Justin Willis has always aspired for greatness on the baseball field. Ever since the West New York native was a toddler, he knew eventually he would play at a higher level.
Last week, the 14-year-old Willis received his highest accolade to date, when he was selected to the 14-and-under Team USA National Development Program.
Willis will be among 40 players from across the country to participate in the Team USA event. He is the lone representative from New Jersey.
“I’m very honored,” said Willis, who first made his mark locally two years ago, leading West New York American to its third straight District 7 Little League 11-and-12-year-old All-Star tournament title. “There were 62 teams from all over the country participating in the tryout, so I was a little anxious, wondering if I was going to get picked.”
Willis will head to the Team USA National Development Program workouts in Cary, North Carolina next month.
“They’ll pair the teams off, 20 on 20, and play there for a week,” said Willis, who has been playing travel baseball with the famed Rakers of Rutherford, monitored by former Mets and Colorado Rockies pitcher Bobby Jones.
Willis said that he’s ready for the foray into national level baseball.
“I know it’s a real challenge, but I’m ready to step up to it,” said Willis, who has been playing all summer with and against players two years older than him. “I feel good about the way I’ve been playing. Everything seems to be going pretty well.”
Willis has been training at the Triple Baseball Academy as both a pitcher and an infielder.
“When I go to the national level, it’s mostly for pitching,” Willis said. “But I still play the field, playing second, third or shortstop.”
Playing against kids much older, Willis has pitched to a 9-1 record with two saves and a 1.25 earned run average. Avid onlookers have been amazed by Willis’ curveball to go along with a fastball and changeup.
Yes, Willis is achieving this success as a 14-year-old playing with and against 16-year-olds.
Willis did participate in the West New York Babe Ruth season, but moved on to the national level after the season was completed.
“None of this has really sunk in yet,” Willis said. “I really can’t believe this.”
Willis said that he contacted a few friends from New Jersey who were selected to play for Team USA’s U14 squad last summer.
“So I know what it’s all about from them,” Willis said. “Being the lone player from New Jersey taken this year is a tremendous honor.”
Willis knows what the future might bring.
“Most of the guys who once played with USA baseball got drafted this year,” Willis said. “That’s the ultimate goal. That’s what I want.”
Remarkably, Willis will not stay local to attend high school. He will attend St. Joseph of Metuchen in the fall and will play baseball there.
“It’s going to be tough, taking the trains every morning,” Willis said. “But the coach there really sold us on the school, that their players usually go on to get into good colleges. That’s what I want. That’s another goal for me.”
Chances are that we will hear bigger and better news from Willis in the years to come. After all, he’s already playing on the national level. It gets no better than that.
If anyone would like to read more information about Justin Willis, log on to www.justinwillis.tripleabaseballacademy.com….
Speaking of the District 7 All-Star tourney, Hoboken has advanced to the winners’ bracket finale and will await the winner of the game between defending champion North Bergen and Elizabethport. The championship games were slated to be played Wednesday and Thursday if necessary at Secaucus Little League’s fine facility at Buchmiller Park…
EXTRA INNINGS focuses on the best stories that come from local baseball and softball leagues throughout the area, from Little League action through travel leagues.
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