace Horton, who had yet to announce he was leaving for Oregon (Ironically, Serrano found himself in the same situation this summer before announcing he'd taken the job at Tennessee).

Meantime, schools were offering Andrew Susac scholarship offers on the spot. He heeded the advice of his two ardent advisers and deferred making a choice. Instead, they returned home to Roseville, more confident and savvy about college baseball recruitment, and began digesting the results of their whirlwind tour.

In addition, Nick began looking into the highly touted Oregon State program, which had won back-to-back CWS titles in 2006-2007. At first, John pooh-poohed the notion of Northwest baseball mostly because of the rainy weather. Ironically that fall, Andrew was invited to participate in a private showcase at Pleasant Grove High which had been arranged for Oregon's new assistant coach, Gill (formerly of Fullerton State).

On a day when the wind blew in from center field and few players hit home runs with metal bats, John Susac remembers Andrew grabbed a wood bat and hit nine balls over the fence during his batting session, prompting an enthusiastic Gill to say "You need to come up to Oregon."

In setting up the Northwest recruiting trip the Susacs arranged a visit with Oregon State as well. Andrew's Jesuit teammate Danny Hayes was also recruited by the Ducks, so he joined them on the Interstate 5 excursion. Both schools tried to lure the teens on campus on a Saturday when they would be hosting Pac-10 Conference football games. John Susac says they rejected the recruitment ploy, instead insisting on touring and visiting the campuses in mid-week without all the head-spinning hoopla.

They visited the Oregon campus first, and were shown the impressive facilities at Autzen Stadium, including the impressive suite owned by the school's biggest benefactor, Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike. Ironically, the school's baseball facilities were being still being constructed. But after visiting with Horton and staff for three hours, John Susac remembers, "At that point Andrew and Danny were going to be Ducks. We said, 'There's no need to go to OSU.'"

But they reconsidered and drove to Corvallis, where they met with Oregon State head coach Pat Casey. If nothing more than to say congratulations on winning back-to-back titles, Nick Susac added.

During the visit with Casey, the Susacs heard a different spiel from the previous schools. Casey told Susac and Hayes that he would make them each "a better man and a better human being" by encouraging them to do community service, like visiting the elderly. 

 Pat_Casey_OSU

Casey's heartfelt pitch resonated inside Andrew Susac. "I'm not saying that I felt like the other guys (head coaches and recruiters were bull-tossers), but I felt like he (Casey) was being real."

The Beavers also proffered a superior financial offer to Oregon's, which was hamstrung by funding a startup program, swoosh or no swoosh. "They gave Andrew an unbelievable scholarship at Oregon State," enthuses Uncle John.

Again, the Susacs held off on a decision, wisely consulting with Sacramento baseball people they trusted, including Sacramento City College head coach, Andy McKay.

Over the course of their investigation and research, the Susacs "got a wealth of knowledge," admits John, who served as the front man throughout the process. "I felt we made a phenomenal decision after looking through a (boat)load of information."



With an OSU scholarship commitment in hand, Andrew Susac was free to play and excel at the game of baseball. Susac, Bosco and Hayes led Jesuit to Section Division I Championships in 2008-2009. During their three-year varsity career, Jesuit went 74-23, while Andrew hit .406 with 82 runs driven in, 23 doubles, four triples and 16 home runs. Runners rarely attempted to steal on his quick release and cannon arm, and when they did Susac amassed a 75-percent caught-stealing record.

Given those impressive statistics and two All-Metro selections by the Bee, Max Stassi still loomed larger than ever in the Sacramento Valley, winning the Bee's Most Valuable Player awards the same two years.

In 2009, the Oakland A's drafted Stassi in the 4th Round. His adviser Brodie Scoffield of Legacy Sports advised Stassi to hold out for "first round money." He did and fetched a $1.5 million signing bonus.

So, while Max began a pro career, Andrew took the collegiate route. But first the two became friends as they performed together in numerous summer national showcase events, including the Aflac All-American Game and the Area Codes games. 

 Susac_Aflac_2008
Andrew Susac, above, catching in the 2008 Aflac All-American Game.
Photo courtesy of the Susac family.


Last summer Susac solidified his reputation as one of the top amateur catchers in the country by being named the number five prospect in the Cape Cod League by Baseball America. "It provides a big-time win for your confidence," Andrew admitted. He was selected to the Cape Cod League All-Star game after batting .290 with six doubles, five home runs and 15 RBI in 29 games for the Falmouth Commodores.



While listening to John Susac expound on his active involvement in Andrew's story, it's hard to imagine the man is talking about a nephew and not his own son. One wonders what sibling rivalry might exist between father Nick and uncle John, sons of Croatian immigrants. Nick Susac shrugs off such thoughts; as a kid who spoke only Croatian until age five, he had bigger concerns growing up.

The Susac brothers' close-knit family environment meant that if John saw something he could provide for Nick's children, he just did it. If that meant coaching Andrew on catching, "I'm totally okay with that," Nick admitted. John jokes that when OSU coach Casey spoke at a Northern California fundraiser not long ago he admitted that for awhile he thought John Susac was actually Andrew's father.

"When (John) gets ahold of something," Nick says about his younger brother, "he doesn't let up on it. It's pedal to the metal. Honestly, I'm blessed."

Conversely, Nick finds himself providing guidance and having fun while hanging out with John's son, Anthony, who is eight.

When asked to pinpoint what made his son excel at baseball, Nick Susac refers first to the family's deeply-ingrained work ethic. He recalls that his immigrant father frowned on his children playing athletic games, which he believed were a waste of time. Unless, of course, Nick chose to play his father's favorite sport, soccer, which he did at Jesuit.

Nick Susac, who has coached and observed coaches working with highly talented athletes, believes success is a "three-potion cocktail." The key ingredients are: God-given talent; a strong desire to succeed; and the fortitude and discipline to put in the work necessary to accomplish whatever dream a child may entertain. And more work.



Jesuit head coach Joe Potulny credits John Susac with creating the "I-5 connection," which saw Andrew Susac and Danny Hayes accepting scholarships to play baseball for the Beavers in the Northwest. Following them was pitcher Dan Child (Jesuit), and Jake Rodriguez (Elk Grove High) both members of the USA Baseball 16U team.

 

 To read the biographies on every player from the Sacramento area selected to the USA Baseball teams, click through. There is also a link at the end of this story.



John Susac is also credited with focusing the Beavers' laser light on Zach Green. After touting Green for the umpteenth time to Marty Lees, the OSU recruiter, Lees asked Susac if he could place Green on a traveling team where he could watch him perform at the Junior National Showcase. Susac arranged for Zach to play on the Vipers. At the tournament, Green's play impressed, and Lee said "'I want him.' It was that fast," remembers Zach's mother, Kym.

The Greens accepted Oregon State's invitation to visit the Corvallis campus. "We were so green, we had no idea of what the (recruiting) rules were," says Kym Green, not immediately recognizing the word play.

Up to this point, Jesse Green, who was then employed in the banking industry, had gently guided his son toward considering a Stanford education. Zach had already spoken with Stanford's baseball recruitment coordinator, Dean Stotz, a McClatchy High and Stanford grad. Stotz, who has coached at Stanford for 35 years and is now associate head coach, talked with Green for 15 minutes. During their conversation, he never spoke of baseball. Instead, he focused exclusively on the importance of academics and preparing for a life beyond athletics, relates Mrs. Green. Stotz also reminded Zach about the university's policy of not making scholarship offers until spring of the student's junior year.

During their visit to Oregon State, the Greens, like the Susacs before them, fell under the homespun spell of the head coach. Pat Casey reminded them of Jesuit's Coach Potulny.

"I don't think it's an act," offers Kym. "I really believe they (OSU coaches) are more concerned with the kind of man Zach becomes than the type of baseball player he becomes. Yet, I know his (Casey's) job is to bring in another college world series."

Zach immediately felt comfortable on the Corvallis campus, plus he was also impressed with the coaching staff. "The coaches there are amazing," Green said earlier this summer during the high school playoffs. "They're going to prepare me not only for college, but hopefully later in my career, to go up to the majors. They have a good ballclub (at OSU). They just make you better."

Casey concluded their visit by showing them a DVD of the highlights from his two CWS championship titles. "It was the best marketing tool a school could ever have," Mrs. Green admits.

 Zach_Green_Jesuit
Zach Green of Jesuit homers in a rain-soaked 2011 playoff game at American River College.


When they arrived home, Zach sat down and made a list of pros and cons of the Oregon State offer. Despite this being the sole scholarship offer he had received, Zach's list weighed in favor of committing early to the Beavers. When he accepted in the fall of his sophomore year, Zach Green—who had yet to play an inning of varsity high school baseball—had become the earliest commit in Oregon State baseball recruitment history, according to John Susac.



While Green still has one more year of high school before going to OSU, Andrew Susac has two more years of eligibility there. He was a draft-eligible sophomore in 2011 because while in elementary school his parents switched school districts, requiring Andrew and brother Matt to retake a class.

In spring 2011, after leading the Beavers in hitting and most power numbers early in his sophomore season, Susac broke the hamate bone in his left hand. At first, OSU coaches thought he could resume play after resting the injury, but Susac and OSU teammate Jake Rodriguez (who ironically sustained the same injury days earlier) returned to Sacramento for hand surgery at the UC Davis Medical Center.

Told to expect the normal recovery period of 4-6 weeks, Susac continued working out and returned to action after one month. He now admits it was premature, and probably should have waited another week. When he resumed his catching duties, the pounding on his injured glove hand took a toll on his hitting, yet he still finished the season high on the list of Oregon State hitters. 

 OSU-Vandy

Vanderbilt's slugger Aaron Westlake watches this home run in the 2011 Super Regionals. OSU catcher Andrew Susac watches from behind. Westlake, of Redding, CA, homered three times in the game, as Vandy earned a trip to the College World Series.


The Beavers traveled to Nashville and were swept by host Vanderbilt, which earned one of the elite eight spots in the College World Series.

On June 7, the second day of the MLB First-Year Player Draft, the San Francisco Giants selected Susac in the second round, fulfilling a dream for the lifelong Giant fan. His adviser Brodie Scoffield told him to expect negotiations to go "down to the wire" around the August 15 deadline.

Talk immediately focused on the probability of Susac signing with a big-time bonus, as the Giants' Rookie of the Year and World Series catcher Buster Posey continues rehabbing from ankle surgery following a serious collision at the plate last May.

The Susacs are hopeful that Andrew is offered "first-round money" just like Stassi, who is now one of Andrew's friends and texting buddies.

Susac has continued honing his catching skills this summer. He's also been working out with Tony Padilla of American River College, who throws batting practice and provides hitting instruction. "I can't say enough about Andrew the person," says Padilla, who went all through school with Andrew's father. "Ability wise, he's off the chart. Person-wise, he's unbelievable. He doesn't big-time anybody. He doesn't have an ego. And his work ethic is incredible." 

 Padilla_Coaching_Susac
Tony Padilla (right) gives Andrew Susac hitting instruction
during one of their summer workouts at American River College.


What happens if the Giants' offer doesn't meet their expectations? "Got to do what's best for me," Andrew says with the cool delivery of a FOREX day-trader. "There's no reason to settle if you have another year (of eligibility)."

The young man exudes confidence when he admits he has always envisioned himself one day becoming a major league catcher.



While some decry the downward spiral of American Legion baseball, John Susac espouses how showcases, combines and activities like the Area Codes Games are good for baseball. It enables groups of coaches and recruiters "to get exposure to lots of really good players. It's one-stop shopping and it fits their schedule from a budget and time standpoint," Susac notes.

Where the AAU once dominated travel team tournaments, it has been supplanted by USA Baseball and the burgeoning international competition.  

No entity personifies the rise in travel team tournaments and select showcases more than Perfect Game USA of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Founded as a high school scouting service in the mid-90s, "PG" now sponsors most of the elite events previously cited above. Recently, it took over the Aflac All-American annual high school all-star contest.

"It's interesting how times have changed," John Susac admits. "If you keep thinking old school, like 'Somebody will find you (eventually),' you're going to fall behind."

Backing his beliefs, Susac invited this reporter to visit a ball field he calls his "Field of Dreams."

About a year ago, while driving through his old neighborhood (near El Camino Blvd. and Ethan Way) he spied an abandoned Little League field that was completely overgrown. He lobbied his business partner Dave Williams and brother Nick to imagine the possibilities. They shared in John's vision.

After securing the rights to revitalize the field at Babcock Park, they stripped it down to the dirt, regraded it using a laser level, added a base layer of sand and peat, and then laid 8,400 square feet of the same Bermuda grass used at Raley Field to fashion what they believe is one of the finest youth baseball fields in the Sacramento area. To show just how "in to it" they are, the Susacs even got the River Cats' groundskeepers to help build their pitcher's mound and home plate area.

The ball field was designed to travel baseball standards (which differ from those of Little League) to accommodate 9-10 and 11-12 year old competition. The cost to construct their "field of dreams" came to tens of thousands of dollars; all out of the partners' pockets.

What wouldpossibly motivate a trio of middle-aged men to build such an exclusive youth baseball field? So they had access to a private practice facility and home diamond for their new 10U and 9U travel teams, which include Nick Susac's youngest son, Daniel (9) and John's son, Anthony (8).

Two years ago at a pizza party the Susacs told Chris Fahey they were thinking of starting a new travel team. Fahey offered the use of his Sacramento Capitols' identity and then agreed to join them as head coach.

"It has probably been the most rewarding and most fun coaching experience that I've ever had," Fahey admitted. "At that age, the thing I love is these kids are like sponges; and they've never done any of this."

Fahey says the Capitols' coaching staff, which includes Nick and John Susac, trains 9 and 10-year olds on the same fielding, running and hitting drills that are taught at the high school and college level. "It's amazing what kids can accomplish if you put expectations on them," says Fahey, who no longer coaches baseball at Jesuit, but serves as the school's Athletic Director.

"We've come full circle," he marvels about the new venture.

Nick and John Susac feel similarly, as they're now doing it "all over again," with the newest wave of Susac baseball players.

"You'll hear that we're nuts," Nick says with a chuckle. "And they're not far off."

"We're crazy, but in a good way," John says, finishing what his brother started once again.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

* See our related story on local ballplayers who have played on USA Baseball teams.

^ See sidebar: The Sacramento Solons: The Area's First Travel Ball Team

Updated 07/25/11

All contents © Rick Cabral 2011

 

 

 

 Nav-button-Home

 Nav-button-Teams

 Nav-button-Equipment

 Nav_button_Training

 Nav-button-History 

Nav_button_Media


SpotLight

Time_Travelin

AT-50