Though he has traveled as far as Florida before, Scotland varsity pitcher and infielder Hayden Buffkin had never experienced the big city lights of Atlanta prior to last week. Traveling with fellow Fighting Scots and Athlete’s Choice Area Stars teammate Dylan Ward, Buffkin was a part of the “Perfect Game” showcase baseball event that hosted nearly 300 teams comprised of the country’s best high school prospects.
Area Stars coach and former Major League Baseball player Derick Graham makes no qualms about the Perfect Game event: In his eyes, it’s the single biggest showcase event that a local player can attend. And when he received word that Buffkin and Ward (who were members of the Charlotte Megastars showcase team last week) had both played exceptionally well over the five-day event, Graham could only come to a single conclusion.
Both players are ready for the next step in their careers.
“The Perfect Game is the mecca of down-south showcase events, where only the best teams with the best players are welcome,” Graham said. “Hayden and Dylan standing out at an event like that shows me that both of them are ready to be seen and to represent for Scotland County.”
Because of his travel ball obligations, Buffkin only appeared sporadically throughout the Fighting Scots’ Central Carolina Scholastic Summer League season. But when he did appear, Buffkin demonstrated the same talent he displayed during the critical stretch of Scotland’s 2012 regular season and playoff runs.
Prior to the Perfect Game event, Buffkin’s last two games in a Fighting Scots uniform were against West Stanley and New Hanover. Against West Stanley, Buffkin pitched seven innings and only allowed a single run which came on the sole fielding error of the game in the first inning. Buffkin also had an RBI in the game, which saw the Scots defeat West Stanley 3-1. Buffkin logged an even more impressive game in his final outing before his trip to Atlanta, a 5-0 victory over New Hanover. In that game, Buffkin belted two home runs to drive in four of Scotland’s five runs.
Known for his calm in-game demeanor, even Buffkin was nervous as he traveled to Atlanta despite his level of play remaining as consistent as ever.
“It was nerve-wracking at first, but I started feeling better once I was actually there and getting ready for the games,” Buffkin said. “The most important thing I learned was that even when I’m not in my comfort zone, I still have to play to my abilities. Once I realized that it took a lot of stress off of me.”
In order to earn the right to travel with the Charlotte Megastars to Atlanta, Buffkin and Ward had to impress at an 18-inning scrimmage that took place in late June at Charlotte Country Day School. With Graham in attendance, Buffkin had only two innings to make his mark on the pitcher’s mound and did exactly that, demonstrating his overpowering fastball and curve ball to earn his place on the Megastars.
Buffkin has been with Graham for roughly three years, joining the Athlete’s Choice Area Stars team shortly after fellow Fighting Scots star Blake Bennett did the same. But rising Scotland High School junior Ward has only been with Graham since this summer, and upon joining the team Ward made an immediate impression right out of the gate. At the 18-inning scrimmage in Charlotte, Ward struck out five of the six batters he faced.
“In the time that I’ve spent with him, I’ve seen that Dylan is a perfectionist and has a great work ethic,” Graham said. “If he hits the ball well, his mindset is that he wants to hit the ball even better, and that quality is very attractive to coaches.”
The Charlotte Megastars with Buffkin and Ward in tow played seven games during their extended stay in Atlanta. While the team struggled early on as they meshed together, the Megastars finished their week in Atlanta with a 3-3-1 record after losing their first three games in pool play.
As a starting pitcher for the Megastars against the Scorpions showcase baseball team, Buffkin tossed seven innings and notched seven strikeouts, allowing just a single run in the final frame en route to his team’s 4-1 victory. And at the end of the week, Buffkin’s .500 batting average was the best on the team.
The second best batting average on the team belonged to Ward, who batted .429.
Buffkin says that his coaches have received multiple phone calls from interested collegiate programs following his Atlanta performance. One of the schools that showed interest was East Carolina University, a school that is Buffkin’s number one choice to attend after he finishes his senior year at Scotland.
While that news is exciting enough, Buffkin chalks up his time with Ward and the Charlotte Megastars in Atlanta as an overall great experience, one of which he will remember as he prepares to continue playing in the showcase ball circuit.
“Not only do you get to the chance to play the sport you love, but it’s great to stay in a place you’ve never seen before, meet new people and get valuable advice from coaches,” said Buffkin, who along with Bennett and Ward are set to travel to Appalachian State University and Wilmington, N.C. for upcoming showcase events. “It was great for Dylan and I to join a team we’ve never played with before and do as well as we did.”