Lane Decker had a vision when he helped start the OKC Sandlot in 2008.
Decker, a regional scout with the San Diego Padres, wanted to help place local players in college programs, but also get to know them as a scout.
“The way the draft works now, it's not about just going in and evaluating tools and determining whether the kid's a player or not,” Decker said. “We need to know more about those players. And even having these kids on our team, I like to have kids that may not be drafted out of high school but I think they have the potential to play professional baseball, even after maybe four years of school and they're going out as seniors to play.”
The team-building strategy has been successful, as the Sandlot won the 2011 Connie Mack state title and the 2012 American Legion state title. On Thursday, the Connie Mack state tournament in Enid begins with the Sandlot as the top seed, which earns a first-round bye.
“Our main goal is to win the Connie Mack state tournament,” Sandlot coach Todd George said. “Even though it is a pro environment and everything, our main goal is to win every single ballgame, too.”
George, who was recently an assistant at Southwestern Oklahoma State, has been the coach since former MLB and Oklahoma State standout Monty Fariss stopped coaching the team.
So far, that's been a perfect fit.
“He's a good teacher of the game mentally and how to prepare,” Decker said. “He's been good with them.”
The Sandlot (30-8) features players from primarily the Oklahoma City metro, but also Matt Johnson from Hollis, Byng's Joe Nemecek and Tyler Pierce, and Arizona's Matt Milnick. Milnick has signed with Oklahoma Christian and moved to Oklahoma City early.
The team is filled with some stars, too.
Deer Creek's Caleb Eldridge, who is committed to Oklahoma State, has been an anchor for the team and could be drafted next year.
“I've got a good situation,” George said. “You look at the likes of Caleb Eldridge. He's going to be a big pro guy next year and has a chance to be drafted pretty high.”
Johnson, though, is intriguing at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds. He started as a pitcher, but a shoulder injury has him limited to just first base or designated hitter. Still, he's found a college to play at in Oklahoma Wesleyan University.
“It's a success story when he didn't have a place to play and it ends up that there is a college that does have interest in him,” Decker said.
“I put this team together more so I can get to know some of the better players in the area and help them move on to colleges. So far we've had a good year.”
2013 Connie Mack State Tournament
David Allen Memorial Ballpark, Enid
Southmoore vs. Woodward Minors, noon
Enid Minors vs. Woodward majors, 2:30 p.m.
OKC Drillers vs. Southwest Shockers, 5 p.m.
Cleveland County Boomers vs. Enid Majors, 7:30 p.m.
*OKC Sandlot has first-round bye