LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Some of Kevin Ross' favorite memories playing baseball are from his days in Little League. And now that he's one of the most highly touted prospects in the country, he hasn't forgotten about that time in his life. Ross helps coach a Little League team each spring, hoping to help influence the players who are following in his footsteps. Combine that with the skills he's displayed on the diamond this week, and Ross is an easy choice for the New Balance Kevin Youkilis "Heart and Hustle Award."
"Older kids used to come out when I was that age and I looked up to them," said Ross, a rising senior at Niles West (Skokie, Ill.). "I see myself in them, and I know how important that time was for me."
The kids would be wise to pay extremely close attention to Ross. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound third baseman is 5-for-10 at the dish in his team's first four games. He also showed off his wheels with a stolen base.
"I came in this week expecting great things from myself," Ross said. "And so far it's gone pretty well."
Game 2: Kansas City Royals vs. Oakland A's
Brody Russell came to the Area Code Games looking to make a name for himself. One of the lesser-known prospects on the A's, Russell caught the eye of the scouts today with a sharply struck single, some aggressive baserunning and a run scored in his team's 7-5 loss to the Royals. Back in his hometown, the rising senior from Centennial (Bakersfield, Calif.) has already made a name for himself thanks to his community service working with the Special Olympics, and that makes him another winner of our New Balance Kevin Youkilis "Heart & Hustle Award."
"A couple years ago I went out to an event for the first time and helped the guys out however they needed and it was a blast," Russell said. "Since then I've kept going back. It's great because you're helping out and it also makes you feel good about yourself."
Russell had to feel good about his contributions to the A's today. He helped break open a 1-1 game by singling to lead off the bottom of the fifth. He moved to third on a single and then scored the go-ahead run on another hit. It looked like it would prove to be the winning run until the Royals rallied late to come away with the win.
Game 3: New York Yankees vs. Texas Rangers
For Leon Byrd, being an active member of the community is second nature. For as long as he can remember, Byrd has spent a portion of his Thanksgiving at a retirement home sharing his dinner with those who would otherwise be alone on the holiday. After reaching base three times, scoring three runs, swiping two bags and making a sensational diving catch for the Rangers in their 9-3 win over the Yankees, he picks up the New Balance Kevin Youkilis "Heart & Hustle Award."
"I know that I'm fortunate in so many ways," said Byrd, a rising senior at Cypress Ranch (Cypress, Texas), "so helping those less fortunate is something I like to do."
Byrd's father began visiting the retirement home on Thanksgiving as part of his fraternity's continuing outreach in the community, and he carried on the tradition with his son from an early age.
"Some of the folks don't have any family and don't have anyone to share the day with," Byrd said. "They appreciate having us around."
His presence on the diamond was a big part of the Rangers' blowout victory. In addition to scoring a team-high three runs on the afternoon, the center fielder made one of the best defensive plays of the week when he laid out for a low liner that seemed destined to drop in front of him.
Game 4: Cincinnati Reds vs. Washington Nationals
Forgive us for making a small tweak to the name of today's award, but you'll understand why we did it in a moment. When the Cincinnati Reds took on the Washington Nationals in the final game of the day, scouts who were slumping in their seats after a long day of action suddenly started scrambling for their radar guns. Reds phenom Joey Gallo had unexpectedly taken the mound and was warming up. The rising senior out of Bishop Gorman (Henderson, Nev.) prefers to play in the infield, but his skills on the mound are too good to ignore. He proved that when he hit 94 mph multiple times in his two innings of work. Combine that with his work with the Miracle League, and Gallo takes home the New Balance Kevin Youkilis "Heart & Heat Award." See what we did there?
Gallo flashed a filthy curveball in addition to his mid-90s fastball, a combination that puts him among the top 10 pitching prospects at the Area Code Games. Sounds like a pretty good fallback if his dreams of making The Show as a position player don't work out.
So we've established the heat. What about the heart? That comes through Gallo's work with the Miracle League, a baseball program for kids with disabilities.