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Top 12-year-olds sought for national squad

Working with a player at a Florida camp.
Working with a player at a Florida camp.
Photo courtesy of Joe Keller

The top 12-year-old baseball players in the country will compete for spots on a national team being started through a baseball program in California.

Phenom Nation of Moreno Valley will be conducting a 12U invitational baseball camp Dec. 2-4 in Miami. The camp will be held at Florida International University, with FIU coach Henry "Turtle" Thomas, formerly of Louisana State University, on hand to assist.

A total of 100 kids will be invited to the camp, but nearly 90 percent of the attendees will go home disappointed. From youth showing up to the mini-camp, only 12 will be chosen for the elite national team. Ten of the 12 most likely will be pitchers, as well as positional players, Phenom Nation's camp director and general manager Joe Keller said.

Youth chosen for the squad will play in top national tournaments, such as Cooperstown, Cal Ripken tournaments and the Triple Crown New York City Wood Bat Experience. Because of the squad's talent, the team will play up a couple of age groups normally when in tournaments. The team has the goal of playing in the Elite 32 World Series. The team will also travel to Puerto Rico and other foreign locales.

Before balking at 12-year-old kids traveling to foreign lands for some sort of baseball factory, know that Keller, who has 20 years of coaching experience, has the endeavor on a level “way beyond just baseball.” He noted it will be a summer program, with kids not missing school for national team events.

“I am not going to preach on the value of education and then have kids miss 10 days in the school year for tournaments.” Keller said.

Keller said that there are no other national programs like his that will focus on making not just great ballplayers better, but 12-year old kids better kids. The plan is to launch the program for 12-year-olds this year and as this group of athletes ages up to have both 13U and 12U teams next year. It is Keller's hope to have that continue annually until the program gets to where it is running 12U to 18U teams every single year.

However, once a youth is on the team, there is no guarantee he stays with the team as it advances through the Phenom Nation system, according to Keller. He noted regardless how talented a young man might be, if he is a problem on or off the field or ifs his parents are a problem, that young man will not be around for long.

“If a player misbehaves in a restaurant, he won't be a part of the team,” Keller said. “They are not going to use bad language. If the parents fight or are obnoxious, they will not be with the program.”

“It's been my vision for awhile to pull together some of the top youth baseball players in the United States of America,” Keller said. “The reason I want to do this is to give youth an opportunity that is so special … I want 12-year-olds to have the experiences of a lifetime through this program.”

Youth in the program will get experienced trainers working to get the most out of the individual players' talents.

The summer team will play 70-75 games depending on how deep it goes in some tournaments. Youth will not spend the whole summer traveling around together, Keller said. He noted that the youth will often arrive at the tournament city two or three days beforehand to get some practice in together.

Keller noted with the backers that the program has established, financial assistance will be provided for family needing some assistance in meeting the team fees.

Individuals seeking information should e-mail All players must be signed up by Nov. 20 for insurance purposes.


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