When thinking of Team USA baseball, names such as Derek Jeter, Joe Mauer and, recently, Bryce Harper come to mind. Chris Joaquim and Spencer Torkelson, who will be going into ninth grade at Casa Grande High School this upcoming school year, are hoping to join that select group.
The two 13-year-olds, who turn 14 in August, were selected to the Northern California baseball team that will play in North Carolina at the Team USA National Identification Series in September.
There are 16 regional teams that will play against each other at the NTIS. The tournament is to find players to make next year's 15-under Team USA baseball team. Sixteen will be chosen from the NTIS. The other 16 kids are chosen from Junior Olympics play in Arizona over the summer.
Joaquim and Torkelson were identified as candidates for the team when they were playing at a tournament in Manteca. Joaquim plays for NorCal while Torkelson was playing with the Sierra Valley Storm.
After the tournament, both players along with Hance Smith from the Sierra Valley Storm and Petaluma National Little League World Series team, were asked to play in an All-Star game at Cal Berkeley.
Due to their summer schedule with the Storm, Smith and Torkelson were unable to make the game, and had an individual tryout at Drake High School.
"The tryout was pretty nerve wracking. I really didn't want to mess up," Torkelson said.
The two players took ground balls at third base and shortstop and took batting practice in front of scouts and coaches.
Both players had impressive showings, but Torkelson shined bright and made the team.
"I was pumped to make the team and felt really honored," Torkelson said.
Torkelson will mostly play third base for the Northern California team, but he was a star pitcher in Little League for Petaluma Valley. Torkelson pitched the Valley All-Star team to a win against Petaluma National the year the Nationals reached the Little League World Series.
"It was pretty cool beating them, because I've played with a bunch of those guys for the last five years," Torkelson said, although he was humble, saying it "wasn't my best game."
Joaquim was able to play in the All-Star game and had a solid showing. He usually plays the outfield and first base, but only pitched in the game, and retired three straight batters in his only inning of work.
Playing in high competition tournaments for years had Joaquim ready for the big game.
"I'm kind of used to playing good competition now, and that really helped going into the game," Joaquim said.
When Joaquim heard he made the team, he was excited for his next challenge.
"It was really cool to make the team and I felt accomplished it by working hard," Joaquim said.
Joaquim was not the Little League star that Torkelson was, but for reasons out of his control. He lived outside of the district lines for Little League, and if he hadn't, he probably would have been on the Petaluma National All-Star team.
Instead of Little League, Joaquim played Cal Ripken baseball, which has a 50-foot mound and 70-foot base paths, unlike the small Little League diamond. Runners take leads too.