No, Albert Almora isn’t from Cary, North Carolina, where the tournament is held and has been each summer since 2007. The Hialeah, Florida native doesn’t even have relatives in the area, as during his time in the city he stays with a host family just like many of the other players.
But, USA Baseball has provided a spot for him to show off his talents since he reached his teen years. Almora twice played for the 14U team, in 2007 and 2008, helping Team USA win two gold medals in Guatemala along the way. He played for the 16U team two times as well, in 2009 and 2010. The center fielder has also already played for the 18U team, getting the opportunity for the first time last year.
His standout talent has not only been evident to USA Baseball year after year, but the high school coach who started playing him at age 11, Eddie Gorriz, knows firsthand how much Almora has to offer.
“He’s one of the best baseball players I’ve ever seen,” Gorriz said. “I don’t think there are expectations for him. He practices and trains as hard as humanly possible. And with that comes good stuff. I’m constantly just trying to remind him that he works so hard and should just leave the rest up to whatever happens. But I’ve never seen anything like him.”
While Almora’s dominant presence in USA Baseball made him feel at ease at the tournament, he didn’t want to get too comfortable in his familiar surroundings.
“I don’t want to say I’m getting used to it, but it is more relaxing,” the 17-year-old said, after his first game of the tournament. “Not to come out with a lot of pressure, I just get to come here, have fun and enjoy the game.”
In the tournament opener, playing for the Babe Ruth Baseball team, Almora led off and went 2-for-3 with two walks, a double, a stolen base and four runs scored. His team plated a total of six runs in the 7-6 loss to the National Amateur Baseball Federation team. The young leader attributes his success on the diamond to being assertive and making things happen.
“I’m very aggressive,” Almora said. “Obviously, being in the outfield is one of my best abilities. But just to go out there and try to win every game by being aggressive, that’s what I think is the most important thing.”
The Mater Academy senior is not only a smart baseball player, but his maturity stands out both on and off the field. It’s not surprising that he would bring that aspect to his game, because baseball is a large part of how he has developed as a person.
Almora has played high school ball since sixth grade, and as a junior varsity fielder until eighth grade, when he started for the varsity team. While his time spent with much older players greatly affected his game, he thinks it’s all been helpful to him along the way.
“It’s a great honor,” the center fielder said. “To be playing with older guys and more mature guys, and having to live up to what they were putting out there. I was a 12-year-old starter in high school playing with 18-year-olds so I had to mature really early. And I’m really happy that I did.”
The young star’s coach didn’t hesitate to bring Almora onto the field with the older players, despite the age difference. Gorriz knew that his fielder could handle it, and saw a rare level of maturity from the then 11-year-old.
“From the second I met him I knew he was very mature,” Gorriz said. “He was little but he almost handled himself like an adult. He was such a nice kid. He was very respectful. And now he’s grown big and strong and even more talented.”
Another huge influence on the development of Almora’s game has been his very close friend, Manny Machado, the first round pick (third overall) of the Baltimore Orioles in 2010. The two share the same philosophy on baseball, and keep each other grounded on the importance of the game.
“We were at our very first practice together,” Almora said of Machado. “We started together and we just always had fun. We always told each other, ‘Man, who cares what we do? Let’s just go out there, have fun and enjoy the game’. That’s the biggest thing that we get from each other.”
And on the same morning Almora started making his bid for a spot on his sixth national team, Machado got the news that he was being promoted to Baltimore’s High A team in Frederick. When Almora found out, the excitement for his friend was written all over his face, talking about the urgency to get to a phone to congratulate him.
Almora stressed that his family is the most important thing in his life, and his commitment to the University of Miami might give him a chance to stick close to home and play baseball for a few more years. Without being eligible for a draft until next June, it’s hard to say where he’ll end up, but Almora is overjoyed about what’s on his plate right now.
“I’m very excited,” he said of being a future Hurricane. “It’s always been a dream of mine since I was a little kid to go to Miami. I’ve always gone to games with my dad and sat in the bleachers watching pro guys play. I always told him I want to be able to play with the University of Miami. And to get the opportunity, to get the scholarship, I’m very blessed. I’m very fortunate.”
With a bright future ahead, Almora’s current focus is finding success with the 18U USA Baseball team, after having made it past the five-day tournament in Cary, his home away from home.
“It’s an honor to be back with a great bunch of guys and play again. It’s a great experience to be with the top guys in the nation. It’s just awesome.”