At a banquet after the first night of play in the 15th annual Sun Belt Baseball Classic, Chris Rodriguez was sitting across from a guy hehad read about in Baseball America just a few days earlier.
"His name was Kenny Henderson out of Georgia, and he was 6-foot-7 with a fastball clocked at 96 mph. It's 94 when he's inconsistent," Rodriguezsaid Wednesday night from his host home in Stillwater, Okla., where he is one of five countians playing with Team Maryland in the classic.
"There were actually about four or five of these guys -- all top prospects -- who were talking about signing multibuck contracts," said the Davidsonville resident and recent graduate of Prince George's County's Riverdale Baptist School. "I'm listening to them, and I'm thinking just how glad I am to be here."
Rodriguez, a third baseman who said he was "used to about 20 people a game," called the atmosphere "pretty awesome" in Oklahoma State University's Allie P. Reynolds Stadium on Wednesday. That day, Maryland upset Oklahoma's representative, 2-1, in front of a partisan crowd of nearly 300 for its first victory in the six-team tournament.
That night, Northeast graduate Craig Everett had a three-run homer and an RBI double to lead Maryland to a 6-4 victory over Florida in the team's second game. His impressive effort helped the Marylanders to effectively steal the show, whichfeatures the best seniors from Maryland, Oklahoma, Ohio, Florida, California and defending tournament champion Georgia.
"I think the Oklahoma people took us lightly. Florida did, too. But after we beat them, people took notice. Both teams said we were a classy team," saidNorth County graduate Will Scott, a second baseman who went 1-for-2 against Oklahoma.
"Most of the players here come from high school teams who play more games than we do in high school. The talent's real good here, but after winning only one game (4-3 over Florida) last year, we wanted to do better."
Team Maryland, currently in first place with a 3-0 record, has done nothing but improve on last year's 1-5 tournament record, and defeated Ohio last night (the score was unavailable at press time).
Maryland plays California today and defending champion Georgia tomorrow, with the playoffs for first through fifth place scheduled for June 23.
Team Maryland's three-day bus ride to the tournament included stops in Ohio and Missouri for practices.
In Oklahoma, the players are staying with families. Of the fivecountians, Scott and Rodriguez are with one family, Everett and former Northeast teammate Charlie Buckheit with another and Meade pitcherChris Botulinski is with a third family.
Buckheit faced his biggest challenge -- literally -- when he took the mound against Florida.
"The guys on the Florida team were huge, and it took me until about the third inning to get the butterflies out," said Buckheit, who insix innings gave up eight hits and three walks with four strikeouts against Florida. "I mostly used a fastball outside, and a knuckler. They had a lot of infield hits, mostly bunts, and only two or three went into the outfield."
There, players like center fielder Everett were waiting to make the grab.
"I was kind of nervous after flyingout in my first at-bat," said Everett, the Anne Arundel County Sun Player of the Year. "In the second inning there was a shot to the gap in right-center, and after I made that first catch, it was just like playing in the (Class 2A state championship game victory over Hammond) with Northeast."
As he did in the state championship game, Everett, the lead-off hitter, blasted a second-inning three-run homer overthe left-field fence to give his squad a commanding 5-1 lead. His sixth-inning RBI double put Maryland ahead, 6-1.
The lead helped Buckheit, who was relieved by Cambridge-South Dorchester's Troy Brohawn in the seventh with the bases loaded.
"I wasn't worried about losing the game because Troy throws hard, has a better curve and changes speeds well," said Buckheit, who along with Everett was drafted by the Houston Astros.