On the baseball diamond, a little knowledge and experience can go a long way.
Last year, as a junior, Lawrence High infielder Shane Willoughby tried out for USA Baseball’s Midwest team and didn’t make the cut.
A couple of weeks ago in St. Louis, Willoughby returned for another crack at it. The senior Lions third baseman and shortstop — one of 90 players to advance to the St. Louis tryout — impressed enough people to earn one of the 18 coveted spots on the Midwest’s 17-and-under team.
“I felt fairly confident in myself,” Willoughby said, “because I made it there last year and went through the same process.”
This weekend, Willoughby will play for the Midwest in the National Team Identification Series at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C.
After an initial round of tryouts in Lawrence, Willoughby and LHS teammates CJ Stuever and Kieran Severa advanced to St. Louis. There, Willoughby showed well in various drills. His sprints, throws across the infield and batting-practice session, he said, gave him an advantage before the tryout’s two days of showcase games began.
“I played a pretty good shortstop, OK third base, made a couple nice plays, but I didn’t pitch the way I wanted to,” Willoughby said of the games.
In the batter’s box, he added, everyone struggled against quality pitching. Considering he didn’t feel like he played to his full potential, Willoughby didn’t know whether he would make the cut.
“They must’ve seen something I didn’t in the showcase,” he joked, noting his drill work likely bolstered his cause.
The LHS senior traveled to North Carolina Thursday and begins playing for the Midwest today with teammates from Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Illinois. Fourteen regions will compete at the NTIS.
From there, USA Baseball will invite a minimum of 32 players to future National Team trials and National Team development programs, with the ultimate goal of selecting players to be a part of Team USA.
Willoughby supposes he will play either second base, third or shortstop at the NTIS and said it would be awesome to represent his country for USA Baseball.
“I’m not expecting anything or having my hopes too high,” he said, “just trying to be relaxed.”
No matter what happens, Willoughby thinks the experience will be one he remembers for a long time, and because he has yet to sign with a college program, he hopes this weekend will provide him more opportunities in those endeavors.
“Even if I have a bad time,” Willoughby said, “hopefully they’ll realize that I made it down there (to the NTIS), so there must be some good part to me.”