Approximately 188 baseball players from the ages of 13 to 18 years old from across the United States had the chance to learn from some former elite-level players and coaches at the fifth annual Hank Aaron Invitational at the Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla.
Arriving on July 27th, Valencia resident and Oaks Christian junior-to-be shortstop Gianni Horvat was one of the lucky players to be selected to take part in the unforgettable experience.
“It’s a blessing,” Horvat said. “I was really psyched. I told my mom and my friends and they were all just excited for me and I was excited to be there and have the opportunity to play.”
Working on drills and taking direction from some of Major League Baseball’s greatest minds over the course of the week, Horvat and the rest of the participants focused on the mental side of the game.
“All of us were learning from each other and the major league coaches like Pat Mahomes, Dmitri Young and a lot of other coaches like Jerry Manuel,” Horvat said. “They were all very supportive and really focused on the IQ of the player rather than the physical attributes of the player.
“They did a lot of talking so we did a lot of fielding work and took it step-by-step. Focused on getting behind the ball, making sure that you are going from right to left, making sure that your hips are centered to first base when you’re making the throw and following your throw, my hitting too. Doing situational hitting like hit and runs, run and hits, a lot of defense and recovering everything so that control was really part of our game.”
Flourishing in the numerous drills and skills tests, Horvat’s talent and knowledge of the game quickly separated himself from the rest of the pack. As a result, he was selected as one of 44 players to take part in a showcase game on Aug. 3 at SunTrust Park in Atlanta, Georgia, home of the Atlanta Braves.
“It was crazy,” Horvat said. “I just looked up and was like, ‘I’m almost there to my goal. It’s a reality soon.’ I was just really excited to be with my buddies having a good time playing baseball.
Splitting the players into two teams, Navy and White, Horvat was named to the Navy roster that ended up losing 5-0 to the White team.
Although Horvat’s team didn’t win the contest, he came away a better, more intelligent player thanks to the training and coaching he received.
“I feel like I grew pretty much as a player,” Horvat said. “I’m focusing more on my mental game. It’s just something that’s important to me because without your mental game you can’t really go anywhere. I feel like they trained me as an individual to take a step back, take a deep breath and focus on what’s happening now instead of in the future.”
With alumni like Cincinnati Reds pitcher Hunter Greene, Tampa Bay’s Taj Bradley and Oakland’s Lawrence Butler, Horvat is confident that this is just one of many steps that will lead him to the Major Leagues.
“They did it before me so I feel like it’s really possible,” he said. “They were like my inspiration right there. I always looked up to Hunter Greene, I didn’t know him personally, but I felt like I did know him because I always saw him play. He really is my inspiration right there.”