SEBRING — Chances are that if you’re an MLB player from Florida, you played in the Florida Athletic Coaches Association All-Star Classic.
The annual game brings together 80 of the best players from the Sunshine State, and household names like Chipper Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Prince Fielder, and Andrew McCutchen have all passed through.
“This year is the 36th annual game, and the 22nd time it’s been at Firemen’s Field,” said Sebring Fireman Buck Rapp. “This is a great showcase for the talent in the state of Florida.”
Rapp has close ties to the event. A former coach for the Blue Streaks, His father, Gary, oversaw the FACA classic for 15 years.
“I’m definitely a little biased to it,” Rapp said. “But even professional scouts will tell you, this is one of the best games there is.”
While only an exhibition, players know the stakes are high. A good outing might lead to more scholarship offers or improve their draft stock. They’re acutely aware of this weekend’s importance.
But simply being selected to one of the four teams is an honor in itself. FACA all-stars have been Olympic gold medalists (Tino Martinez, Mike Fiore), World Series champions (Jason Varitek, Johnny Damon, Dwight Gooden, Gary Sheffield, Mike Napoli, Bronson Arroyo) and MVPs (Rodriguez, Jones, McCutchen).
This year’s group has several players of interest. Heartland athletes Tyler Carr and Kris Johnson were selected, Carr to the South team and Johnson to the East. Carr, the 2013 All-Highlands Baseball Player of the Year, excelled again this season, splitting time on between the mound and shortstop. The Lake Placid senior was the Green Dragons’ ace, and he’ll likely get to throw for two innings this weekend.
Johnson, meanwhile, was a standout athlete for Hardee. The starting quarterback, he guided the Wildcats football team to an 11-2 record and a berth in the state playoffs. On the diamond, he was just as prolific, shinning as an infielder and pitcher. His play was integral to Hardee’s successful baseball season, as the Wildcats finished 21-5 overall and won the district title.
Other players of interest include Gulliver Prep’s (Miami) Joe Dunard — A-Rod’s nephew — and Olympia’s (Orlando) Nick Gordon. The latter of the pair is Tom “Flash” Gordon’s son and is ranked by MaxPreps as one of the top professional prospects still in high school.
The elder Gordon was an exceptional pitcher at Avon Park High School in the 1980s, and he helped the Red Devils capture the state championship. Gordon, who also played in the FACA All-Star Classic, has another son — Devarus “Dee” Gordon — who represented the Devils in the FACA game. Other notable Heartland athletes to be selected to the FACA team include Sebring’s Corbin Hoffner and Cody Higgins, Avon Park’s Kyle Jackson, and Lake Placid’s Perry Mason.
This year’s games will be on Saturday and Sunday at Firemen’s Field. The North-South squads play first on Saturday at 11 a.m. The East-West game will follow at 2:30 p.m. The losing teams from Saturday will play first on Sunday at 11 a.m., and the winning teams will start at 2:30 p.m.
Cost per person is $10, but kids 10-and-under get in free. Rapp said that kids who were their baseball uniform will be able to get onto the field and lineup with the all-stars during the national anthem.