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[whitespace] WG pitcher following in the footsteps of pro players he may later see in the majors

Willow Glen--While most kids his age are preparing to take geometry in summer school, go camping with the family or apply for a part-time job at the shopping mall, 17-year-old Matt Durkin is heading overseas with his pitcher's glove.

The Willow Glen High School student was handpicked as one of 18 Americans who will spend 16 days playing baseball in Japan and China. It is part of an exchange organized by Area Code Baseball Games, a 13-year-old organization that picks the best players in the country for the program.

Durkin met his new teammates on June 14, and, with brand new passport in hand, left the country for the first time.

The American players will compete against the best young baseball players from Japan and China in the Japan-USA Goodwill Series.

Durkin will pitch against Japanese teams in five cities: Tokyo, Gunma, Niigata, Nagano and Utunomiya. The American Area Code team will play in Beijing.

During its 13-year existence, more than 120 Major League Baseball players have suited up for the Japan-USA Goodwill Series, including slugger Matt Williams, Golden Glove-winner Nomar Garciaparra, and pitchers Chang Ho Park and John Wetteland.

Durkin ,who stands 6'4" and weighs 215 pounds, started playing baseball when he was four. Now, he hopes he'll be added to the long list of major league ballplayers who participated in the Goodwill Series games.

The young bleached-blond is humble about being chosen for the team, and he doesn't like to talk about it. But Durkin says his friends, many whom he plays with on Willow Glen High's baseball team, are proud of him being picked for the prestigious team.

Several years ago, coach Mike Guido put Durkin on the pitcher's mound and taught him how to use his arm. Guido says Durkin can throw at speeds up to 90 miles per hour, as fast as many college or professional baseball players.

"He's the real deal," Guido says. "He's got a great future."

Guido says Durkin has all the physical tools needed to be a great pitcher--height, weight and a strong arm.

Although other schools in the area are often noted by sports writers and scouts for being athletic powerhouses that produce talented players, Guido says Durkin has put the team in the spotlight by surpassing that level.

And next year, Willow Glen's team will be lucky enough to have one of the best pitchers in the valley, striking out it's competitors throughout the season and into C.C.S finals, Guido says.

Guido, who taught Durkin how use his speed on the mound, said he was an easy pupil to teach. "Matt is an extremely likable kid and very easy to work with," Guido says. "He's down-to-earth and really appreciates what he has."

Area Code founder Bob Williams, who started the organization to help give young players a stage for their talents, says he depends on scouts from the major leagues to identify players for the Area Code team.

Durkin says he's looking forward to see how his favorite game is played across the globe, but he's even more excited because he'll have exposure to scouts from professional teams at the same time.

Durkin's father Bill, who took the call from Area Code in March when his son was picked for the team, has rarely missed his son's baseball games since he began playing T-ball.

When he grew out of the Lincoln Glen Little League All-stars, Durkin went on to play for the Willow Glen Red Sox chapter of American Amateur Union traveling team.

In 1998, Durkin pitched in the AAU nationals in Tennessee. In 1999 he pitched in Junior Olympics in Arizona and played for the Colt All Stars. Besides playing in Japan and China, Durkin will also play Palomino Baseball for the world champion Santa Clara Red Sox this summer.

Next fall, Durkin will be under scrutiny during his senior at Willow Glen High.

According to his dad, a pro-scout from the Boston Red Socks has requested Durkin's game schedule. Bill Durkin also says profiles of his son have been requested by some of the best baseball colleges in the country. Representatives from the University of Southern California, Arizona State University and U.C.-San Diego already have their eye on the pitcher with the hot arm from Willow Glen.
Chantal Lamers

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