Two Howland sophomores are headed to Puerto Rico this summer to play baseball.
Second baseman Zachary Campbell, 15, and pitcher/outfielder Jacob Harsany, 14, were two of 15 young baseball players in the country selected to represent the United States in the 15-and-under Coast to Coast Baseball summer program.
"This is something very special for him," Zach's dad, John Campbell, said. "It's going to open up some doors for him."
Coast to Coast Baseball holds 50 tryouts in 35 states each year looking for young athletes 15 years of age and younger to travel to Puerto Rico to test their skills against some of the island's brightest young stars. The program gives kids like Zach and Jacob the opportunity to train with and learn from some of the country's best coaches in the game today, like Chip Stahl, a Los Angeles Dodgers associate scout who will coach the 15 and under Coast to Coast team this summer.
Once they reach Puerto Rico, the players are greeted by people who may speak a different language, but share the same love of baseball.
"It'll be cool to meet new people from both teams and have a familiar face with me," Zach said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I'm very excited about it."
The kids also get a chance to experience Puerto Rico's baseball culture and passion for the sport first-hand. Puerto Rico is a country that lives and breathes baseball and that has produced a lot of major leaguers.
"Puerto Rico has very good baseball, I mean now you can see what you're really made of," John Harsany, Jacob's father, said. "You can go down there and fall flat on your face or you could go down there and prosper."
Jacob and his dad first heard about the program when he received an invitation to Coast to Coast Baseball in the mail, and they seized the window of opportunity.
"There was nothing like this back in the day, and just the opportunity and the camps and the practices and the ability and the equipment, it just makes them very good ball players," John Harsany said. "I'm very proud of them both. It's awesome."
Jacob informed Zach of the invitation and decided to take his best friend with him to the tryout at Kent State University. Roughly 50 kids attended the seven-hour tryout, and Zach and Jacob were the only two players from the Kent location to make it on the team.
"By the end of the tryout, the coaches were on a first-name basis with Jacob and Zach," John Harsany said.
Playing for this 15-and under-all-star team gives the kids national as well as international exposure. Zach and Jacob hope that their play in this game will catch the eyes and reach the ears of college scouts.
"They scout you and then you're in the college database," Jacob said. "If I do good, hopefully it'll help me get into a good college."
Zach and Jacob leave for Puerto Rico today and return in the beginning of July. They will practice during the day at Ocean Parks Baseball Facility in San Juan and play five to seven doubleheaders during their time there. The games will be played at the 10,000-seat Roberto Clemente Walker Stadium, where baseball greats such as Ivan Rodriguez, Sandy Alomar, Juan Gonzalez and hall of famers Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepede once played.
Zach and Jacob both said they are going to take advantage of the big stage to show off in front of college scouts looking for top talents around the country to recruit.
"They deserve to be out there, but yet there's probably others kids that should be out there too that just never got looked at," John Harsany said. "They just haven't got seen. In this area, baseball is one of the slowest sports to get looked at. Unless you play at a big school in Cleveland, it's very hard to get recognized."
Either way, the experience of playing baseball with and against some of the greatest competition in the world is a great opportunity and something that will always stay with Zach and Jacob.
"Just the recognition they'll get is unbelievable as far as just the opportunity, how many kids get the opportunity," John Harsany said. "They take 15 kids throughout the country, and for two to be selected that are best friends at the same time, it's unbelievable."