Hall of fame kids: Palmetto Predators set to play in Cooperstown
As Jeff Bagwell, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez and Tim Raines take their places in the Baseball Hall of Fame next Sunday, a group of local kids will leave their own mark and make their own memories in Cooperstown, New York.
With a resume full of United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) tournament success over the past few years, the Palmetto Predators earned a spot to play in the annual American Youth Baseball Hall of Fame Invitational Tournament.
Their appearance in the tournament also means the group of players will also be enshrined in the American Youth Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Palmetto Predators 12 players, mostly from Aiken and Edgefield Counties, and they’ve enjoyed much tournament success together in the last three years.
“We’ve always done a ‘We, not me’ thing. It’s about we, not me. We have some strong pitchers, we have kids who are some strong hitters, we’ve got kids with a ton of heart and a ton of hustle. Put it all together, we win together and we lose together,” said Predators coach Gary Johnson.
Most of their players can pitch and play multiple positions, as their coaches have been preparing them to be more versatile for when they reach the high school level. Karter Wheat, Dylan Jones and Chris Battle are from the Midland Valley area. Ethan Bates, George Agner, Dylan Miller, Brandon Feagin and Blaine Johnson are all from Edgefield.
Additionally, Justin Acord represents Aiken, Brayden Stone hails from North Augusta and Suderian Harrison is the lone player from McCormick County.
The Predators won the USSSA South Carolina Lower State championship in June 2014 and finished second at the USSSA AA World Series in North Charleston a year later. They also finished third in the USSSA Majors World Series in Spartanburg last summer.
Their trip to Cooperstown represents a sort of last hurrah for this group of kids who have been playing together since the age of seven and eight, as many of them will soon be fighting for spots at their respective high schools.
The Predators will be joining several names that are famous today at the highest level of the sport — Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, David Price, Chris Sale, Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rizzo, Sonny Gray and Jacob deGrom are just a select few notable current players who have also played in the Cooperstown tournament in the past.
The Predators’ coaches have made sure the players understand what it means to play in the same tournament as these recent Major League All-Stars, Cy Young winners and MVPs.
“At 12 years old, they’re really starting to get into the love of the game itself and not just playing baseball,” Johnson said. “It’s a good time for them because it’s more than just going out there and scoring runs. One of our slogans is ‘It’s more than the score on the scoreboard.’”
The Predators plan to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum, as their trip coincides with the week-long ceremonies for this year’s induction class. The seven-game pool round runs from July 29 to August 1, and the championship will be played August 3.
This also marks the second straight year a youth baseball program from the CRSA will be in Cooperstown. The North Augusta Renegades played in the American Youth Hall of Fame Invitational and were subsequently inducted into the Hall of Fame after more than 200 games together.