RINGGOLD, Ga. — Welcome to Cole Wilcox's excellent adventure.
Many high school students embark on interesting summer work programs. Few, however, can match the one currently in play for the Heritage High School senior, who is about to take his exploding fastball on a nationwide tour.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound right-hander, after playing this summer with eXposure Baseball and attending several elite showcase events, is in Chicago to participate in today's Under Armour All-American game at iconic Wrigley Field.
It's just the start of a whirlwind few weeks that could end with Wilcox, with his 97 mph fastball, making the final roster for the USA Baseball 18-under national team. It's a path likely to lead next summer to being a first-day major league draft pick. He is ranked among the top 20 draft prospects by both Perfect Game USA and MaxPreps.
"It's been an exciting summer," said Lee Wilcox, Cole's father. "It kind of started when Cole pitched in a few games last summer and there were a few scouts around and he started moving up in rankings."
Wilcox was one of the first players invited to the Under Armour game, an elite showcase that in 10 years has had 284 of its participants drafted, including 83 in the first round.
He's also been invited to next week's East Coast Pro showcase at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, an event run by Major League Baseball with invitations given out by professional scouts.
On Aug. 13 Wilcox will be in San Diego to participate in the prestigious Perfect Game All-American Classic, and the next week he will be in Minneapolis, where the final roster for the 18-under national team will be cut from 40 to 20. If he makes the cut the national team will play in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada in baseball's World Cup in September.
Wilcox has taken the accolades in stride and realizes few get to experience what he's about to see and do.
"It's a real honor to be able to do what I'm doing," he said. "It's fun to be around guys who are so good at what they do — all the people you see talked about so much. We were at the Tournament of Stars a couple of weeks ago when I finally realized I belonged there and can't be star-struck. My very first pitch was to one of the top hitters in the country, and he swung right through it."
While parents Lee and Sandy admittedly are nervous, their teenager is anything but. To Cole Wilcox each of these events is just another day at the ballpark doing what he loves.
"I love it. I just love to compete in anything, anything from throwing marbles or baseball," he said. "To be able to compete at such a high level with so many talented players is just amazing."
It's an attitude that continues to amaze — and often amuse — his parents.
"We laugh sometimes about it because Cole is so easygoing about all of it," Lee Wilcox said. "It's funny. Nothing really seems to bother him. But as a parent it makes you a little nervous as they compete, because you want to see them achieve their goals.
"We've seen all the hard work behind it — the workouts, the laps in the pool, the throwing program — so it's rewarding to see that pay off."
Heritage coach Eric Beagles has seen the other side of the athlete, the one that sometimes hides beneath the cool exterior.
"A gentleman from the Olympic Committee called me and wanted to know some things about him," Beagles said. "I told him Cole is one of the most competitive athletes I've been around. You wouldn't know it unless you went to battle with him.
"He's also a model of everything we want kids to be. People in the community know him and his family and they ask me about him all the time, so a lot of people are excited for him and this opportunity. Everyone is rooting for him, and not just because he's a great athlete."
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or at 423-757-6296; follow on Twitter @youngsports22