PHILADELPHIA — In many ways, Ashton Raines represents the rarity that makes the Carpenter Cup such a baseball oddity.
Raines, a recent graduate of Strath Haven, is the uncommon uncommitted senior, a borderline Division I talent still in the market for a collegiate dance partner. He’s the type of player whose value exceeds the measurables on his recruiting bio, whose active mid-80s fastball does more flying out of his right hand than it does in raising the eyebrows of scouts in pure black-and-white.
He’s the archetype that the Carpenter Cup envisioned — a blue-collar late-bloomer without the showcase hype and youth league cred — flocking to South Philly in droves to seek out college destinations in the area’s premier high school all-star competition.
That blueprint was fine 30 years ago when the Carpenter Cup set up shop in wifi-free Veterans Stadium. But time has passed that model by, one freshman pitcher radar-gun reading and one eighth-grade catcher pop-time after another, as the competition named for the bygone ownership group has seen its foothold eroded by expensive showcases and the ubiquity of online scouting info.
For a throwback like Raines who needs only be pointed in the direction of an unoccupied mound with a fresh ball, the Carpenter Cup has a chance to dial back the years and represent something more meaningful.
Raines won’t be thinking about his distant baseball future Monday as he ascends the bump at Citizens Bank Park, the second straight year he’s had a hand in piloting the Delaware County squad to the Carpenter Cup semifinals. This year’s meeting is with Jersey Shore, with first pitch at 1 p.m.
“In the end, it’s a game,’ Raines said Friday, just after Delco booked its trip to Citizens Bank with a 6-5 win over Suburban One American/Continental. “I just tell myself that. It’s a game and you have to have fun and play the game. I love playing the game.
“There’s nothing better. I told my teammates before, coming out and pitching on the mound against kids and competing is one of the best feelings that you can have.’
If the previous two games are any indication, the first pitch Monday will be thrown by Raines, who’s worked the maximum of three innings in each of Delco’s wins, both times as the starter. He’s surrendered four runs, but he’s allowed a mere two hits in six frames, striking out six.
Against top-flight opposition in a competition that still attracts a handful of (mostly local) college scouts, Raines isn’t thinking about showcasing his wares amid offers from University of Maryland-Baltimore County and Bloomsburg and growing, post-draft interest from the University of Maine.
While Raines may not be pondering the future, others are taking notice. And they’re getting plenty to look at.
“I’ve got to play every game the same way,’ Raines said. “I just go out there, I’ve got to throw strikes, I’ve got to get outs. And honestly, that’s all you’ve got to think about out there. Once you start thinking about other things, it distracts you from what the goal is. That’s when you start to lose it and problems start coming up.’
Raines is coming off an impressive individual season in which he had to stomach some bad luck. His 5-4 record is marred by tough losses in Strath Haven’s inability to qualify for the postseason, and it betrays the efficiency in his 1.41 ERA, allowing just nine earned runs in 44â innings while matching up against most opponents’ No. 1 pitchers.
As much as his recruiting situation harkens to years past, so does the constantly smoldering competitive fire and on-mound snarl Raines wears while attacking hitters.
Raines is harnessing that mentality to use the Carpenter Cup as preparation for the next level, wherever in that landscape he lands. Even if he had more clarity on his college choice, he’d still be playing in the Carpenter Cup, he said, a clear indication of where his priorities on the diamond lie.
“This is just a good time. I love coming out here and playing with these guys,’ he said. “You can’t build these relationships any other way but through here. Coming out, these kids are our rivals through the regular season, and then you come out here and make some new friends.’