Carrollwood 12-year-old heads on world tour with USA Baseball
Jakob Hines is one of 18 players selected for the first USA 12-and-under baseball national team, which will travel next week to Chinese Taipei for the IBAF 12U World Cup against teams from all over the world. SCOTT PURKS/STAFF
TAMPA - He's just a boy, only 12 years old, but Jakob Hines is representing America next week against Russia, Korea, Brazil, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Venezuela and ...
"Eighteen countries in all," said Jakob's mother, Debbie, who is scrambling with laundry, packing bags, making hotel arrangements. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing."
It begins Friday with a trip to Los Angeles for a few days of practice before departing for Chinese Taipei, where next Thursday, Jakob will line up in a USA uniform with 17 other 12-and-unders for a game against Panama. After that is 10 more days of games.
The next era of youth baseball has arrived, light years from the 1976 "Bad News Bears," who were, by the way, sponsored by "Chico's Bail Bonds."
This is USA Baseball's first 12-and-under national baseball team, a group selected from 11 "identification" events around the country involving thousands of entries. Sponsors? Name a major athletic company and Hines probably has it on his uniform, or his bag, or his bat.
Jakob, who lives in Carrollwood and will be in seventh grade at St. Lawrence Catholic School this fall, shrugs and grins at all of it. He just wants to play. If it's in Chinese Taipei against countries from around the world, that's even better. Does he even know where these countries are? Jakob's eyes widen. He chuckles. So do Debbie and his father, Rob.
"I don't think I know where all of them are on a map," Rob said.
"Do they eat snakes there?" asked Jakob's 8-year-old brother, Joshua.
Rob said he wasn't sure about the snakes and admitted that his mind was still spinning because this happened so fast.
"I didn't even dream that this type of thing was possible," Rob said.
The possibilities began clicking early this year after Rob received emails and several phone calls from friends who suggested Jakob give this new national thing a try. The first week of May, Jakob was with Debbie at one of the 11 tryouts in California.
About a month later, Jakob got the word he would represent the USA. Plans began swinging into motion, rescheduling vacations and bank accounting, because while Jakob's trip was funded, mom and dad had to foot their own bill.
"But of course we would find a way to make it happen," Rob said. "How could we not?"
For USA Baseball, this is a big deal, because this is, after all, the first 12-and-under national team. This one offers a different dynamic from the older USA Baseball national teams, which started at 14 and under.
"We appreciate that parents are going to be more involved and protective, because these players are younger," said Drew Chism, the 12-and-under national team coordinator. "We still want to develop the best players, but we know that this group is 12, and some of them might move on to play football or another sport. Right now, we want them to have the best possible experience with us."
At the moment, Jakob is a prototype: About 5-foot-10, 160 pounds and solidly built. He has tremendous bat speed and a great eye. He runs well and throws hard. He is projected to play catcher, with some infield mixed in. He also is a straight-A student and a leader by example, characteristics that Chism said factored heavily into the selection process.
As for the impetus to start the 12-and-under team, Chism said that came partly from the International Baseball Federation, which held a 12-and-under World Cup tournament last year. "We want to be competitive," Chism said. "This makes sense."
The Hineses are ecstatic, even though it has added another huge trip to an already hectic schedule. The past two months, Jakob has played tournaments for three travel teams - two as an invited guest player - in Cooperstown, N.Y., Orlando and Mississippi, which Sunday required a 14-hour drive home.
"We suggested that Jakob take the Mississippi tournament off, but he was having none of it," Debbie said. "He wanted to play. So we did."
Add up all the games from fall ball to travel ball starting in January, and Jakob's total reaches more than 110, with thousands of travel miles in between.
This fall, however, no baseball.
"I'm going to play football," said Jakob, a linebacker who loves to hit.