This is the second installment of Next One Up, an occasional summer feature series taking a look at some of the biggest up-and-coming stars in the Long Beach sports world.
This has been a dream summer for Millikan sophomore-to-be Caleb Brandon.
The speedy outfielder was a starter for the Rams last year as a freshman, and played well enough to earn All-Moore League honors. But this summer playing for CBA his power has been catching up with his speed, and people are taking notice. Brandon received an invite to next week’s USA Baseball trials in North Carolina, one of just 54 U15 players nationwide to receive that honor. And since the USA invite, he’s heard from colleges including Tennessee, Oregon, Stanford, and San Diego State.
“I’m really enjoying it,” he said of the newfound spotlight. “It’s really a blessing, I’ve been waiting for so long, thinking someday you’ll get there.”
Brandon started playing baseball when he was four, and grew up in the ELB PONY program in Long Beach. He remembers starting in Pinto ball at ELB at the bottom of the pecking order.
“I was probably the worst player in the league,” he said. “I kept moving up and one game, when I was like 10, I hit a homerun and that got me on the All Star team. From there I just got better and was hitting more homeruns.”
Brandon’s speed has always been a head-turner. He ran youth track and went through track and football workouts, usually with his father, training with parachutes and ladders. Initially, it was his speed that caught the attention of Millikan coach Ron Keester.
“He was the fastest kid in our entire program as a freshman,” said Keester. “We had some guys who could run last year but we did some races and we realized he’s the fastest guy walking into the program. He hit a ball against Wilson in the last Moore League game that just went and went, and he’s crossing home plate by the time they’re getting to the double cut. To see him do that in a game was really jaw-dropping.”
Jaws have been dropping coast to coast this summer with the way Brandon has been playing, both offensively and defensively. In a game last week he went 4-for-4 with two triples and three RBIs, and he’s been posting numbers like that all month. It was at a big showcase tournament in Arizona a few weeks ago that he caught the attention of national scouts.
“I was just popping off, I was doing really well,” said Brandon. “On the third or fourth day right before I left, my coach gave me a piece of paper that said USA Baseball, and he said you’re going out to North Carolina to compete. I was like, ‘This is for me? For real?’ It’s such an honor.”
The good news for Millikan is Brandon isn’t the only major up-and-comer. His fellow sophomore-to-be Ryan Geck, also playing for CBA this summer, is a 6’3” 230 pound power machine.
“I have no doubt that all these big things are in store for Ryan as well,” said Keester. “We feel fortunate to have those kids–they’re both really good kids and they enjoy playing the game. I believe they’ll do everything they need to do to keep growing and reaching their potential.”
The talented youngsters will mix in with experienced veteran leadership this year, especially four-year starter catcher Christian Yogi. After a frustrating and difficult season for the Rams, they’re hoping that 2020 will be a season to remember–the Millikan summer squad just won the local American Legion Tournament to earn a trip to Yountville for the state tournament.
“I love being at Millikan because of the tradition,” said Brandon. “Our team this year is stronger than our team last year, the bonds are stronger–we trust each other. We want to win the Moore League this year and then go win CIF.”
Thanks to young powerhouses like Brandon and Geck, the Rams will be in both those conversations for years to come.