was the final player chosen by the Fire summer baseball team when he was 12 years old.
"At our first practice, the players on my team asked why did we recruit him," coach Rob Rotola told MaxPreps. "He had not played competitive baseball (previously) and actually was our bottom player. I saw that he could really, really run and was a lefty hitter. I had a vision.
"I saw some quality, but he was raw and undeveloped. He was our 12th-worst fielder and hitter at age 12. Then (over the years) he was eighth, fifth and now clearly is in our top three. We have three legitimate guys who have a chance to get drafted out of high school."
Today, Birdwell is a 5-foot-11, 155-pound junior center fielder for Word of Life (Wichita, Kan.)
and still is being coached by the visionary Rotola. With excellent coaching and a ton of hard work, he has blossomed into a tremendous success story.
Birdwell, who runs 60 yards in a swift 6.7 seconds, has developed into Kansas' all-time stolen base king. Last year he led the state with 40 steals and again is the No. 1 thief with 40 in 43 attempts. In less than three years, he has stolen 109 bases to easily surpass the previous state career record of 89.
He has been thrown out five times and picked off seven times in his career.
"It's pretty cool," Birdwell said of his state record. "It's quite an honor and I give God all the glory."
As a leadoff hitter, Birdwell constantly is on base and once there he drives opposing pitchers crazy. Coached not only by Rotola but also his own father, Chris Birdwell, Blaine has been taught the art of when to steal, how to read pitchers, get good jumps and timing.
"I got my speed from doing speed ladders," Birdwell explained. "It's like the tire drill they do in football. It gives me quick feet and fast-twitch muscles that I need for quick explosion out of a set position. Coach and my dad engraved that in my head.
"I have a good eye at the plate. I try to see as many pitches as I can for the (benefit of the) No. 2-3-4 holes. I try to get in the pitcher's head and throw off his mechanics."
Put it all together and he not only is the team leader in steals, but also in batting average (.551) and runs scored (41). He has a glittering .604 on-base percentage. He has driven in 20 runs, walked 11 times and struck out just nine times in 87 at-bats. He has made just one error as the center fielder.
Rotola says proudly, "He has an average college arm and a very legitimate stick and has very legitimate speed. Being a lefty, he gets a lot of infield hits and bunt hits. They've known he can run well for years and still can't throw him out. He's a really good kid. His character will continue to elevate him. He's truly a success story."
With more than a year to add to his state records, Birdwell still seeks that elusive first steal of home plate.
"I'd love to steal home. That would be awesome," he says with a hopeful voice that indicates it's probably only a matter of time.*
Junior lefty Alex Winkelman
struck out 15 and scattered five hits as Crystal City (Mo.) blanked Orchard Farm (St. Charles, Mo.), 2-0.
* Joey Gallo
clubbed five home runs and drove in nine runs to lead Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) to a 13-2 victory over Alta (Sandy, Utah) and a 36-1 rout of Cyprus (Magna, Utah).
* Oaks Christian (Westlake Village, Calif.) rolled past O'Gorman (Sioux Falls, S.D.), 22-3, as senior Trevor Gretzky
hit for the cycle during a 5-for-5 effort and drove in a school-record nine runs. The son of hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky will play baseball next year for San Diego State.
* After both teams combined for 12 runs in the seventh inning, Farmington (Mich.)
nipped West Bloomfield (Mich.)
, 23-22, in eight innings.
* Junior Tanner Garry
struck out 17 while pitching Fort Cherry (McDonald, Pa.) to a 3-2 victory over Southmoreland (Alverton, Pa.) in eight innings. Normally an infielder, Garry gave up just two hits in his first start on the mound.
* Bob Jones (Madison, Ala.)
outlasted Sparkman (Harvest, Ala.)
, 9-8, in 17 innings.
* Kyle Lacy
homered in the seventh inning off big-time pitcher Archie Bradley to give Santa Fe (Edmond, Okla.) a 6-5 victory over Broken Arrow (Okla.).
* Bath County (Owingsville, Ky.) sophomore Cable Wright
reached base 25 consecutive times during a six-game stretch. He had 17 hits, seven walks and was hit once.
* Third baseman Case Munson
belted three home runs – including a walk-off grand slam – and drove in nine runs to give Francis Howell (St. Charles, Mo.) a 13-10 victory over Vianney (Kirkwood, Mo.).Continue reading