The stopwatches in the straw hats are all lined up along the baselines, dissecting everything. From the way they walk, to the way they throw and swing a bat.
This weekend may cause some to shrink from that type of scrutiny.
Not the Nicks.Nick Basto
and Nick Travieso
have been waiting for this chance their whole lives. The two Archbishop McCarthy (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
standouts can always look to each other for confidence, for the self-assurance in knowing that they're in this together. They've known each other practically their whole lives, all the way back to when they both were 7 years old, when every little batter used to step away from the plate each time Travieso threw, and when each coach used to shake his head in amazement at how unconsciously smooth Basto was at such an early age.
The Under Armour All-American game, put together by the Baseball Factory and played today at Wrigley Field in Chicago, will feature 36 of the best high school players in the nation, selected exclusively from more than 400,000 high school players across the country. Over the first three years of the game, 88 of the 103 draft-eligible players competing in the game were selected in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, including 18 that were selected in the first round alone.
Basically, it pits the best against the best — including the Nicks, who combined to lead Archbishop McCarthy to a second-straight 4A Florida state baseball championship last spring and a mythical national championship by some media outlets.
They've both committed to Miami on baseball scholarships, and they're almost inseparable. Their grandparents escaped from oppressive Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in the 1960s, which led to better lives for each in the United States.
They both carry fiery personalities on the field, and are nearly mirror images of themselves off the field, ice smooth and confident, gregarious and approachable. They're also highly likely to be chosen among the top three rounds next June in the MLB draft.
That's about where the similarities end.
Travieso is a 6-foot-3, 210-pound righthanded power pitcher who's been consistently throwing in the mid-90s this summer. Basto is a smooth-as-silk 6-foot-2, 195-pound shortstop with a plus arm and quick, powerful swing.
Travieso's first love wasn't baseball. Basto's first love was.
"My first dreams were to play in the NHL, believe it or not," said Travieso, whose father, Dan, works as a manager for one of Juan Basto's medical centers. "When my grandparents moved to the US from Cuba, they moved to New York City, where my father fell in love with ice hockey. That's where I got it."
It led to more than a few strange looks.
Travieso laughed at the memory of walking in mid-July in south Florida, a Cuban kid regaled from head-to-toe in ice hockey gear.
"That was me, it doesn't exactly complete the puzzle does it," Travieso said, bellowing out a hearty laugh again. "I started playing hockey when I was 3, and baseball came later. Oh yeah, there were more than a few strange looks. Cubans don't play ice hockey, and on top of that, here I am playing 12 months a year in of all places Florida playing ice hockey. Yeah, that was strange for some."
What changed everything was one day when Travieso was 12 years old. His hockey schedule conflicted with a baseball game, and Dan Travieso asked his son to decide, baseball or ice hockey. It was baseball, a sport he mastered quickly, and was just as dominant in as hockey.
"I actually do miss hockey, but right now, my complete focus is on baseball and getting McCarthy a third-straight state championship, which I'm told has never been done before," Travieso said. "I stay in shape with hockey, but that's just messing around. I still hear it all of the time from other kids: 'Hockey, where does this come from?' The skates are still in my room and I have about 25 hockey sticks still in my garage. Whenever I get bored, I might fire a few pucks into the garage door. One time, though, I fired a slapshot that went through the kitchen window of the house and landed in the sink."
That's been it for the hockey.
Travieso has bigger, brighter concerns ahead. This weekend in Chicago is just the beginning.
"It really has blown me away, I still can't believe all of this," Travieso said. "You hear talk about the draft, things like that. I don't see any pressure with anything going to Miami, or being drafted. It's a win-win for me. But the experience of this game really helped me big time, because I'm in a different part of the country where I've never been. I'll be pitching before Major League scouts and hopefully their eyes will like me. Hopefully, when the draft comes around, they like me even more and this helps me get drafted. I love the pressure, I'm the guy who likes the bases loaded, two guys out, two strikes, give me the ball."
* * *
Basto has a sharp ability to deal with pressure, too. Call it part of his DNA. When Castro took over Cuba, his grandparents won a lottery that allowed them to leave Cuba. Juan Basto saw the time, commitment and diligence his father made and toiled to make a better life for him, and there was no way his son wouldn't be provided with a better life than he had growing up.
"It's why I love this country, why the United States is the best nation in the world, it gave Pascual and Esperanza Basto, my parents, a chance to live a better life, and there was no way my son wasn't going to have a better life than me," said Juan, an amiable barrel-chested, giving father of five whose parents moved to Florida in 1969. "My parents worked hard, and instilled that work ethic into me."
It explains why on summer Saturday mornings Nick Basto gets up for a strength coach and a group of kids to run that "damned hill."
It sits where there was once a landfill that's since sprouted grass and is on an inhuman incline. Still, six, eight, 10, 16 times, Nick Basto will run up it, and then down, up and then down, with that deep, heavy Florida heat ravaging him, and the fallen sweat stinging his eyes with every climb up.
"I've always set my own standards; to set that, you have to work hard. That came from my parents, they have given me a great life and a chance to succeed," Nick Basto said. "I think why I'm running, I think 'Let's do a half-mile', and my heart tells me to do a few miles. It's why I started running hills. It's mind blowing. It's one of the things that you have to conquer every time you get there. I use the hill every time to reach the Major Leagues. Every time you're on that hill, you have to make it to the top. There are people out there, kids my age, sitting on their butts doing nothing, and you're working hard to succeed. That freakin' hill, I won't lie to you, is the hardest obstacle I ever had to overcome."
Then Nick took a second and sat back, a smile creasing his face … "Yea, call me 'Nick, the hill climber,'" he said, as he laughed. "I didn't do them for nothing. I did them for a reason. That will always be a part of me."
Basto said this weekend has made him feel like a major-leaguer, a small slice of how a minute part of the baseball world lives. From someone asking for his dirty uniform to wash, to catered meals and luxury buses to travel in, it's been a terrific time that Basto said he won't forget any time soon.
"I know what all of the hard work went for now," he said. "I know each time I work out or play hard, I know that gets me one step closer to the big leagues. I'll admit it, I think about it, about being drafted. I can see myself playing in the majors. I want to feel the way it feels to be drafted. It's my dream. It's up to my family and me if I go, but I want to go. I can't wait to go back to [McCarthy], either. It's crazy, because we won a state championship, and now I'm playing here with the best of the best. This weekend is first. I want to know I gave it all I got; that I left my talent on the field. They're going to see the best of me."
Actually, a blood test would reveal that. It's in his DNA.