Baseball: Top Tier intends to keep its strong presence in Lake County
Mundelein's Ryan Borucki, seen here playing for Top Tier during the 2009 season, will either play at the University of Iowa or sign a contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. | Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 13, 2012 6:10AM
LAKE FOREST — Move it and they will come.
Though Top Tier, an elite youth baseball travel organization, did not relocate from Lake Forest to Dyersville, Iowa, in early March, it is now headquartered at The Max-McCook Athletic and Exposition Center, in McCook.
Top Tier parted ways with its previous owners at Slammers, in Lake Forest. Promising baseball players (ages 9-18) had been training under the guidance of Top Tier coaches in LF since 2004.
“We haven’t gone anywhere,” said Top Tier founder and CEO Todd Fine, a 1992 Deerfield graduate, same as his business partner and Prep Baseball Report executive director, Sean Duncan. “Our presence is still strong in the area, and we have great relationships with area coaches. We’re thrilled with the new home; it’s a better situation for us and it’s as real as it gets. We plan to be there for a long time.”
“There are a number of reasons why we left,” Duncan noted. “(But) our all-encompassing baseball business had outgrown Slammers’ facilities.”
Max-McCook is a 125,000 square-foot facility that houses four indoor fields and dirt mounds.
Lafayette College-bound outfielder Matt Lawrence, a 2012 Lake Forest graduate, said it takes him about an hour to drive to Max-McCook. But he insists it’s worth the trip.
“It’s the best indoor place, and it’s really good for winter showcases,” said Lawrence.
Lawrence was a catcher and corner infielder his first three years at LFHS, before being projected to play outfield in college. His transition to the outfield began when he was a Top Tier rookie.
“(Fine) tells you upfront what you need to do to get better as a player,” said Lawrence, who paced the Scouts in batting average (.369), home runs (5), RBIs (29), slugging percentage (.631), on-base average (.442) and stolen bases (19) in the spring. “I like his approach; he doesn’t sugarcoat anything and he doesn’t waste any time.”
Top Tier’s mission each year is to help baseball players of various levels reach the next level. Two examples: An eighth-grader wants to be as ready as possible when he tries out for a freshman team, and high school sophomore wants to start putting in the time and playing against the kind of competition that will prepare him best for a shot at college ball.
“Kids get it. Kids end up understanding what they need to do to improve their skills and get to that next level,” said Fine, a USA Baseball coach and a former area scout for the Houston Astros. “It’s gratifying for me to help them along the way.”
Top Tier’s 17U team won back-to-back CABA World Series in 2009-10, and its 18U unit captured the last eight state championships. Its 11U team won a CABA World Series and finished 55-3 in 2011, the same year Top Tier’s 13U team (64-5) was ranked No. 1 in a United States Specialty Sports Association poll.
All told, Top Tier fields 20 teams.
Among the alumni playing at the Major League level are pitchers Michael Bowden and John Ely and outfielder Joe Benson.
The alumni list also includes current college standouts such as Stevenson grads Scott Firth (Clemson), Michael Martin (Harvard), Tyler Radtke (Villanova) and Kyle Ruchim (Northwestern); Highland Park’s Jimmy Risi (Butler); Libertyville’s Joey Eichmann (Purdue); Lake Forest’s Chris Godinez (Bradley) and Charley Gould (William & Mary); and Lake Zurich’s Tanner Witt (Kansas State).
And there’s a bunch of Lake County players — with Top Tier ties — from the Class 2012 moving on to the next level: Stevenson grads Adam Walton (SS, Illinois), Max Golembo (OF, St. Louis) and Jon Savarise (P, Northern Illinois); Mundelein grad Ryan Borucki (P, Iowa); Highland Park grads Jason Goldstein (C, Illinois) and Jake Rubin (Wabash Valley); Libertyville grads Nick Coutre (OF, Villanova) and Dar Townsend (P/1B, Augustana); Vernon Hills grad Chris Marras (C, Butler); Lake Zurich grad Wyatt Spector (P, DePauw); and Lake Forest’s Lawrence.
The facility at Max-McCook also houses the Prep Baseball Report (PBR), which has become an important baseball resource under the guidance of Duncan, who was named the Pitch and Hit Club’s Sportswriter of the Year in 2010.
Currently, more than 350 colleges and pro scouts now subscribe to the PBR magazine and website services. They not only cover Illinois but also Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
“The mission of the Prep Baseball Report is to promote high school baseball and ultimately help prep athletes achieve their dreams of playing baseball at the next level,” Duncan noted. “Our goal is to become the No. 1 resource for high school baseball in each state we cover.”