SPORTS

Local teen plays in World Tournament

SRHS Sophomore Steven Lancia traveled to Sydney, Australia, to compete in the U.S. World Boys Baseball tournament. (courtesy photo)

Local teen plays in World Tournament

Irene Lancia knew that her son, Steven, was destined to play baseball since he was a toddler. She remembers watching him squat and leap frog around the house, half-joking with her father that he would one day play baseball competitively as a catcher.

In the years that followed, Steven would take on the role of preschool-aged spectator and supporter at his big brother’s baseball games, then little leaguer who regularly played on all-star teams, and finally on to the Falcon’s freshman baseball team – where he was called up to varsity for six games – at Scripps Ranch High School (SRHS). His years of effort, combined with athletic genes and innate talent, have now earned him a coveted spot as catcher for the U.S. World Boys Baseball San Diego team, which traveled to Sydney, Australia, on July 26.

According to the U.S. World Boys Baseball website, the international games began as a “Goodwill Friendship Game” with Japan in 1977. These games continued until 1981. Then, “In 1982, the first International Tournament was held in Osaka, Japan. San Diego has participated in all of these tournaments and has hosted the tournament four times,” according to the website.

Steven Lancia earned a spot as catcher for the U.S. World Boys Baseball San Diego team, which traveled to Sydney, Australia. (courtesy photo)

Coach Mark Wilson, who is also the pitching coach at Cal State San Marcos, is heading in to his 19th year as coach of U.S. World Boys Baseball San Diego. He and his coaching staff, which includes three baseball coaches from San Diego-area high schools, have been working together for the last 18 years. While their combined experience has served the boys well in further developing their athletic talents, the coaching staff is also focused on helping to build character for their young players.

“We believe that nobody is any better than the other guy,” Wilson said. “That’s important. It’s more about the experience of going to a foreign country and playing all of the national teams.”

Other countries that have historically competed in the World Baseball tournament have included Japan, Brazil, Chinese Taipei, China, Canada, Argentina, Korea, Australia, Puerto Rico, Peru and Italy. Wilson explained that Japan has historically been the team to beat, noting that it has racked up 21 wins out of the last 35 years the tournament has been played. U.S. teams have taken home six wins, with San Diego earning four of those titles.

This is no small feat, according to Wilson, considering that Japan’s national team plays and practices together year-round, while California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) regulations prohibit high school athletes from simultaneously participating “on an outside team, in the same sport, during the student’s high school season of sport,” according to the CIF Southern Section Blue Book.

Members of The U.S. World Boys Baseball San Diego team are competing in an annual tournament in Sydney, Australia.

Steven Lancia, who cites Buster Posey – catcher for the San Francisco Giants – as his favorite professional player, said he is excited to travel to another country to play baseball. As the only player from Scripps Ranch who will participate in the tournament, he has quickly built friendships over the course of summer practices with the other 17 boys who made the team.

“I’m excited about the experience with all my friends on the team,” he said. “I’m looking forward to just getting to know each other and the other teams.”

The two-week overseas experience will include one week of taking in Australian sights and culture, followed by the week-long baseball tournament, during which time all visiting players will homestay, in pairs, with host families from Australia.

“This is going to be something that they’re never going to forget,” Wilson said.

While character development and worldly exposure are highlights of the World Boys Baseball experience, athleticism and competitiveness are certainly not in short supply. According to Wilson, almost all participating countries have had boys from their teams ultimately be drafted to U.S. Major League Baseball (MLB) teams. From the San Diego team, alone, 23 players who have been coached by Wilson in past U.S. World Boys Baseball tournaments have continued on to the MLB. Notable among them are Adrian Gonzalez, Eric Karros, Brian Giles, Eric Chavez and Tony Clark. Additionally, Wilson pointed out that in last year’s MLB World Series, two of the pitchers were former players on Japan’s World Boys Baseball national team.

Irene Lancia said that her son aspires to continue playing baseball competitively, and currently has his eye on Division I schools, with USC and Stanford at the top of his list. She noted that he is also an excellent student, having completed his freshman year at SRHS with a 3.8 grade point average.

“I’m very proud of him,” she said. “He works hard at school and he works hard at baseball. Whatever he puts his mind to, he works very hard and he takes pride in what he does.”

Additional information on U.S. World Boys Baseball of San Diego, including updates throughout the course of the 2018 tournament, can be found at usworldbaseball.com.

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