On a diamond in Georgia last month, a long way from Tuckertown Park and Old Mountain Field, with scouts and college coaches jammed into the bleachers, three baseball players from South Kingstown showcased their talents.
Ben Brutti, Jack Wentworth and Zac Zyons were chosen for the Prep Baseball Report FuturesGames, one of the nation’s premier events for rising stars. They had all been in the college recruiting waters before at showcases and travel ball tournaments, but this represented a headfirst dive.
They were glad to do it together and proud to represent their hometown.
“It was awesome,” Wentworth said. “No other kids on the team had that many kids from their school. It was pretty cool. South Kingstown, being a public school, too, it makes us feel like it’s such a strong program.”
“I think it’s really big that three kids from one high school were selected to go,” Brutti said. “It says a lot about how good the high school program and the coaching staff is.”
The trio earned their spots thanks to good performances in earlier PBR showcase events. The Future Games bring together players who are rising juniors or younger, on teams representing states or regions. Rhode Island doesn’t have its own team for the event, but Brutti, Wentworth and Zyons were invited to join Team Connecticut, along with La Salle’s Jacob Gaudreau and Owen Zadrozny, Portsmouth’s Tim McGuire and Bishop Hendricken’s Brandyn Durand.
The Rhode Island contingent shared the field with standouts from around the country. The event – which debuted in 2011 – has an alumni list that includes a host of college stars and top big league prospects.
“The level of competition was what stood out,” Zyons said. “Everyone there was good. It was just great playing with the best kids from all around the country.”
The event featured the usual showcase fare - batting practice, fielding drills, 60-yard dash - plus full games. Brutti, Wentworth and Zyons all left feeling like they performed well.
The experience was a highlight in a busy summer. Brutti and Zyons play travel ball for the Ocean State Makos, while Wentworth plays for the New Bedford Bay Sox. Schedules include tournaments, showcases and prospect camps at colleges.
For better or for worse, a busy slate has become typical for athletes with aspirations of playing at the next level, in any sport. The machine of recruiting hums along, and no one wants to get left behind. The experiences of Brutti, Wentworth and Zyons provide a window into that world.
For Wentworth and Zyons, rising juniors, it was an important time.
“This is the key summer,” said Chuck Wentworth, Jack’s dad. “A lot of people think they can wait, but you’ve really got to do it now to get the exposure. Because, now you’re on their board.”
Brutti is a year younger in school but jumped at the chance.
“There are only a certain amount of opportunities to earn a roster spot,” said Bob Brutti, Ben’s father. “If a kid is really interested in a certain school, both the school and the player tend to act and need to act relatively quickly.”
The Bruttis have experience in the recruiting world. Ben’s older brother, Bo, is a pitcher at URI, following an all-state career with the Rebels. He also played in the Future Games. His recruitment and his transition to the college world were smooth, another piece of South Kingstown baseball pride.
“His coaches at South Kingstown really did a good job preparing him for a baseball schedule and an academic schedule,” Bob Brutti said. “If he came from a different upbringing with high school baseball, I don’t know if it would have worked out the way it did. To have his high school coaches be mentors for him was huge. We were very fortunate to have that.”
Ben Brutti, just a rising sophomore, was one of the youngest players on the Team Connecticut roster for the Future Games. He pitched well, striking out the side in one of his innings.
“I was really excited,” Ben Brutti said. “It’s been a goal of mine to go to ever since my brother went. I took it as a really good experience to pitch in front of all the coaches and scouts. It was really cool to pitch there.”
Even with radar guns tracking every pitch, Brutti didn’t feel pressure.
“I just try to do my best and whatever happens, happens,” he said.
That perspective is helpful as a baseball career rapidly develops. It was just four years ago that Brutti, Wentworth and Zyons played on the South Kingstown Little League all-star squad that captured the district championship. Bob Brutti was the manager.
“It’s almost too fast,” Bob Brutti said. “The kids are asked to make an adult decision and they’re young. It’s hard for them to put things in the big picture. You have coaches, each of them are telling them different things - how good they are, what they’re going to do. It can be a little bit overwhelming. There’s a lot of pressure and stress on the kids. Your job as a parent is to try and remove that as much as possible. At the end of the day, it’s all about having fun and doing what you love. If you see the stress and the pressure mount up on the child, that’s when the fun gets taken out of it.”
Zyons views the pressure as its own kind of fun. It was the same when he took the field at McCoy Stadium, as a starting freshman shortstop for South Kingstown High School’s 2018 state championship team.
“I felt pressure, but my thing is pressure is a blessing,” Zyons said. “If you’re in a position where you feel pressure, then you’re doing something right.”
And once the first pitch is thrown, instincts take over.
“The pressure goes away,” Zyons said. “As soon as I stepped up to the plate for my first at-bat, the pressure was gone. I just did what I do in any other game.”
Zyons has a unique perspective on high-stakes competition. His father, Mark, has caddied for Billy Andrade on the PGA and Champions Tour for more than 20 years. Zac sometimes joins them at tour stops.
“I know Tiger Woods and Tiger Woods is nervous when he goes to the tee. If you’re not nervous in sports, you don’t have that burning desire,” Mark Zyons said. “Failure is part of the game. If you won every time in baseball or golf, it would get kind of boring. If you’re prepared to play and you do your best, you walk away with your head up and say, ‘That was fun.’ One of my mottos is whoever has the most fun in the end wins. My whole thing with Zac was just relax, breathe, do your thing, have fun and everything will take care of itself. You could tell he was having a lot of fun.”
Zac Zyons will head to Florida for a marquee tournament with his AAU team in October. For now, it’s time for a breather.
“With the research we’ve done, if you’re good enough, they’ll find you,” Mark Zyons said. “I don’t feel like you have to go to every single showcase. You still have to be a kid. We’re not rushing through it.”
For Wentworth, the Future Games were the end of a grind that essentially hasn’t stopped since last fall, when he started basketball practice at South Kingstown. He took some time off after the Future Games, but was back on the field this past weekend for a prospect camp at the University of Maine. If anything, he was more energized after the Future Games experience.
“Futures is kind of what lit that spark,” Wentworth said. “I get most of the fun out of working hard. Once I was invited, that’s what motivated me to work harder. I wanted to perform. That’s what motivated me, every day, to put in the work.”
There’s plenty of work to do off the field, too. Coaches can’t contact players until Sept. 1 of their junior year but they can talk to players at camps and can connect over the phone, as long as the player makes the call.
“The landscape has changed for recruiting. It’s a different world,” Chuck Wentworth said. “My wife should be a consultant on this stuff. My daughter is a dance major at Elon and she went through this - reaching out to people, getting yourself out there – and they worked a lot on what to say, what to write in emails.”
Amid all the talk of what’s next, there’s also an appreciation for the present, even at an event with future in its name.
“It’s been a crazy summer, but I love it,” Jack Wentworth said. “I love playing ball.”
And the South Kingstown trio loved being together on the big stage.
“For me, that was the best part of it,” Bob Brutti said. “I don’t think the kids realize it as much because they see each other every day. But it all goes by so fast. Seeing those kids play together at that level was really neat. I don’t have all the rosters in front of me, but there probably were not three kids from the same public high school in the whole event. That says a lot about the coaches in the high school baseball program, and all the baseball programs we have here in town.”