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“G ROWING UP from about age 5, everybody wants to play professional baseball,” Cletis Avery says. Avery’s dream is still alive. He’s a shortstop for the Wilmington Sharks, a team that competes in the Coastal Plain League. He is playing in Wilmington this summer after finishing his junior season at Presbyterian College in Atlanta. “Of course I have aspirations of playing professional baseball,” Avery says. “I have a couple of friends that got drafted. It gives you motivation. This is chasing the dream, working every day to try to get there.” The Sharks are one of 16 teams playing in the summer league that extends from Virginia to Georgia. All are made up of college players — amateurs who hope to go pro someday. The league has been around since 1997, and boasts some success stories. More than 1,300 former players have been drafted by Major League teams, and 81 of them have made it to the majors. The alumni include 2011 Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, and standouts Ryan Zimmerman and Kevin Youkilis. Russell Wilson, a highly regarded baseball prospect before becoming a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, played in the CPL. Cal Quantrill, who pitched for Morehead City in 2014, was the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft. “They know when they get here they have an opportunity to show off in front of scouts, and have an opportunity to play in a good league and get better,” says Pat Hutchins, the Sharks’ general manager. They also know they face extremely long odds of making the dream come true. Each year, there are about 140,000 players eligible to be selected in the annual professional draft. Only 1,500 are chosen. Even after Sharks players like Hank Nichols, top, and Cletis Avery, above on left, hope that playing in the Coastal Plain League is just one leg of a journey that ends in the major leagues. 18 WBM july 2016


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