By Bob Behre
Team USA second baseman Anthony Volpe stopped in at Diamond Nation right before the holidays to visit and work with one of his favorite coaches, Travis Anderson.
Volpe, who spent many of his formative years developing his baseball skills right here at Diamond Nation, was fresh off another remarkable performance for Team USA. Volpe and Delbarton teammate Jack Leiter represented New Jersey in a very big way, helping to guide Team USA to a dominating championship run at the COPABE Pan American Games.
As someone who has covered baseball, primarily at the high school level, since the mid-1970s, it never gets old watching first hand a youngster’s development. Anthony Volpe was one of the first young players that turned my head shortly after I was hired at Diamond Nation in 2012. Diminutive, at the time, for his age, Volpe, nonetheless, exhibited innate abilities uncommon for a 12 year-old.
It didn’t take long for young Anthony to be noticed by a larger audience and before we knew it, he was playing for Team USA’s Under-12 squad in China and leading that team to a World Championship. Volpe was named to that All-Tournament team. He would choose to attend Delbarton High School and eventually played again in 2016 for Team USA’s Under-15U squad in Iwaka, Japan. That Team USA squad settled for a bronze medal.
The Vanderbilt-bound Volpe earned All-State recognition as a junior last spring, helping to steer his Delbarton team to a runner-up finish in the NJSIAA Non-Public A tournament. That led into a summer of ball that will stick with Volpe forever. He and his longtime buddy Leiter made the Team USA Under-18 team assembled for the Pan Am Championship in Panama. Volpe, the righthander Leiter, shortstop Bobby Witt, Jr. and the rest of Team USA simply took Panama by storm, overwhelming every opponent in a dominant, jaw-dropping performance.
Team USA 18U outscored its nine opponents in Panama, 131-27. Witt, viewed as a top one or two overall draft pick in June’s MLB Draft, hit a whopping .576 with three HRs and 19 RBI. Volpe batted .459 with 14 RBI and 21 runs-scored. Leiter got the win in the championship game and went 2-0 over eight total innings, posted an astonishing 0.00 ERA while striking out 20 and walking five.
Diamond Nation.com had a lengthy phone Q&A with Volpe, addressing his experience in Panama playing with some of the very top prospects in the nation and his dreams for the coming high school baseball season.
First a couple words from Travis Anderson, who has worked with Volpe since he was an 11 year-old.
“Anthony Volpe is a great baseball player,” said Anderson. “His baseball IQ is off the charts. He can absolutely do anything with the bat; hit the ball the other way, hit with some pop, bunt and situational hit. No moment is too big for him. He was born to play baseball. He’s a special talent.”
Our conversation with Anthony Volpe.
Diamond Nation: Before leaving for Panama, Team USA played some college teams, including the University of Florida. How challenging did you find college pitchers?
Anthony Volpe: The competition was really good but there wasn’t anything special that stands out other than they were just more physical than I’m used to. College pitchers are bigger, stronger and older but we still felt we still handle them. We beat Miami Dade our first game then gained confidence each game from there. By the time we got to Panama we were rolling.
DN: You played in the Under Armour All-American Game in July at Wrigley Field. What was that like?
AV: It was really awesome. We played a night game. The whole bottom ring of the stands was filled. Playing there, with all the history, was cool. We played right after a game the Cardinals beat the Cubs, 17-5. Every player talked to us. We hung out where the team eats. They made us a meal. It was our best meal all summer.
DN: Tell us about the tryout for Team USA. It must have been extremely competitive.
AV: It started all the way back to last year with the 17U program. They had a gist of all of the guys. Coach Leggett (former Clemson coach Jack) ran it. It was really hard. You get to know the coaches through the process. The communication was excellent. They really helped us along the way. You knew what you had to do. You just had to capitalize on the opportunity and play hard. The coaches told you where they saw you and you had to live up to it. The coaches communicated real well with each kid.
It’s so high stress. You want to do whatever’s possible to make the team. Baseball isn’t always going to go your way. It crushes you. Every kid that made the team stressed. The most successful ones were the ones who didn’t let the lows get too low or the highs too high. Having those type of players in Panama helped us crush teams that had all this hype.
DN: You guys really did overpower teams in Panama. You only had one close game.
AV: We really steamrolled teams. Our coaches got us to believe we were playing against ourselves. It didn’t matter who we were playing against. We practiced eight hours a day in Florida before the tournament. We’d practice, play games, drill, break into groups of three and watch film of our at bats. They did that for every kid, even the kids who didn’t make it. Every kid had a chance to be the best possible version of what they could be.
DN: Is there a particular memory that will stick with you from Panama?
AV: There’s so many. The one thing I’ll never forget is how coach Leggett always talked to us about how you have to be on, your to be going all the time, you have to jump out of bed ready to kill. So, in the first game of the super round against Panama, a game we won 9-8, coach came out of the umpire’s meeting at home plate and we all jumped. It was spontaneous. He loved it. It was a football feeling. We were all in it together. That was great.
DN: You had some amazing teammates. Jack Leiter, who’s your high school teammate, and Bobby Witt, Jr., one of the best high school players in the country.
AV: Jack is great. We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well. Bobby’s on field stats take a backseat to how awesome a person and teammate he is. If you talked to him you wouldn’t know he’s a potential No. 1 pick in June. He doesn’t want to be viewed in that light. Other kids heads would get big. Bobby is the complete opposite. He doesn’t like to be talked about like that.
DN: Team USA batted .407 in the tournament and the team’s pitching was lights out, holding teams to a .203 batting average.
AV: I don’t think we would have batted .407 if our pitchers didn’t get us off the field so quick to hit. They did their thing.
DN: Were you happy with how you played defensively?
AV: It wasn’t hard with our pitching. I only had a couple ground balls.
DN: Panama gave you the only tight game then you beat them 17-2 in the championship game. That game was played in a brisk two hours and three minutes.
AV: We were up 10-0 in the third and realized there was no mercy rule in the final. We just wanted to end the game, get in that dogpile and get our gold medal. So, our pitchers were working really fast. They worked ahead all game.
DN: You played second base and batted third for Team USA. Where do you think you fit in at Vanderbilt?
AV: I’d play outfielder or catcher if I had to at Vanderbilt. I’m working on both second base and shortstop but wherever coach (Tim) Corbin sees me I’m good.”
DN: You’ve got your Jersey boys, Nick Maldonado (Seton Hall Prep), who you played with at Diamond Nation, and Leiter heading with you to the Commodores.
AV: Just a couple of Jersey boys having fun.
DN: Overall, what do you take from the experience of playing for Team USA?
AV: I just think playing for your country is hard to put into words. The idea of playing for something bigger than yourself is similar to your high school experience. You get a sense of community, like we have at Delbarton. From that aspect, the experience was similar to high school ball. I’m going to remember it for the rest of my life. I was playing with my friends.
DN: Delbarton should be right back in the mix for a state title this year.
AV: We’re going to have maybe our best team since I’ve been there. Coach (Bruce) Shatel makes you earn everything, so there’s a lot of work in the pre-season. It’s going to be a really fun, exciting season. We have most of the guys from last year’s state final returning. We want to get over the hump this time and win it. We will be tested often in our schedule.
DN: You stopped by Diamond Nation to take some BP with Travis Anderson this week.
AV: Coach Travis is one of the greatest coaches I’ve had in my life. He really cares about his players. He’s just one of those father figures to me. He’s an awesome person, not just a coach. I love talking to him and about his family. He’s an awesome human being.
I’ve had so many great coaches, this summer, my whole life. I’ve been blessed by all the coaches I’ve had. They want what’s best for every single kid. Every single experience this summer was awesome.
DN: Travis, we’ve gotten a pretty clear picture here of Anthony Volpe’s experience this summer. What else can you tell us about him?