North pitcher headed to Florida games

By Jeff Linville - [email protected]

For the second straight year, Mike Slate and his family are headed to Florida for a week so that his son Kobe can play in a national baseball tournament.

Kobe, a rising sophomore at North Surry, will compete on a 14-and-under team in the USSSA All American Games. From Aug. 2-7, eight teams will face off at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Florida.

Last year, Kobe’s team came a win shy of qualifying for the championship round, said Mike. This year, Kobe is one of only two players on the Atlantic Regional team to repeat from last season.

Slate pitched for North Surry’s JV team as a freshman, going 9-1, according to his father. At the end of the JV season, Slate was one of the players called up to the varsity to witness North’s deep playoff run.

The Greyhounds were a very experienced team in 2015, but lost all of its position players.

Still, opponents know better than to count the Hounds out because not only will Slate likely be moving up from JV to varsity, but the team also returns starters Brady Watts and Chase Chandler, giving North a strong three-man rotation.

Kobe likes playing center field, too, said Mike, and likely will get more action there than on the mound next season with Brady and Chase getting most of the innings.

When trying out for the USSSA team last year, Slate was told he could work out at two spots. He chose pitcher and outfield.

As a 13-year-old, his fastball was clocked at 75 mph. Also, he was timed on a 60-yard dash for speed, then there was a pitcher bullpen session and a batting session, also.

“The tryouts were nerve-racking at first but once I got there I felt like I belonged,” Kobe said. “I just told myself to stay calm and play to the best of my ability and all the pressure went away mostly and I just went out and had fun.”

Last year, Kobe was referred to the Spartanburg tryouts by his travel ball coach Daryll Johnson.

“It’s a well-deserved trip,” Johnson said. “I’ve had him since he was 8. … He’s probably one of the hardest working kids and one of the most respectful kids I’ve coached. He’s that kid everybody wants on their team.”

Kobe played for the Carolina BlueClaws under Johnson. Kobe also played for Johnson with the White Plains Pirates. He’s been on Johnson’s Major and Minor league teams that won championships in the Cal Ripken league every year but one — in that year they finished second.

“He’s a special kid,” Johnson said. “When a 13-year old gets on the gun throwing 75 mph, that’s bringing it.”

After coming up just shy of the title round, Slate said, “It was an eye-opening experience to see pretty much every pitcher throwing close to 80 mph.”

This year the tryouts were closer to home in Greensboro.

A year older and stronger, his fastball hit 78 at the tryout and has been clocked as fast as 82 in a tournament, said his father. Kobe also throws a slider and has been working on a forkball with Coach Johnson.

“I think that there was better competition in this year’s tryout than the one in Greenville, South Carolina, last year,” said Slate. “It was tougher to impress the coaches and scouts that were evaluating us.”

Once this tournament is over, Slate’s work isn’t. He said he has set several goals for himself to be ready for next spring.

“I want to be pitching in the low- to mid-80s and improve my batting to where I will be able to switch-hit,” he said. “I want to start on varsity and help the team out any way that I can.”

“The All American Games give me the chance to see where I stand in comparison to other athletes my age,” said the White Plains native. “I have been playing a lot of showcase baseball and major baseball this year because I want to play against the best competition I can to make myself better.”

The early-round games will be shown online at ESPN3. The championship games will be recorded and shown at a later date on ESPN2.

By Jeff Linville

[email protected]

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