Maples to UNC, Baldwin to Elon
By Charlie Bergmann
Special to The Pilot
A Pinecrest baseball program that has been sending players to play in college in increasing numbers came up big with recent verbal commitments made by Dillon Maples and James Baldwin III.
Maples, a junior with a 90-plus mile per hour fastball, made an early decision to join a UNC program in 2011 that finished last season ranked No. 6 in the nation (Baseball America). The Tar Heels are coming off four trips in a row to the College World Series.
Baldwin, a senior outfielder who like Maples was a two-time all-conference football player at Pinecrest, opted to pursue baseball in college when he made Elon his choice. The Phoenix also boast an elite baseball program that was ranked No. 24 at the end of last season.
"This is a first for our program in the 12 years we've been here," Pinecrest baseball coach Jeff Hewitt said on Friday, referring to the two Division I commitments in a single year. "Both of the kids had many different people recruiting them. It's been a fun ride. Both student-athletes are glad it's over. From a coaching standpoint, I couldn't be happier about the decisions they made."
Both possess household names in local sports circles. Baldwin is the son of James and Sharon Baldwin. Maples' parents are Tim and Tracy Maples.
Their fathers were pitching stars at Pinecrest before signing professional baseball contracts right after high school. The elder Baldwin pitched in the major leagues for 12 seasons, ending in 2006. He earned the victory in the 2000 All-Star game in Atlanta as a member of the Chicago White Sox. He has been Dillon Maples' pitching coach at Pinecrest.
Tim Maples spent five years pitching in the Baltimore Orioles minor league chain. Both dads are Pinecrest Hall of Famers whose uniform numbers are affixed on the outfield fence at John Williams Field.
The decisions of both athletes, especially by Baldwin since he is a senior, have been much-anticipated.
The 6-foot-3 Baldwin caught over 100 passes in three seasons as a wide receiver on the Patriot football team. He earned all-conference honors in baseball last year after batting .317.
Possessing great speed on the bases and a strong arm, he caught the eyes of college and professional scouts with his hitting and all-around play during the North Carolina State Games in June. He continued to impress in summer ball. He is currently averaging 13 points per game for the Patriot basketball team that is off to a 14-2 start.
"Where James really made his mark was at the State Games for Region 4," Hewitt said. "Because he had such a good showing, Elon knew what they were getting. The pedigree was there with his father doing what he's done in Major League Baseball. The upside is just unbelievable for James and what he can do."
Maples posted a 3-1 record on the mound for the Patriot baseball team last spring and batted .355. He struck out 72 batters in 35 innings. The 6-3 right-hander also performed well at the State Games. He capped his summer by pitching a no-hitter for the North Hurricanes showcase team in the World Wood Bat Association 16 and under championship game held in East Cobb, Ga.
"All of them saw the electric arm, the curve ball and the ability he has," Hewitt said. "He really set his mark this summer when he was in Georgia with the Canes. He's just maturing into a great player, not just physically, but mentally."
Maples will also be given an opportunity to become the place kicker for the Tar Heel football team. One of the eight field goals he kicked for the Patriots in the fall was a 51-yarder against a stiff wind that some observers felt would have been good from 60.
"If you watched any of the high school all-star games or bowl games," Patriot football coach Chris Metzger said, "there were winning kicks that Dillon could have made with his eyes closed. And as a matter of fact, so could J.B.(Baldwin), so that's kind of interesting."
Before watching Baldwin score 24 points in Friday night's basketball victory over Purnell Swett, Maples talked about his decision.
"When I was little, I used to watch the College World Series," he said. "I kind of had that dream I wanted to play for them, but I never thought it would be a reality. I started playing high school baseball and started playing for the Canes. Things finally settled in, and the dream came true.
"I really liked the coaches and felt comfortable with the campus. It really boils down to finding the right fit for you. It feels great to have your mind finally made up."
Metzger described Baldwin on Friday as the "most dominant receiver I've been blessed to coach."
"It's one of the most unique situations I've seen in 18 years of coaching," he said. "I've never seen a kid that talented that could potentially play in the NFL or Major League Baseball. They're both such great young men, and we're so proud of them. It's a real tribute to their parents and what they've instilled in them."
After four years of playing three sports in high school, Baldwin thinks he can best develop to his full potential by concentrating on one sport.
"I finally decided I wanted to play baseball because that's my future after college," he said. "I love baseball, and I want to follow in my father's footsteps.
"Elon does have a wonderful baseball program. They won a ring last year (conference title), and I just hope I get one too. But they don't only have a good baseball program. It's a good place to get an education. That's what I'm looking for."
Under NCAA rules, Baldwin will be able to formalize his commitment to Elon by signing a national letter of intent in April. As a junior, Maples will not have that opportunity until November. Both athletes are also on the radar of Major League Baseball teams. Hewitt looks for the first row of the new Patriot baseball stadium that will open this spring to be occupied by scouts.
Meanwhile, Maples and Baldwin will be Patriot teammates for one more baseball season.
"I'm really happy for J.B.," Maples said. "He's been working just as hard as me on the field and in the weight room. He's come a long way too."
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