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COMMENTARY: Prospects plentiful on Las Vegas diamonds

He was drafted in the 41st round by the Philadelphia Phillies and was the 1,232nd player taken overall, but when you get into a range where your placement is defined by four numbers, well, you can be assured no one is lining up with a signing bonus that includes many zeroes.

It’s like being cast as an extra in a movie scene that takes place in Times Square … at 11:59 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.

But there was still something special about Bryce Massanari, something exclusive about the former Centennial High School standout.

He was the only prep baseball player from Las Vegas drafted by a major league team in 2004.

Meaning: Not that long ago.

"It will never be that way again," UNLV coach Tim Chambers said. "It has gotten better and better from that time and will continue to do so. I sure hope it does for our program’s well-being."

The College World Series began Friday from Omaha, Neb., and included in the eight-team field are programs that give Chambers hope his also might one day realize the dream of playing for a national championship.

"I didn’t know where Stony Brook was," he said. "I had to look it up. And take nothing away from them, but how many kids grow up saying they want to play for Kent State? It’s a great story. It lets us all believe we can get there, too."

So, in a different way, does this: As the valley has increased its population over time, so, too, has the quality of prep baseball, so much so that a dreaded C word no longer strikes doubt and fear into those young players who venture past state lines on Interstate 15.

California.

The better local teams have more than held their own lately when encountering those from the state with more than 37 million people, the result of a year-round commitment and better coaching and travel ball programs and, mostly, talented kids.

Eight years after Massanari was selected, Joey Gallo of Bishop Gorman was the 39th overall pick in the first compensation round, and this week got a reported $2.25 million signing bonus from the Texas Rangers to bypass attending Louisiana State and head directly to a professional career.

Gallo was followed over the next few days in the draft by several more high school players from Las Vegas and also ones from college who prepped locally. Three former Gorman players – Johnny Field, Stephen Manthei and Joey Rickard – play for Arizona, which beat Florida State 4-3 in 12 innings Friday in the College World Series.

"I think growing up, all of us wanted to prove that the kids from a small state like Nevada could go and beat those from California," Gallo said. "And we did. A lot. To have some of those same guys (represent) us in the College World Series is a great thing. It’s a great event.

"I also think playing with and watching what Bryce has done allows other kids to dream about reaching the major leagues."

Oh, yeah. Him.

Bryce Harper was the No. 1 overall pick of the Washington Nationals by way of College of Southern Nevada and has made prophetic the words of Chambers, his former coach, who said the young star would reach the bigs within two years of being drafted.

Harper is also a once-in-maybe-20-years sort of player, so while other local products might imagine themselves in the place he now resides, reaching it is an entirely different story. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that Las Vegas arguably is better at the prep baseball level than at any point in its history.

Chambers believes so. When recruiting California against annual college powers, he is often involved with the third or fourth level of player, which is still better than the best prospects in most states. But he first will chase the top handful of local prep talents before also heading to Arizona and Colorado and Utah.

Times have changed from when the only telephone ringing of a high school player in Las Vegas on draft day was at the home of Bryce Massanari.

"I remember coaching at (Gorman) in the early 1990s and waiting for my best player to finish with basketball practice so I could hit with him in the cages at 5:30 or 6 at night," Chambers said. "Now, kids play 150 baseball games a year. They’re receiving tremendous development at young ages. They have totally bought in to being baseball players.

"Las Vegas has always had some talent, but not like now. Not close."

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