As the starting centerfielder for the Riverdale Baptist baseball team that finished 35-5 last spring, Columbia's Matt McPhearson has played in plenty of big games.
But on Saturday, Aug. 18, the rising senior experienced a first. Playing in the Under Armour All-America baseball game at Wrigley Field in Chicago, McPhearson bumped elbows with some of the nation's top baseball prospects, signed autographs for young fans and played in a game televised nationally on the MLB Network.
"It was really nice. They treated us like pros," said McPhearson, who has committed to play college baseball for the University of Miami. "There were little fans coming up asking us for our signatures, it was humbling. But once game time came around we were just playing baseball, having fun."
McPhearson was one of 38 players selected to play in the game, which showcases the top high school players in the nation, and the only representative from Maryland.
He was scouted at a Perfect Game National Showcase by Baseball Factory scouts over the summer.
"I was happy and a little bit speechless," he said.
In the Under Armour game, McPhearson walked, stole a base, struck out twice, and fielded two balls hit to the outfield, one that he caught and a base hit that he says he could have played better.
"It was all about having fun. Even though I struck out a few times, I fouled off some good pitches," he said.
The 6-foot, 170-pound left-hander also said that talking with the other players and coaches was a learning experience.
"Just hearing about their experiences and how they're realizing their dreams was very helpful," he said.
Billy Ripken and Larry Bowa served as team managers, but it was the story of Jim Morris — the player who inspired the Disney movie "The Rookie" after making his major league debut with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at age 35 — that stuck with him the most.
Last year's game featured eight players who went on to be selected in the first round of the 2012 first-year player draft, including outfielder Byron Buxton, who was selected No. 2 overall by the Minnesota Twins.
McPhearson, who stole 68 bases in 72 attempts for Riverdale Baptist this spring, is regarded as one of the fastest players in the country. On four occasions, he stole four bases in a single game.
"Matt has progressed every year. He's got that crazy speed that you can't coach," said Riverdale Baptist coach Terry Terrill, whose son Ryan set the previous school record of 50 stolen bases in 2001. "He's a draftable kid and a coachable kid. He's got a bright future ... and he's got great leadership qualities."
McPhearson also has an impressive pedigree. He is the second youngest of seven brothers — he also has one sister, Kimberly — and his father, Gerrick, was a defensive back for Boston College from 1984 to 1987, while his mother, Kim, was a standout high school track athlete.
Older brothers Gerrick Jr. (Maryland), Derrick (Illinois), Emmanuel (New Mexico) and Jeremiah (Indiana – Pennsylvania) all played Division I college football, and recent Annapolis Area Christian graduate Josh has been recruited by several programs. Younger brother Zach is a freshman at Riverdale Baptist.
Matt also played football growing up, but baseball has always been his passion. After getting his start playing T-ball in Baltimore at age four, he moved onto the Howard County Raiders and the Baltimore Panthers before high school.
While McPhearson's immediate focus is on finishing his senior year strong at Riverdale Baptist and then helping the University of Miami, his longterm goal is to one day hear his name called by a Major League team.
"With God all things are possible," he said. "I have much love for the game of baseball."