Summer ball hasn't stopped for OPRF shortstop

Ballplayer spends off-season tripping out on baseball

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By BRAD SPENCER

It's been a wild summer for Jo Jo Maldonado, OPRF High School's standout baseball player. And the vacation doesn't seem to be anywhere near over.

Maldonado, who turned 16 on July 12, has been jet-setting around the country playing baseball, and he may soon be headed out of the country.

As of last week, Maldonado was in Marietta, Ga., helping his traveling baseball team, the DuPage Diamondbacks, at the Continental Amateur Baseball Association World Series. The team was 2-1 in series action, but Maldonado was to embark on another baseball trip before the conclusion of the tournament. On Saturday morning, the incoming junior shortstop flew to Charlotte, N.C., to tryout for the 2007 USA Baseball 16-and-under Youth National Team. Last month, while Maldonado was playing with the Diamondbacks in Jupiter, Fla., he was invited to what seemed like an impromptu tournament. While the Diamondbacks had been ousted from the 2007 Junior Olympic Championships with a 2-3 record, Maldonado must have made an impression with USA Baseball scouts.

After scattering nine hits, including three doubles, in three games, he was invited back for a showcase tournament, where players would be selected to tryout for the USA team.

"It was crazy because I thought it was just a tournament," said Maldonado in a phone interview from his hotel room in Marietta. "I wasn't even really aware there was a USA team. But now it's a big goal to make that team. I'm really excited just to be trying out, but I want to make the team."

Results of the tryout, according to Maldonado, were expected to be announced tomorrow.

"He has a very good chance of making that team," said OPRF head baseball coach Chris Ledbetter. "The way he has been playing and the buzz I hear from people make me think he has a very good shot."

If he's selected, Maldonado will pack his bags yet again, this time traveling to training camp in Miami, Fla., and then possibly to Barquisimeto, Venezuela to represent USA Baseball at the International Baseball Federation World Championships that run from August 17-26.

Maldonado, who transferred to OPRF from Guerin Prep before his sophomore year, said he's enjoying his whirlwind summer.

"I love it. I love baseball, so the more I play the better it is," he said. "It also helps me get my name out there a little bit more."

During the spring, Maldonado helped the Huskies to a 30-win season, batting .363 with 30 RBIs. Despite suffering from minor tendonitis in his elbow, he hasn't let up over the summer. As of last week, Maldonado was hitting .497 with four homers, nine doubles and four triples. The 6-foot, 175-pound River Forester had only committed one error the entire summer.

Maldonado has been able to keep in touch with his family along the way. His father and two brothers drove out to Georgia to watch him play, and were planning on traveling to North Carolina for the USA Baseball trials.

"I can't explain it to you; it's unbelievable what he has accomplished," said Maldonado's father, Jose. "Jo has worked real hard for it. It's not easy. We never thought he'd be doing this so early."

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