State’s top JUCO baseball players at Honkbal Tournament

You don’t have to play for a D-I college to get a chance to travel the world.

Right now, a team of junior college baseball players is hitting the practice field in Haarlem, Netherlands.  And that squad includes a handful of Arizona boys.

The players make up the NJCAA All-Stars, a 24-member team representing the United States in the popular Haarlem Honkbal Tournament just outside Amsterdam.

The Honkbal Tournament is one of the most prestigious international baseball events in the world, and is held every other year.  Fans can listen to the game via an internet broadcast – but you have to speak Dutch to know what’s going on.

This is just the first day of many in a far-away land for the U.S. team, as the tournament runs until July 18.  In 2008, when it was last held, the event drew 70,000 fans over the 20 games played.

Participants this year include the United States, Chinese Taipei, Cuba, Japan, Netherlands, and Venezuela.  The U.S. has won the event seven times, most recently in 2000, 2002, and 2008.

Six Arizona players will be participating, including two each from Cochise College in Douglas and Yavapai College in Prescott, and one each from Central Arizona College in Coolidge and Mesa Community College.

John Stratton from Arizona Western College is one of two assistants on this year’s coaching staff.  Stratton has been the head coach at AWC for 26 years, the longest-tenured baseball coach in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference.  In that time, he has taken the Matadors to three conference titles and two Region I championships.

The players representing Arizona include James Brooks and Wade Hinkle from Cochise.  Brooks, who can play either shortstop or second base, hit .347, with 42 RBIs, this season and will be playing for the University of Utah next season.  Hinkle is a first baseman with a .378 batting average and 67 RBIs that earned him All-Region honors.  He’s headed for Kansas State.

Yavapai sends a couple of pitchers, both righties.  Tyler Bremer finished the season for the Roughriders with a 2.90 ERA and 101 strikeouts.  He was selected in the 36th round of the MLB draft by the Chicago Cubs.  Pulama Silva ranked second in NJCAA D-I this year with 15 saves.  He had a 1.33 ERA with 66 strikeouts and is headed to Tucson next season to play for the University of Arizona.

Rounding out the group are Max Rossiter, a catcher from Central Arizona and Derek Cone, a right-handed pitcher from Mesa CC.  Rossiter hit .338 for a club that was ranked as high as No. 6 in the nation last season.  He was a First Team All-Region selection and named the Region I Defensive Player of the Year.

Cone was one of the top-ranked pitchers in the NJCAA D-II ranks this past year, boasting a 1.92 ERA with 105 strikeouts to help Mesa become the No. 2 team in the nation.  A draft selection of the L.A. Dodgers, he will be on the mound next season at Brigham Young University.

Honkbal Tournament alumni include some prominent names, including Major League players Dustin Pedroia, Aaron Hill, Conner Jackson, and Rickie Weeks.

(Photo: NJCAA)