As the nation's top prospects play in the AFLAC All-American Baseball Classic tonight, they will compete under the watchful eye of scouts representing every major league team.
A squad of rising high school seniors from the East will take on their counterparts from the West at 7:30 p.m. at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, with honorary chairman Cal Ripken as host. A home run derby will take place at 6:30 p.m. featuring five players from the East team and three from the West.
The lone Maryland player on either squad is St. Paul's standout Steve Johnson, a Kingsville resident and one of 10 pitchers selected.
"I don't need to strike anybody out, but just get a ground ball or double play to help the team win," he said. "That's all I'm trying to do here."
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound right-hander was 9-2 for the Crusaders with a 0.98 ERA over 71 innings last spring. Johnson has a 24-4 record with a 1.75 ERA and 202 strikeouts through three years at the Brooklandville school, and he's the first player to make The Sun's All-Metro first team in each of his first three years of high school.
Bernie Walter, the longtime coach at Arundel High, will coach the East team. The winningest public high school coach in Maryland history, Walter (529-151) has won a record nine state championships with the Wildcats.
Among the brightest stars on Walter's team is Justin Upton of Chesapeake, Va., who will participate in the home run derby.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound shortstop had a strong junior year, batting .565 with eight home runs and 23 RBIs. He had 30 stolen bases and was the only junior named to USA Today's 2004 All-USA high school baseball team.
"Upton's probably going to be the No. 1 [high school] draft choice in the country," Walter said.
Said Upton: "There is going to be some good pitching; [The Classic] can show that you're a good player or not."
The East and West split practice time at St. Paul's during two workouts that were watched by scouts and college coaches.
"It's a great showcase because they bring in all the best players in the country," said Orioles scout Dean Albany. "Hopefully we can weed out the guys that we like and keep a close eye on them this year."
The inaugural game, held last summer in Fort Myers, Fla., featured four players who were among the first 10 selections in the 2004 major league draft. The event also raised $20,000 for treatment of pediatric cancer. This year's game will benefit the pediatric oncology division at the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore.
Sun staff writer Pat O'Malley contributed to this article.
At a glance
What: AFLAC All-American High School Baseball Classic
Site: Ripken Stadium, Aberdeen
When: Tonight, 7:30
TV: Tape delay on Fox Sports Net, Sunday, 2 p.m.
Tickets: $5, $8 and $10