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Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Area Code Baseball: A history


When this year's eight Area Code teams -- with rosters that include players from around the nation -- take the field in California, in Aug. 5-10 it will mark the 26th year of the Area Code Games. What started out in 1986 as small regional event in Lodi, California, has grown into one of the highest regarded high school talent tournaments in the country.

The founder of the Area Code Games, Bob Williams, collaborated with the Northern California Major League Scouts to put together the best high school underclassman players from geographical areas based on telephone area codes. The premise was to have the top players compete against each other using wood bats and dress in the respective Area Code Teams Major League uniform. This has changed, with the players wearing Area Code Baseball uniforms and the hats of their respective MLB teams.

This process has proven to be a winning formula for high school talent identification and evaluation. The Area Code Games have produced more than 500 Major League players -- a statistic that continues to grow.

The main ingredient of Area Code Baseball's success is the player selection process. In an era of high school showcases across the country that charge players a substantial fee to play in the event regardless of ability, the Area Code players, conversely, are not charged to play in the games or even to try out. In fact, all tryouts are by invitation only and in the majority of cases, players have to be nominated by a Major League scout to be considered for an invitation.

With these stringent requirements to participate in the Area Code Games, the level of talent that is assembled each year is staggering. Every major league team is represented at the event, with some teams having as many as 12 scouts from their organization in attendance. In addition, college coaches are allowed to attend the games.

The uniqueness of the Area Code Games separates from anything that is available to the premier high school player. In 2002 Student Sports Inc. acquired Area Code Baseball. In the years that Student Sports owned the Area Code Games, the percentage of Area Code players selected in the MLB Draft reached new peaks.

In July 2008, ESPN took over the Area Code Games. In 2011, New Balance came in as the presenting sponsor of Area Code Baseball.