There's a new baseball team in town, but this time of year, they don't stay in town much at all. The Curve Juniors are a group of elite traveling baseball players under the age of 16 from throughout Central Pennsylvania. They come from as close as Altoona, Hollidaysburg and Tyrone to as far away as Johnstown, Homer City and even Mifflinburg. They are the all-stars of the all-stars, their sights set on college baseball and beyond.
Coaches Dave Brisbin and Mark Helsel, and assistant instructor John Wilson, come with impressive college credentials and connections. They spend their time traveling up and down the Atlantic coast giving these local ball players a chance to test their talents against some of the best competition in the nation and build a baseball resume tailor-made for college scouts.
"Colleges don't care if you've batted .600 in your local league," said Coach Mark Helsel via phone from the road. "A lot of top programs are looking for kids who are well-traveled and represent their teams with class."
The coaching staff also stresses excellence in the classroom, knowing many universities can't offer full rides, but can supplement athletic scholarships with academic financial aid. It understands the recruiting process and the value of networking, and have established a relationship with norcalbaseball.org, considered the top travel organization in the country.
The Curve Juniors are not for just anyone. The team stresses that the commitment level of the players involved must be as high as their goals on the diamond. They've been competitive throughout their travels this summer, bringing home the Morgantown, W. Va. Championship and advancing to multiple tournament finals.
This season marks their first full traveling schedule, but the work won't end when summer comes to a close. During the team's training academy from January through March, the players hone their skills with a focus on fundamentals, working on everything from pick-off moves to bunting techniques to base-running.
"We're teaching the kids how to play the game right," said Helsel. "And if you see our team, nine guys sprint to their positions and sprint off the field. They pick each other up for everything. When you get kids how know how to play that way, they set the standard."
Imagine what these highly-dedicated and fundamentally-focused players could do for their high school squads come springtime.
The Altoona Curve have given the traveling squad more than the use of their name. During the professional off-season, the Curve Juniors work out using the batting cages and other facilities at Blair County Ballpark. The Juniors also hosted a game against Greensburg this season at the BCB, and will be honored by the double-a club on Curve Junior night, Aug. 31.
The Curve Juniors are the real deal, and it's just a matter of time before we see a crop of local stars realizing their dream of graduating from the traveling squad to the ranks of Division I college baseball. Their Web site is www.CurveJuniors.com.
Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.