When they suited up for summer baseball, hundreds of miles away from each other, Plainview teammates Newman Hoben and Garrett Foster never thought they’d wind up in the same place.
And of all places Port St. Lucie, Fla., in opposite dugouts.
Hoben and Foster completed a long, strange route to each other on Tuesday, as the rising seniors faced off in the opening round of the 17 and under Don Mattingly World Series.
Following a run to the Class 3A state semifinals with Plainview in the spring, the two went their separate ways. Foster shipped off for a summer with the Burkburnett (Texas) Blacksox 17u-Black team, while Hoben went to play for the Cherry Creek 17’s in Centennial, Colo., a suburb of Denver. Successful campaigns with their clubs led them to Tuesday’s head-to-head matchup.
The two found out last week they would be facing each other.
“I knew he was playing in the same league,” said Hoben, who won the Colorado Connie Mack state championship with Cherry Creek to earn the World Series berth. “But knowing that we made it to the same tournament was pretty exciting.”
For Foster, the tour with the Blacksox has become an annual routine, but for Hoben, linking up with a Colorado youth baseball powerhouse turned out to be a stroke of good fortune.
Foster, an All-Ardmoreite Super Team selection as a junior, is in his second stint with the Blacksox. A coach at an Oklahoma State baseball camp recommended the Blacksox program to Foster, and the shortstop/third basemen has spent his last two summers honing his game in Texas.
Burkburnett qualified for the Don Mattingly World Series by winning a tournament at Rice University in Houston.
“We get to practice everyday, we have college coaches helping us out and instructing us every day,” Foster said. “And we get experience playing against good teams.”
Hoben’s Colorado connection came via Larry Milligan, who is a relative of Hoben’s current girlfriend. One day last year, Milligan and Hoben got to talking baseball, and Milligan mentioned how one of his good friends was involved with the Cherry Creek program and was looking for recruits for its Connie Mack League travel team.
Hoben tried out for the team over the Christmas break. He made the squad, completed his junior year at Plainview, then left for Colorado on May 30 to live with one of the Cherry Creek coaches.
“I had some doubts I would make it, but after the first week I was comfortable with everything,” Hoben said. “I felt like it would help me in getting ready to leave for college.
“It’s really given me an extra head start. I feel like getting the extra innings and games in will just give me an edge.”
That’s the goal of both Cherry Creek and Burkburnett. Residency programs, expanded schedules and games against other elite travel teams provide Hoben and Foster with an advantage entering high school ball in the spring. Both clubs have a long history of sending players to college programs and even Major League Baseball.
In Foster’s and Hoben’s showdown on Tuesday, Burkburnett edged Cherry Creek 3-1. The loss was Cherry Creek’s first in 18 games, but it rebounded to beat the Ontario Blue Jays (Can.) 5-3 in its second game of the day.
In the first game, Hoben started at third base and was 3-for-5, while Foster, who started at shortstop, had a hit and reached base twice. Afterward, the two teammates had time to reflect on what’s been a baseball-filled offseason.
“We just talked about how the programs were, asked if we played any other teams we’ll be playing in the next few days,” Foster said.
Foster estimates he’s played close to 80 games this summer — more than two high school seasons — but isn’t experiencing burnout.
“Nope,” Foster said flatly when asked about if he was tired. “I love it.”