Testimonial Tuesday: Kyle Percival

Testimonial Tuesday: Kyle Percival

Having one’s eyes wide open means an individual is fully aware and informed of what is about to happen. The phrase is a perfect descriptor for 2022 uncommitted left-handed pitcher, Kyle Percival. At 6’4” and 215 pounds, the southpaw clearly sees the opportunities that he has in front of him within the game of baseball, and beyond.

Now in his sophomore year at Andrew Jackson High School in Kershaw, SC, he and his family made a decision based on some guidance last spring to join the Dirtbags to maximize his exposure to elite college programs. And according to Kyle, that advice has paid off. The list of schools he rattled off when asked about his interests and who he has spoken with is a “who’s who” among regular regional contenders.  

The gravity of the situation also doesn’t go unnoticed on Percival, who says he sees each conversation with a college coach as a job interview. Using words like “thankful” and “blessed” it becomes clear that the young man realizes he’s going to eventually have the opportunity to make a life-changing decision about attending a university to not only play baseball, but also advance himself in life through an academic area of study.

In speaking to Kyle, who carries a 4.7 GPA, the journey to become an anesthesiologist seems just as likely as his baseball skills will continue to make him a pitcher with a very high ceiling as to how far his highest level may be.

While Percival may have joined the Bags to get the exposure, he found that the organization offered him much more. Kyle says he really appreciates how he can get insight and instruction from coaches in so many areas. From how to warm up and stretch more effectively to accessing a workout or recruiting tips, he shared the Dirtbags offer advice about everything.

He summed up his view with, “It’s the best organization in the country.”

Percival commented he has benefitted the most from the consistent feedback he has gotten from the coaches. And what he does with that info is to go “back to the lab” (bullpen) to sharpen his skills. 

When asked about the cognitive process in all of this Kyle remarked, “I think in the pen, but it’s go time in the game.”

As he played for the talented Dirtbags Tap Out in 2019, whose head coach was the organization’s GM, Trey Daly, another part of Percival’s game was able to stand out – his attitude towards his teammates. According to Daly, his “team first” approach is unrivaled.

Daly commented, “First thing about Kyle is he’s one of the most selfless players I’ve been around. Dude just wants to win and do whatever he can to help.”

And Kyle agrees with this assessment as a motivating force for him. He even recollected about a crucial situation when he was able to step up in the squad’s run this past summer at the WWBA championship at Lake Point. when he was called upon with no outs and runners on 1B and 2B. He gushed about how his teammates counted on him in that situation and he was so happy to oblige.

A quick recap of Percival’s rise to prominence for his fellow Dirtbags is best shared by Daly, “At the beginning of the summer he came out of the pen. By the end of the summer we put him in a starting role. He had huge outings for us in Atlanta and Texas. He’s one of the reasons TapOut had a successful 2019 campaign, and a lot of it is because of his team first mentality.”

That mentality is made easier according to Percival when playing with such talented players. Like many top performers in the organization have recognized, the pressure seems to lessen when the thought leaves that having to do it all is eliminated.

It’s not just Percival’s attitude that makes him a valuable team member. He has skills on the mound and with his frame the best is probably ahead of him. With a fastball in the mid 80’s, a slurvy breaking ball, and a swing and miss change up, the lefty creates quite a problem for opposing batters.

Daly added, “On the bump the southpaw commands the zone with three pitches. This makes him very tough to face for the opposition.”

But he’s not done with the getting better part. For Kyle the off-season will be about increasing body strength and fine tuning mechanics to improve command. Generally, he says he just wants to become better all around player.

Expect the recruiting for his services to continue as well. And he has a vision for what he wants here, too.  Kyle says a school that can offer that true campus feel is a priority. Also the personal aspect of the program from the team providing a family type bond, to coaches who care for players as people, are all important.

The way Kyle Percival will surely address the oncoming opportunities that are likely to be coming his way will no doubt be the same as how he executes his craft from the mound – attacking each opportunity and being well prepared with his eyes wide open.

Testimonial Tuesday: Jake McGillivray

Testimonial Tuesday: Jake McGillivray

As a player, Dirtbags outfielder Jake McGillivray sees the big picture. He has an understanding of where he is in his process of development, and he certainly knows where he wants to be when it’s all said and done. He is a tireless worker. And perhaps most importantly, Jake cares. 

The uncommitted 2022, who bats and throws lefty, cares about the game of baseball, and cares about how it fits into his life. This is evidenced by the emphasis he puts on his academic performance as a student at Porter Ridge High School in Indian Trail, NC. Jakes takes the academic part of his student-athlete role very seriously.  

So it is no surprise that his dreams of playing college baseball also involve wanting to attend an institution where academic achievement is emphasized. And McGillivray has been in contact with plenty of programs at this point, he knows the best fit where the coaching staff, the school’s commitment to the program and those academic opportunities align.

By joining the Dirtbags in fall of 2018, McGillivray was also showing how much he cares about getting better on the diamond and getting exposure. Thus far, he’s not been disappointed in either.

In the summer of 2019 he played on the 15u Drew squad, coached by Tyler Drew, and followed that by playing with the 16u Dirtbags Prospects with Ben Cassillo at the helm. These last two seasons certainly caught the attention of Dirtbags general manager Trey Daly, who shared a few insights on McGillivray’s development and future.

Tops on the list according to Daly is his work ethic. The GM says, “One thing to know about Jake is he loves to work on his craft, which is the key ingredient for success.”

And he takes that to the field everyday.  With a 5’11” and 160 pound athletic frame, McGillivray plays with energy and aggressiveness.  In talking about himself, Jake commented he talks non-stop during a contest and loves to take charge in the moment.

Daly sees a projectile future when McGillivray in swinging the bat too. Saying, “In the box Jake shows a really good swing that has the ability to spray the ball to all fields. His frame is athletic and he projects well.”

Not to rest on his achievements thus far, Jake has big plans for the off-season. Combining time in the weight-room, regular sessions in the cage and working with an instructor to improve his arm strength, McGillivray is confident his progress will pay off for him personally, and for his Porter Ridge Pirates, whom he says could be pretty good in the spring.

Regardless if he’s wearing his school’s purple & white, or in the black & gold of the Dirtbags, McGillivray plans to play one way. That is “all out” and “putting it all on the field.” According to Jake, it’s just what a Dirtbag does.  

Which makes his becoming a member of the organization make sense. What he cares about is what the Dirtbags seem to care about. And by giving that great effort each time out, McGillivray looks to access that exposure he says was a main drawing point to him becoming a Dirtbag.

What Jakes says he didn’t know what how much the Dirtbag coaches care about their players.  He sees it in decisions that are made for how players are used in events. It’s clear to him the Dirtbags are about player development.

He sums it up by saying, “(The) coaches want what’s best for them as players … (coaches) are always caring about the player’s future.”

For someone who cares so much, it becomes obvious the next stages of his career and beyond will take care of itself.

Trey Daly finishes it best as he said, “I’m very excited to see where his game will take him in the future, because Jake won’t be outworked.”

Testimonial Tuesday: Ja’Heim Brown

Testimonial Tuesday: Ja’Heim Brown

Some seek out pressure packed situations. They want to experience the thrill, or feel the exhilaration. Ja’Heim Brown, a 2021 uncommitted right-handed pitcher out of Louisburg High School in Louisburg, NC, sees these moments as an opportunity to “soak it all in” so that he is constantly being re-equipped to face the next challenge.

According to Brown, he’s been taking in plenty of those opportunities while wearing a Dirtbags uniform since joining the organization in the summer of 2019. But this multi-sport athlete is quick to point out he also values his time on the gridiron, where he has been the starting QB for his high school since his freshman year, and on the hardwood which are also important factors into building his abilities as a competitor.

At 6’1” and 165 pounds, this Dirtbag is the epitome of a competitor. According to his coach, Brent Haynes, who led the Bad Company squad in 2019, he is unmatched in his ability to rise to any occasion.

Haynes said, “Ja’Heim is a kid who doesn’t get rattled and thrives in tough situations.  He was our guy that when we got in a tight spot I could go to and know he was going to get the job done.”

But Brown says finding himself in such moments doesn’t really change his demeanor.  He considers himself to be very even-keeled both on and off the field. This he says this is intentional in order to help him focus and perform instead of succumbing to emotions. 

Another aspect of being a multi-sport athlete to that impacts Brown is definitely “the grind”.  While each of the three sports could find many players giving their undivided attention to just one of them year round, Ja’Heim balances the overlapping of the seasons seamlessly.  He sees each contest as a another way to learn and likes that each sport offers a different aspect of competing and performing that enhances his productivity in another arena.

Above all it all, Ja’Heim says he appreciates the opportunity each sport has provided him to be a leader, albeit a quiet one. His leadership is done with his effort and attitude as he finds ways to serve his teammates.

When it comes to his academic interests, they are almost as diverse as his athletic endeavors. He loves to express himself through writing and also has a serious interest in being a vet one day. Understand those academic interests will likely play a role when it comes time for Brown to make a college decision – the education piece is a top priority.

While a college decision for Brown will likely center around the educational opportunities the institution has to offer, baseball figures to be a tremendously significant factor. Ja’Heim is quick to point out the importance of the coaching staff and their ability to make a relationship with him.  

In mentioning a few schools by name for which he has an interest, it became apparent that each offers a unique component to an equation that makes that program a desired destination. Though he says the recruiting process is in its early stages and he’s just enjoying the game, this kid has a plan.

And if the recruiting is just heating up for Ja’heim, the fastball appears to be heating up too.  While he topped out at 86 this past summer, Brown says that as he continues to learn to use his legs more effectively in his delivery, so he’s hoping to touch 90 next spring.

Haynes adds, “Ja’Heim is a strike thrower that goes right after hitters with his fastball and above average slider that gets a lot of swings and misses.”

Not only is Ja’Heim able to play multiple sports but he’s also able to do multiple skills on the diamond – no surprise there. Haynes points out, “He’s also not just a pitcher, but also a slick fielding infielder that did a great job for us at any spot on the dirt.”

And one of the situations Brown says he learned so much from was when he was asked to get a bunt down for his team in a critical situation.  He noted it was able to show him how such small tasks can play such a huge role in the game. And he soaked in that knowledge too.

Brown attributes all the growth he’s experienced in just his one year with the Bags to learning from a number of influences. He says he appreciates how the Dirtbags put him immediately in a competitive environment where he could evaluate his own level of play and determine what parts of him game he needed to elevate.

As he put it, being able to “see how the game flows” gave him evidence and examples to strive for in his improvements. More specifically he mentioned the ability to hit spots consistently, learn how to better hold runners, and see the level at which he needs to work to maintain an edge.  He also mentioned he was able to better hone processes like warming up, having a long-toss plan, and a pre-game routine.

Brown mentions, “The physical part is there, but now I’m seeing the mental side.”  

Translation – he’s “soaking it all in”. Collecting the knowledge. Making ready for the opportunities that are surely coming. And despite what is surely a busy schedule when you consider all the events on his calendar, he won’t miss a single one – because the mental prep will be complete.

Testimonial Tuesday: Austin Cantrell

Testimonial Tuesday: Austin Cantrell

For sophomore Austin Cantrell, out of Lanier High School in Sugar Hill, Georgia, a good deal of satisfaction has to be felt for making the move a couple of years ago to become a Dirtbag. The primary motive according to him was to access exposure.

The success in that venture can be found for the 2022 LHP, who is currently uncommitted, in seeing his opportunities, as well as his skills, grow exponentially.

With evidence to support achievement in both, Cantrell projects to become a dominant force on the mound with his 6’3” and 180 pound frame. The strides made thus far show he’s well on his way, with a fastball that has gone from the low 80’s,now reaches in the mid to upper 80’s. Add  to that a mid 70’s breaking ball that is dynamic. 

Cantrell rightly recognizes the jump is a by-product of the hard work he’s logged in the last few years, but he attributes much of that motivation to the coaching and opportunities he’s gotten since becoming a member of the Bags. He sees the improvement of his off-speed stuff as a direct connection to his velo going up.

It’s safe to say his style fits right into the organization’s culture, Austin is a “go right at ‘em” type hurler who likes to attack hitters and challenge them with his fastball. Dirtbags GM, Trey Daly, who coached Cantrell in 2019 as a member of the Tap Out team has seen it firsthand.

Daly had this to say about how the lefty’s stuff is complemented by his attitude, “The southpaw from Lanier High School in Georgia is fun to watch. One thing about Austin is he hates to lose, and puts himself out there to perform well for his club.”

Those performances have brought the desired attention to Cantrell, with some prestigious programs from the region and beyond being his current list of interests. All the schools on the radar right now have the boxes checked for his priorities: campus experience, facilities, being in the national picture, and providing next level opportunities. The attention he’s getting at this point has been another motivating factor according to Austin, saying he talks to 5-6 schools per week.

But playing at the level he has reached with the Dirtbags has taught him he still has much to learn. When asked about where he’s seen the most impact he was quick to identify the mental side of pitching.The tutoring from Dirtbag coaches has enabled him to persevere through struggles.

To capture the spirit of these lessons, Cantrell said,  “When you get down, you can’t stay down.”

On Playing with such a talented group as the Dirtbag 2022 Tap Out squad, he noted the team making it to the semifinals at the WWBA World Championships, in Georgia, as a sure highlight, adding, “We made some good runs this summer. It’s awesome to be on a winning team. The coaches and players are great.”

Which takes the conversation right back to where it all started for Cantrell, who says he researched the Dirtbags before joining.  After seeing them at a tournament he made the decision to come into the fold to get that exposure, but also finding out the Dirtbags offer so much more.

“The coaches are in it for the right reasons. They care about you as a person, not just a player.  They want to help you get better,” said Cantrell.

And from the sounds of comments by Daly, those investments from the player and the organization are sure to pay off in the future. Daly commented,  “I can’t wait to see the jumps he makes in 2020. We sure are lucky he’s on our side.”

With progress like he’s made so far expecting to continue, the next decisions made by Austin are sure to be impactful on his career and his life.

Jacob Ray

Jacob Ray

Many times the difference between reaching goals and coming up short is found in the inability to listen to the advice or the unwillingness to follow through.  Jacob Ray, a 2021 graduate out of Southern Alamance High School in Graham, NC, seems to have both of those attributes at his disposal as he has repeatedly proven he can take coaching and execute to the standard set.

A conversation with the junior, who bats and throws rigthty, quickly reveals it is his positive attitude which influences his ability to connect with those opportunities he’s been provided on the diamond. That mindset is evidenced in his demeanor and in the fact that he can play practically anywhere on the field. His 6’2” frame and the athleticism he brings to the table are also huge factors that allow his mental game to elevate his skills into performance.

Jacob Ray is a young man who has learned lessons, both from experiences and from coaches.  According to him, he wasn’t always so positive. In fact, Jacob says it took a basketball coach sitting him down 2-3 years ago to explain how his attitude impacts how he performs to realize his approach needed to change. 

And he has taken advantage of his new view on how to play the game – whether it’s as a point guard for his basketball team or in a baseball uniform as an infielder, an outfielder, or even a pitcher. That’s right Ray will comfortably find himself in any of those spots as member of Southern Alamance Patriots baseball program or as a Dirtbag, with whom he joined in the summer of 2019.

The decision to be a Dirtbag came from some multiple influences.  Hearing of the positive experiences some high school teammates had in the organization along with viewing the positive messages the Bags convey on social media platorms, all made Ray seem – well, positive he should make a move to the black and gold.

While Jacob says he’s just getting started in the recruiting process at this point, he notes that after spending the summer and fall with the Dirtbags he’s been on plenty of college campuses that have piqued his interest. Places with top facilities that offer a sense of development to their players are high on his list. And an institution with high caliber academic offerings is also an important quality he will consider to make a commitment decision.

After spending the fall being coached by longtime Dirtbags coach, Tyler Drew, expect the recruiting to heat up because the kid can flat play. And he plays whatever spot he’s needed with the same energy and passion, making transitions to multiple positions easy and effective. For Drew the results are what has been most noticable.   

Though Ray is a self-described “put the ball in play” hitter, Tyler Drew adds his plate presence goes beyond that by saying, “At the plate, Ray was the table setter as our lead-off guy, and he always set the tone for the offense.”

Which should come as no surprise as he was also the lead-off as a sophomore on the varsity squad for his Southern Alamance Patriots. 

His attitude even shines through when called to the bump to log important innings as a pitcher for his squad with his low 80’s fastball. As Drew comments, “Ray is a bulldog on the mound.  He would take the ball in any situation, and is the ultimate competitor.”

But it’s back to the listening and the willingness that provide these recognized skills and so much more.  Asked to make a move to the outfield, Ray saw it as an opportunity. He noted he learned if he is able to play more positions it will increase his value and offers a bigger window to find that best fit program for the next level.

Add to that, Jacob recognizes being a Dirtbag has offered him a chance to see the game at a level where his competitiveness has leveraged his skills to a higher standard. Playing against the best and experiencing high profile playing in environments all force a “sink or swim” demand he views as a positive force on his output. 

Something else Ray has learned is that Dirtbag coaches are good and allow the best players to prosper, while everyone gets a chance to shine.  He says he appreciates the fact those coaches he’s experienced with the Bags have kept it fun while also taking care of the business at hand on the field by guiding players.

Jacob Ray seems to have the two aspects of performance all coaches tell players to focus on well under control – that is effort and attitude. With his consistently positive approach to whatever is next, look for this Dirtbag to be raising his stock in the college recruiting game in a positive direction.

 

Hamilton Andrews

Hamilton Andrews

 Events tend to happen right on time for some people. Everything from the opportunities and places that are experienced, to the people with whom one interacts. Many times the transpiring of moments be seen in retrospect as being exactly how it was supposed to be.

After hearing Hamilton Andrews, a 2020 outfielder out of Broughton High School in Raleigh, NC, tell his story, it is easy to make that connection for the right-handed hitter.  Everything seems to fit together in his journey that has allowed him to be a committed player to North Carolina Wesleyan College in Rocky Mount, NC.

Early was the impact of his relationship with his high school coach, Jere Morton. Then connecting to the Dirtbags, with whom he has played since a rising sophomore. That association brings Hamilton to his most recent impactful moment – meeting his coach for this 2019 fall, Axel Smith.

Andrews says, “He came in this fall and said he’d mold us. We’ve lost twice since.”

Axel saw the potential in Hamilton, saying  “First day right in front of everyone I told him I would ride him because I think he can be special. And the fire was lit!”

And with the “fire lit” the 5’8” outfielder soon began to produce the results he came to the Dirtbags to get. On how he became a member of the organization, Andrews recounted he had played with someone who was a Dirtbag and they had positive things to say.  That along with being intrigued by the unique uniforms led him to a tryout.

But the jumps in his game happened because of the hard work and the coaching advice he’s received, clearly stating, “The only reason I’m in this position (as a college commit) is because of the Dirtbags. The only thing they want is for us to get better.”

The growth, according to Andrews, has been applied to many areas of his game.  And like so many that develop in the sport, it didn’t just happen all at once but was a process.  While Hamilton admits he was at first intimidated when he joined the Dirtbags and tried to be a player he was not,the journey was learning to “overcome fears and play as strong as possible.”

That can best be exampled by what he’s done at the plate.  Andrews says he once was the player who always tried to hit the ball as far has he could. Now he realizes his speed allows him to take a different approach.  As a 6.6 runner (in the 60 yard dash), he simply tries to put the ball in play and let’s his legs move him around the bases by stealing bags. 

Always one to hustle and go all out, Hamilton says he makes it a point to run on and off the field each inning. And his uniform is often the dirtiest in the dugout. It’s these types of characteristics along with the skills of the game he feels have been brought out in him from a variety of impactful events and people. 

But none have been as vital as the Dirtbags, saying, “I realized they are here to help me and we bonded. The coaching camps have helped too. Always helping with fundamentals and my swing – even how to throw better.”

Because the style of play he takes on the diamond, Andrews started to get some attention.  Again, the theme of opportunity leading to opportunity factored again as his Dirtbags team played on the campus of NCWC during an Impact Baseball event.

This led to contact with the school’s baseball coaches, and as one thing leads to another, he attended a camp to get to know the Battling Bishops even better.  Hamilton ability to make connections with the staff, the culture of the school and the direction of the program all seemed to lead him to make the commitment to continue his playing and academic pursuits at the Division III institution.

But the pieces are still being put in place and the work isn’t done to make himself an even better player.  The off-season brings more opportunity where he plans to get stronger and, yes, even faster. He will continue to work on his game and plans to keep taking those 300 cuts a day on a tee as directed by Axel Smith.

Assuredly, more opportunities are in the works for Hamilton Andrews and he’s learned that they come as a result of taking advantage of the opportunities right in fron of you.  And with his attitude he won’t miss them because he’s seen the results in his own game.

 

Pete Maldonado

Pete Maldonado

  Seeing events unfold before they take place is something Pete Maldonado takes pride in being able to do. No, Pete isn’t a psychic, nor does he work at a carnival, but as a 2021 uncommitted catcher out of Heritage High School in Wake Forest, NC, he finds plenty of benefit in being able to see the game and help his team make the proper moves from behind the plate.

These types of skills are attributed to being willing to pay attention to details and doing to the work it takes to advantage that which is recognized.  Pete excels at both.

Joining the Dirtbags as a freshman he has found plenty of those opportunities to learn while playing for some longtime organizational coaches like Trey Daly and Brent Haynes. 

Maldonado says those experiences provided him a lot but particularly, as he puts it,  “Learned a lot about game management.”

Whether calling pitches based on a batter’s previous at-bats, or recognizing who’s coming up and how a batter may be able to be pitched around because the pitcher’s stuff matches up better vs. the guy on-deck, it all becomes part of Pete’s approach to helping his team defensively.  He says as a vocal player on the field he is able to move outfielders or adjust the positioning of the defense by paying attention as the game is played.

Focusing on small details like receiving also carries weight according to the left-handed hitting catcher. It stands to reason that the more strikes thrown by the pitcher means less runners on base, and if he can help in that by framing pitches then Maldonado is all in. 

The junior receiver says he sees the game as a huge chess match and as such he’s always thinking ahead to be a few moves in front of the opposition.  Pete feels this is also an area that can be overlooked by some players and hope it’s a factor that sets him apart.

In that respect he commented, “I’m always looking for ways to be a better on field coach.”

As the general manager of the Dirtbags and someone who has coached Maldonado directly, Trey Daly remarked, “First thing you recognize about Pete Maldonado is his love for the game.  There aren’t many days that Pete is not working on his craft. Whatever you do in life if you have a passion for it like Pete you are going to come out on top!”

The Dirtbag experience has provided Peter a growth in skills that extends to his interscholastic career, as he made the varsity squad as a sophomore last spring.  He admits he may have started hot at the plate but soon found himself in an extended slump. But as one who knows him may expect, he learned some lessons in all that.  

He says, “The struggle helped me realize baseball is a grind all the time instead of just when you want it to be.”

So, as Maldonado finds ways to help his team with such valuable intangibles this all has assuredly been the product of the work portion of the equation. He is always taking extra cuts, and of course working on finer points of the dirty work of being a catcher. 

Pete noted, “It’s easy to recognize deficiencies.”

Thus he’s constantly dealing with those parts of his game that don’t meet his standards and not only striving to improve those skills, but also finding other ways to mitigate those as factors.  That is practical improvement in its highest form.

To Maldonado, that even means taking notes – whether about his own at-bats or about an opposing team’s hitters the kid is always looking for an edge to advantage himself in the game.

Work has also produced results that show in the box score. He’s reduced his pop time to a 1.96-2.04 range and at the plate he has learned to take his same skills in calling a game to be able to hunt pitches and produce results with his lefty swing.

Trey agreed on the well rounded productivity by adding, “Behing the plate, the LHH has continued to make strides each and every year from his catching and throwing to his hitting.”

Ultimately all this is to provide an opportunity to connect with a college baseball program. No surprise here but Maldonado once again has a plan.  Focusing his attention on those schools who have yet to garner commitments from players in his class and position he has a collection of programs he has sought out to foster recruitment.

But the process is wide open right now for Maldonado and he’s keeping his eyes wide open, too in order to be ready for the right fit when it becomes available. For Pete, that program will have a combination of providing a competitive atmosphere along with an emphasis on player development – if it isn’t obvious yet, this guy wants to keep improving.

He’s also looking for a learning environment with high academic standards where skills for a career can be obtained.  Particularly, he sees himself pursuing a field in the sciences as he finds a keen interest in genetics – another area where small nuances can impact results.

But for now he continues to strive to be his best with the Dirtbags  and appreciates how the brand demands attention. He is equally impressed with the organization’s coaches who are so connected with college programs far and wide.  As he states, “They are able to find ways to get you where you belong.”

For Maldonado, where he belongs is on the diamond. Seeing the game and doing the work to help his team in whatever way he can.  

Daly perhaps said it best as he stated, “I’m excited to see where he lands at the next level because one thing is for sure, the guy will make any team better.”

What a great way to be seen by others. As someone who makes the team better. And if you see Pete Maldonado play it’s obvious he fits that description.

 

Trent Murchison

Trent Murchison

Sometimes it seems that certain events were just meant to be. Trent Murchison’s decision to become a Dirtbag may rank as a top example of a player and an organization being perfect for each other.  As an uncommitted 2022 left-handed outfielder out of Jacksonville (NC) High School, his approach to the game personifies the brand that Dirtbags Baseall has established.  

That’s definitely the opinion of Dirtbags general manager, Trey Daly who recounted how the organization came add Murchison to its number.  He shared, “Dirtbag alum Cade Anderson reached out to me last spring and said, ‘You gotta see this kid, he’s a Dirtbag all over.’ He hit the nail on the head. He lays it on the line every game. Passion, grit, selflessness is never a question in Mr. Murchison’s game.”

 The sophomore center fielder is one who can back up those intangible attributes by making big plays for his team. Forget about thinking players small in stature are boxed into being limited. 

Daly weighed in, “Don’t let the size fool you! Murchison is a fun player to watch. The left-handed hitting outfielder lays it on the line. Once on base, he’s a nightmare for the opposition.”

Though standing at 5’5” Murchison has BIG written all over his game. From making a spectacular diving catch in left center while playing with the Bags this summer at UNC’s Boshamer Stadium that was caught on film, to a 2 run double he gapped late in the second round of the NCHSAA play-offs last spring, he has seemed to come up big just when the team needs him.

Being in such a position to make those types of plays in those types of moments was uncovered as Murchison got the opportunity to man the lead-off spot as a freshman for the varsity team at his high school in the spring. For him, Trent says the experience was eye-opening.  He realized he was able to play with more mature players knew right away he could compete.

This, he says, provided the evidence that he had the potential to go to the next level, saying, “I might not have size but I can play with anybody.”

That attitude with his abilities has surely caught the attention of college baseball programs. While Murchison says the recruiting process just getting going for him, he already has identified the important factors to make the ultimate decision of committing. While the prestige and success of the baseball program are important, he also noted that as an honors student the education piece is huge. Even beyond that, Trent feels the connection to a staff that can provide him guidance with life lessons, and also care about his future in the game and beyond is vital.

Murchison expects the recruiting to speed up this fall by virtue of him playing with the highly talented Dirtbags Tap Out 16u squad. And playing with such a group is something he sees as a win-win. 

Joining the program has paid dividends according to Murchinson. Not only does playing with top talent provide chances to get seen but also eliminate the pressure of having to be perfect.  Trent says it allows him to relax and enable him to show his full potential.

Also notable to Murchison is the level of coaching he has received while with the Bags. He says those coaches are able to provide him insight into aspects of the game he can work on to prepare for that college experience he is striving to attain.

Simply said, all of this allows him to, “be able to calm down and play the game.”  

But the reality is someone at this stage of their career who plays with as much energy and passion as Murchison, mistakes will undoubtedly happen. However, Trent says he finds confidence in knowing that when a mistake does occur, he knows he will have more opportunities.

He stated, “It’s not going to be my last (chance) – so having the NEXT mentality is important.”

With the skills and plays he shown thus far, the biggest “next” could be where he gets the opportunity to commit collegiately. Until then, expect to find him on the diamond play the game relentlessly in the dirtiest uniform.

 

Dalen Thompson

Dalen Thompson

  It’s not hard to recognize the athleticism Dalen Thompson exhibits while on the baseball field.  At 6’1” and 175 pounds, the 2021 shortstop out of Triton High School, clearly has athletic tools.

But what someone may miss about the recent Campbell Univiersity commit, is that he’s not done or satisfied when it comes to developing his skills – as an athlete and as a baseball player. 

The clue to uncovering his intent to continue improving his game is the amount of detail he recognizes in areas he seeks to grow.  Already a 6.6 runner in the 60, Thompson’s first mention when asked what the off-season activities will look like for him was, “Run. I want to run a 6.5.”

That’s how good players become great.  Never being satisfied with what may already be sufficient.  It also showed in how he comments his most important hitting drill is tee work. 

Dalen says tee work is a big deal for him because it helps him gain consistency in his swing and allows him to know where the bat head is; thus aiding him to stay through the ball. Routinely he will take 100 swings each in tee positions of inside, middle and outside.

His Dirtbags coach in the 2019 summer, Brent Haynes, saw the tools as they intersected with his emphasis on skill development. Haynes says, “Dalen is a guy who jumps out at you with his athleticism on the baseball field.  He has excellent footwork, hands and arm strength that will allow him to stay at his primary position of SS at the next level. He’s a guy that can do it all – hit, field and run.”

Not only can he do it all on the baseball field, but he also reps his school as a shooting guard on the basketball court.  Thompson is able to take something from that sport to his time on the diamond. The pace of the game and the demand to play the next play without pouting if things don’t go well offers a valuable lesson. No matter what season or sport, Dalen says his intent is to play hard.

But when it came to the choice for the Harnett County native  to commit to Campbell was an easy. With campus 10 minutes from his  home, Thompson says the thought of family being able see his games was a huge factor.  But that may have been icing on the cake as he was quick to list all the academic and athletic attributes the Camels provide. Coming off consecutive NCAA tourney appearances it’s easy to see why he wants to be a part of the direction the baseball program has taken.

Only a Dirtbag since the summer of 2019, Dalen quickly learned that he was going to be playing with and against the best.  With what he referenced as “top notch coaching and instruction” he found he was able to play with the talent on the field.

He says the opportunity to join the Bags allowed him to grow in all areas of his game.  By seeing better pitching he refined his swing. Defensively, he became more active. And ultimately he learned to lead and communicate on a squad competing against some of the best in the country as he traveled to tournaments in Atlanta and Texas.

Thompson said the summer was a great experience as the places, the people and the events all opened his eyes to a different level of competition. And he says, “I could play with those guys.”

The decision to be a Dirtbag was definitely a step in Dalen’s journey that made an impact. After seeing the organization from the outside, he says, “It’s even better on the inside. It’s family. It’s a good team to represent.”

From Haynes’ perspective the decision to go to Buies Creek will benefit the program beyond the diamond as he remarked, “Campbell got not only a great player but an excellent young man.” 

That’s easy to see, as Thompson’s ability to carry on a conversation about himself is just as smooth as his glove skills.  With no hints of pretentiousness, he often mentioned his skills as “ok” and while he notes he “makes stuff happen,” the words of Haynes again capture the situation, “He’s just tapping into his potential.”

And Thompson appears ready to find exactly where that potential can take him and his team – be it the Dirtbags, his Triton Hawks, and ultimately the Campbell Camels.

 

Damon Hardy

Damon Hardy

Baseball coaches consider players who will do whatever it takes to help the team to be of the highest value. The true wisdom is recognizing when to seize on those opportunities.  Count Damon Hardy, 2020 infielder out of Farmville Central High School in baseball rich Pitt County, NC, one of the wisest of players.

Repeatedly, during a recent interview he talked about the importance of being a “team player” while playing on a team.  Hardy’s consistent refrain when asked about his frame of mind when considering different aspects of his game was “to do whatever I can.”

And that attitude along with his skills on the diamond has carried the senior to gain the opportunity to commit to play collegiately at North Carolina Wesleyan College, this past July. This is the same program his father, Axel Smith, played on as a member of the 1989 national championship team for the Division III Battling Bishiops. 

Damon says he was greatly encouraged by the opportunity to follow that path since hearing all the stories from his dad, of his days in Rocky Mount, NC. Add to that how much he loved the campus, the coaches and how welcoming the team has been when he’s had the opportunity to interact with them.

Hardy has officially been a Dirtbag for the past three years, but his relationship with the organization has been much longer than that.  As Axel Smith has been a baseball coach in the state for many years, his tenure coaching with the Dirtbags goes back to Damon’s childhold. And it made quite an impression on the player.

At 5’8” and 140 pounds, Hardy seems to personify the Dirtbags and according to general manager, Trey Daly, sets an example as he says, “If you want a guy that gets after it and represents the Dirtbag name, it’s Damon Hardy.” 

Daly continues, “Damon takes after his father a lot in the passion, grit and never settle attitude.”

Damon says being around the Dirtbags so young both inspired and motivated him.

And it’s obvious because as a player he seems to be locked in no matter what he’s asked to do.  Whether playing his ususal middle infield, or asked to pitch, or definitely at the plate hit; starting or coming off the bench – the effort and attitude is the same.  He’s even been seen coaching first base for the Bags – and he was good at it. His perspective is the difference.

Says Hardy, “Whenever I step in between the gates (of the field) it’s like a switch – go time.  Engaged at all times – they will get my all.”

He gives plenty of credit to the Dirtbags for his development.  Most notably he says the chance to play with the best and against the highest competition allowed him to elevate his game. He says he feeds off other players to make plays.

In fact, it’s the bond he’s built with those Dirtbag teammates to help him build himself into the player he is today, saying, “Because I get to go out knowing I’m going to war with players who have the same mentality and drive.”

Helping other players is another attribute that is quick to be noticed when watching Hardy play. Having been around the game in the ways he’s been able to experience it he agrees that sometimes he sees things that may get past other players.  Damon takes every opportunity to share his knowledge or instincts with teammates.

He wants people to know he “cares” – so when he sees those little things he’s going to act on it. Like stepping in from shortstop to calm a pitcher who may need to be settled, picking up a tendancy at the plate to allow he or his teammates the chance to succeed in hunting the fastball, or letting an underclassman know how he should go about his business in drills.

It’s all part of his game.  

Which brings it to why he chose the Dirtbags. 

On being a Dirtbag, he says, “When I’m on the diamond, I’m going to be the dirtiest.” 

He wanted to be part of continuing the Dirtbag legacy.  Earning it. Doing the hard work. Playing with intensity.

But it’s more than the stains on the uniform. It’s the effort, and the willingness to sacrifice. 

For Damon Hardy it’s knowing when to get dirty.  And figuring that out makes this young man wise beyond his years.

 

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