Small Town Player Yearns For Big Time Trip

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Ashton Shewey's goal is to someday play baseball on the Division I collegiate level.

But, he knows that playing for a small town high school in rural Arizona limits the opportunities he'll have to be recognized by major college recruiters.

The last time scouts visited the Rim country to check out a recruit was in the early '90s when ex-Longhorn Tom Canale was unleashing heat off the PHS pitching mound.

Canale went on to have a highly successful collegiate career in California and eventually was drafted by the Cleveland Indians.

In an effort to have his talents acknowledged like Canale's were, Ashton a 16-year-old sophomore at Payson High took his baseball act last July to Phoenix.

There, he hooked up with a Valley-based team to play in a high school winter league that mostly drew promising baseball prospects from Class 4A and 5A Phoenix-area schools.

Each weekend throughout the summer, Ashton traveled to Phoenix Maryvale Park where league games were held.

While playing in the Valley, Ashton learned of a summer baseball recruiting trip that travels the East Coast showcasing player's skills for onlooking college recruiters.

Sponsored by Blue Chip Prospects, the two-week-long jaunt is headed by Phoenix Cactus Shadows High School head coach Greg Virga who recently has accepted the position of hitting coach at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, New York.

According to Virga, the recruiting trip "is for players that have to leave Arizona in order to continue their baseball careers."

Virga's description of the experience was a perfect fit for Ashton, who probably won't have the exposure to earn a scholarship to in-state powerhouses like Arizona State, Arizona and Grand Canyon University.

Also, Ashton said, "I'd really like to play back East or maybe in Florida."

To be eligible to make next summer's recruiting trip, Ashton had to participate in tryouts with about 130 other sophomores and juniors who had played summer ball with him in Phoenix.

The tryouts were held Oct. 7 at Red Mountain High School in Mesa.

Ashton and PHS teammate Waylon Pettet were the only small school players in attendance.

"All the others were from 5A schools," he said.

Although Ashton admits to being jittery during the sessions, he performed well enough to earn an invitation to go along on the recruiting trail.

That trip begins July 25 at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Following a training session there, the trip continues to Fordham University, St. Bonaventure, Eastern Michigan, Indiana State and Tennessee Tech. It culminates Aug. 6 at Centenary College in Shreveport, La.

At each stop, the 30 participants from Arizona will be put through their playing paces by Virga and other coaches.

"We won't play games ... we will be doing tryouts in live situations," Ashton said.

According to Virga, college recruiters have asked him to conduct "pro scout-type workouts" that involve timed dashes, radar calculated speed throws and execution of baseball fundamentals like bunting, covering bases, hitting, fielding and throwing.

During Ashton's baseball career, which began in Payson as an 8-year-old T-ball player, he's played catcher, first base and has pitched.

His high school coach, Teddy Pettet, says he believes Ashton has the ability to earn a collegiate scholarship.

"He is a left handed switch hitter which is a big plus ... it (earning a scholarship) will depend on his work ethic," Pettet said.

According to Virga, the chances of the players earning a scholarship are enhanced by the exposure gained on the trip.

"This past summer we were seen by 50 Division I schools and have already placed 13 of our 30 participants ... we should have no problem placing most of them by the second (college) signing period in April," Virga said.

Among the most successful signees that Virga has produced is Cactus Shadows pitcher Ryan Stromer who recently earned a scholarship to the University of Michigan.

Virga also produced a video tape for former Payson High School baseball star Bryan Zumbro that was used to help him attract a scholarship.

Zumbro is now playing for the United States Air Force Academy.

For Ashton, the recruiting trip could be the means to someday realizing his ambitions of playing baseball on the collegiate level.

He also anticipates the East Coast journey which will be entirely by charter bus could turn into an event he will long remember.

"We'll be in New York for a couple of days and I've never been there ... after all that happened Sept. 11, I'm looking forward to going to New York," he said.

In addition to playing baseball at Payson High School, Ashton was a member of the last fall's Longhorn football squad that advanced to the state tournament quarterfinals.

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