When it comes to throwing a baseball, whether it's from the mound or center field, it's difficult to find anyone in the Stanislaus District who does it better than Billy Flamion.
The same goes for swinging a bat, or stealing second base, or going from first to third on a single to center field, or pursuing a line drive in the gap, or ... well, you get the picture.
Flamion is going into his senior year at Central Catholic, finishing a prep career that began with what appeared to be impractical expectations.
A travel ball stud in junior high — he was on the national 14-year-old team that won a gold medal in Guatemala — Flamion and his family analyzed academic and baseball programs at Davis, Beyer and Central Catholic. It was believed he would provide an immediate benefit to any program, and the lefty delivered.
He hit .441 with six homers and 40 RBIs as a freshman. He was Central's ace a year later, going 13-2 with a 2.03 ERA while still stinging the ball.
Flamion's skills were recognized far beyond the district, thanks to his exploits in travel ball. That reputation has reached a new level, though, with Flamion's selection to the Aflac All-American High School Classic in San Diego.
He is the only player in the baseball-rich Central Valley, a 600-mile stretch from Tehachapi to the Oregon border, in the game. It will be played Aug. 15 at Petco Park, home to the San Diego Padres.
It won't be Flamion's first time playing in a major-league ballpark — he earned his spot by virtue of his performance at Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays.
"It was a showcase tournament, where they bring in top players from across the country, and it was my first time playing in a dome," said Flamion, who puts all his energy into hitting and playing center field during travel ball.
"When I saw the quality of pitching at the tournament, I knew I had to focus on getting my foot down early so I was ready for a 92, 93 mile-per-hour fastball," he added. "After the first couple pitches, I knew I had to react even faster, so I adjusted during the at-bat and got my timing down. It definitely wasn't the sort of pitching we get in the (Western Athletic Conference)."
Flamion had to face just one WAC pitcher capable of bringing such heat, but Gustine's Ben Griset lacked the consistent accuracy of the pitchers Flamion faced in Florida.
He'll see more of that pitching next week when he joins NorCal Baseball — the travel team he plays for, along with Turlock star Kevin Kramer — in Seattle for a national tournament. He'll also try out for the Angels Elite, an elite squad with ties to the Los Angeles Angels, and the Milwaukee Brewers' entry in the upcoming Area Code Games.
He can do it all
A factor in Flamion's selection to the all-star game was his ability to hit for power as well as average: He was a finalist in the home run derby.
"Billy's too modest to bring it up, but there were 12 teams at the Perfect Game Tournament and each had a contest to send a player to the finals," said Bridget Flamion, Billy's mother. "He hit four homers to get to the final. He impresses people because he's a five-tool player and Billy's always trying to be a better player."
Scouts and recruiters often grade players on a scale of 20-80 in five categories — power, hitting for average, running, fielding and throwing.
A talented prep pitcher, 22-4 with a 2.25 ERA and 1.7 strikeouts per inning, scouts and recruiters alike say Flamion's future is in center field.
"They've said my ceiling is much higher as a center fielder. That's good because I really enjoy playing center," Flamion said. "When I'm pitching, I'm just throwing it hard and trying to throw strikes."
Focusing on center field, he says, will help facilitate his ultimate goal of becoming a major-leaguer. But first, Flamion promises, comes college.
"I want to be the first in my family to graduate college, so that's the priority," says Flamion, who says the University of Oregon would be his choice if he made a decision today. "I want to look at two other schools, Miami and Arizona State, before I decide."
Narrowing his list
Before he decides, Flamion will sit with family friend Joseph Franzia to discuss the benefits of each: "He's Billy's mentor for college," Bridget said. "His kids went to Central and Santa Clara University, and he's great for Billy."
Oregon is an up-and-comer and was in four of the five season-ending top 25 polls after finishing second in its regional tournament. Miami and Arizona State are legendary programs, combining for 44 appearances in the College World Series and nine titles.
"I want to play in the World Series and help a team win a title," Flamion said. "One reason I enjoy travel ball is you face the top players each time you take the field. It's made me a better player, so I want to continue that in college."
That was a factor in selecting Central: The school advertises that 97 percent of its students go to college and it has college courses on campus.
"You need a college education because dreams don't always work out," Bridget said.
Flamion has experience on the pro level: He's worked out with the Class A Modesto Nuts at Thurman Field, heady stuff for a prep player.
"They treat me like I'm just another player and I swing a wood bat," said Flamion, who also swings wood in travel ball. "It forces you to stay inside and focus on hitting the sweet spot of the bat. You can make a mistake with aluminum and get a hit. Wood has a very small margin for error."