‘A big opportunity’: 12-year-old boy from Chicago prepares to compete at Baseball World Cup in Taiwan

20 July 2023

Paris Head admits he wasn’t very good when he started playing baseball at 5 years old for the Garfield Park Little League.

But Head said he put in the work to get competitive. He practiced fielding and hitting with his little brother. He studied hours of training programs on YouTube. And he enjoyed watching his favorite professional teams — the Cincinnati Reds and Baltimore Orioles — on television.

Now, the 12-year-old Humboldt Park resident is preparing to compete later this month at the U-12 Baseball World Cup in Tainan, Taiwan. He’s the only player from Illinois who qualified for the 18-person roster.

“It’s a big opportunity to go to a different country,” Head said. “I want to have fun, but I still want to win.”

The World Baseball Softball Confederation, a governing body for the two sports that’s recognized by the International Olympic Committee, runs the tournament. Athletes from a dozen countries will flock to the Asia-Pacific International Baseball Stadium in Tainan from July 28 to Aug. 6 to vie for the title of world champion.

Head will depart Friday for four days of training in California before leaving for East Asia with his mom, Lakeisha Brown.

“I’ve never been out of the county so that’s one of the exciting parts,” Brown said. “And watching him play, that’s my most important part — just enjoying watching him play, that smile on his face when he gets on the field.”

Making the team was a lengthy, selective process, Brown said. Coaches tested Head’s skills throughout multiple rounds of tryouts in Romeoville, Champaign and Cary, North Carolina. He plays shortstop and pitcher.

Head said he was confident he would make the cut. The final hurdle was a five-day camp last month at the USA Baseball training facility in Cary, where coaches selected 18 players out of a pool of 36 to go to the World Cup. They were assessed based on daily workouts, a four-game series and more.

“I kind of knew I was going to make the team because I did really good. The coaches just liked how my energy was,” Head said. “I knew I was, but when I did make it, I was excited.”

“They have some amazing coaches that push them to the limit and push them to the best of their ability. So my son would say it was an intense but a fun workout, training session,” Brown added.

National Team manager Troy Gerlach said in a press release that there was “an incredible amount of talent” at the training camp, and he’s confident that “the team we have assembled will represent our country well.”

The U.S. is a four-time world champion at the World Cup — a title Head will help defend starting on July 28 against Czechia. He said he’s not feeling too much pressure yet, and is trying to look at it as just another game.

Dozens of Head’s family and friends gathered at a block party Sunday to celebrate his accomplishments. There was food, a bounce house and, of course, kids playing baseball.

Paris’ dad, Marcus Head, said his son is a hardworking kid who deserves the recognition — and not just for sports. He said Paris, who is going into seventh grade at Learn Charter School in Garfield Park, is a straight-A student. Head also enjoys hanging out with friends, as well as playing basketball and whiffle ball.

“He had his village that it took to help him out. I contacted old coaches, friends, old teammates, some of my friends, some of his mom’s friends,” he said. “I just wanted to really celebrate him for a day.”

For Head, seeing so many people show up to support him made him “want to keep going to make them proud.”

One of Head’s current coaches is David Reed at the White Sox Amateur City Elite, a program created in 2007 to encourage baseball participation among African American youths. Reed said in the past year he’s worked with Head, he’s displayed “exceptional athleticism” that’s well above his age level.

“He has a big arm, he can throw above the kids at his age level. He can hit for power, hit for average,” Reed said. “He’s what you would describe as a five-tool baseball player — right now at the age of 12.”

Reed said Head has numerous accolades with this team as well. In May, Head was named the ACE Player of the Month, which meant he won a jersey and went on the field at a White Sox game. At another tournament this year, Head hit at least four home runs over two days, Reed said.

“I was just super happy that I had the opportunity to coach a kid and help him in his growth, leading to him getting the opportunity of trying out and making that team,” Reed said. “I’m just happy to be a part of his kid’s path.”

One day Head said he hopes to play collegiate or professional baseball and meet his baseball idols — Trea Turner of the Philadelphia Phillies and Elly De La Cruz of the Cincinnati Reds. The World Cup in Taiwan is an important step toward that dream, he said.

“The goal is to play professional baseball,” Head said, “so this is a milestone.”

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