MOUNT PLEASANT - Central Michigan baseball volunteer assistant coach Derek Simmons had a special opportunity last month after he was selected to manage the PONY roster at the USA Baseball Tournament of Stars at the USA National Baseball Training Complex.
After coaching the Central Michigan Stars, an 18U amateur team comprised of local Mount Pleasant players, to the Palomino World Series title in California a year ago, Simmons was asked to participate and manage a team in the Tournament of Stars June 20-24 in Cary, N.C.
"Anytime you can be a part of USA Baseball, it is a privilege," coach Simmons said. "The atmosphere there was one I can hardly describe. Just to see pictures of past greats and today's stars really put into perspective the pride in being associated with USA Baseball."
The Tournament of Stars features the top 144 amateur players in the country as selected by the USA Baseball office and Major League Baseball. In the year leading up to the tournament, Simmons was able to put together a roster of 18 student-athletes that would go on to win the gold medal.
"Fortunately, I was able to put together a great team," Simmons said. "Most of the kids on my team I had never seen play, so I was going off word of mouth and intense research. Going there I did not know what to expect from my players, but I can honestly say that all of the kids I had, had great character and makeup. Not only were they there to make the 18U USA team, but every single one of them wanted to win the event."
Simmons' squad finished the tournament 3-1, including a walk-off win in the semifinal contest and a 5-3 victory over the Babe Ruth squad in the gold medal game.
Following the tournament, each member of the coaching staff from the eight teams helped put together a roster of 40 players for the 18U USA National Team. Simmons and the coaches were able to help former New York Yankees great and USA head coach Scott Brosius by assessing players' tools, character and overall makeup. Of the 40 who moved on to the national trials stage, 12 members of Simmons' gold-medal winning squad were selected, with two more being named alternates.
"Winning a conference championship, playing in a NCAA Regional and the College World Series were all great moments for me as a player that I will cherish forever," Simmons said. "But, being a part of USA Baseball and winning a gold medal as a coach is the best moment thus far that I have had in my baseball career."