For the past five years, Nicolas Malbrough has done all he can to build his baseball skills.
His steady progression as a shortstop and pitcher will lead him across the country next month. He will be among 16 players on the Northern California team competing in USA Baseball’s National Team Identification Series, Aug. 28 to 31 in Cary, N.C.
At the end of the 16-team tournament — each team represents a different part of the U.S. — USA Baseball will select a team of 16 players to compete around the world as Team USA.
Nicolas, 14, is already sought after in baseball circles. He plays for the California Mudcats out of Tracy, but he also stays connected with other travel teams he has played for or is still on the roster for, including the Lamorinda Spartans of Moraga, Nor Cal Valley in Modesto and the Fremont Reds.
One of his coaches, Tim Raposa of the Tri-County Tritons in Escalon, made him aware of the opportunity to go out for the national team.
The process started with a series of showcase games hosted by Northern California Travel Baseball in June at Billy Hebert Field in Stockton and Big League Dreams in Manteca. Of the 166 players who started the process, 32 were invited to the NTIS All Star Game, played July 8 at Santa Clara University Schott Stadium. There, 16 were selected for a chance to try out for the national team.
There, Nicolas found himself among the highest level of talent he has seen yet. He proved that he belonged there with his infield skills, a batting average of .583 through the tournament, and strong pitching, including an 80 mph fastball and a consistent speed of 77 mph.
“I have a lot more confidence in myself,” he said Tuesday, adding that a new opportunity to play among top talent from Northern California would move him to the next level.
“The coaching will make me better,” he said. “I’m going to know a lot more about the game and myself.”
Nicolas’ goal is to stay active with travel ball, and he also plans to play for West High, where he begins his freshman year in August. He’s already thinking of colleges where he could continue playing at the NCAA level.
Nicolas’ parents, Stephanie Tep and Seth Malbrough, became active in baseball when they arrived in Tracy nine years ago, starting with Tracy Babe Ruth and then local travel teams.
His mother added that Nicolas, while humble about his own efforts, embraces the character-building and service aspect of baseball, regularly coaching teams that his younger brother, Tony, 9, plays on.
“It does take hard work to get to the level Nicolas is at,” she said.
Contact Bob Brownne at email@example.com or 830-4227.