A very special invitation

Courtesy photo Tanner Hardin, BJ Jeter and Mason Small were chosen by former Major League Baseball player Jeff Schaefer to play in his Charlotte-based travel ball organization.

CHARLOTTE — Three local children received a special invitation after participating in a baseball camp at Union County High School this week.

Union County High School hosted a three-day baseball camp for children ages 5-13, and on the second day, Union County Head Coach Kirk Rebuck welcomed a special guest instructor — former Major League Baseball player Jeff Schaefer.

Schaefer played with the Chicago White Sox in 1989, the Seattle Mariners from 1990-1992, and the Oakland Athletics in 1994. He played alongside famous teammates such as Carlton Fisk, Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., and Mark McGuire; and he played for World Series-winning managers Joe Madden, Tony LaRussa and Charlie Manuel. In 2007, Schaefer founded the Carolinas Baseball Center in Charlotte, and since then his focus has been on developing and creating opportunity for high school players with the desire to play at the next level. Over 200 players influenced by Schaefer have moved on to play at the collegiate and professional levels.

“Tuesday was special because a lot of these kids have never met a former MLB player before,” Rebuck said, explaining that Schaefer watched the children and worked with them. “He’s a great guy, an awesome guy. He’s always willing to help kids out, and that’s the important thing — helping these kids out.”

On Wednesday, at the conclusion of the camp, Rebuck called over three camp participants — Mason Small, Tanner Hardin and BJ Jeter — to give them some special news. Rebuck told the boys that Schaefer watched them play and had extended an invitation to them to be part of his travel baseball organization.

“That’s a great opportunity for these younger kids to go out and get some exposure playing against good competition,” Rebuck said, adding that he was grateful to Schaefer for taking time to come to Union County and work with the young baseball players.

“These players chosen stood out quickly,” Schaefer stated on Thursday. “They possessed a different level of the athleticism and mechanical baseball skills.”

Brian Hardin — who is the coach of the local Carolina Slammers travel ball team and also Tanner’s father — said he believes experience helped the three boys stand out at this week’s camp.

“Travel ball helps them with playing better competition and getting ready for the next level,” Hardin said.

The boys also played Dixie Youth baseball, with Mason and Tanner playing for La Fogata and BJ playing for Jimmy’s Galaxy. Each of the three boys were also on the Dixie Youth All-Star teams in their divisions for the past two years. They were each on the 2014 Dixie Youth AA Machine-Pitch All-Stars team. This year, Mason and Tanner are on the Dixie Youth AA Machine-Pitch All-Star team, and BJ — because of where his birthday falls in the year — plays on the Dixie Youth Minor League All-Stars team.

All three boys are scheduled to play travel ball with Schaefer’s organization beginning Saturday, June 20, in Gastonia.

Mason Small is the son of Michael and Kelly Small; Tanner Hardin is the son of Brian and Trina Hardin; and BJ Jeter is the son of Matthew and Tricia Gregory and Bernard Jeter.