The distance between Lamade Stadium and Bowman Field is not too long in miles. Just some seven miles separate Lycoming County's two most recognizable baseball relics.
For Gavin Cecchini, they might as well be light years away. He's nowhere the same player he was at Lamade Stadium some seven years ago as he was at Bowman Field just a couple weeks ago.
Lamade Stadium, the home of the Little League World Series for the past 50-plus years, is where Cecchini earned a national reputation. He's continuing to build that reputation as a member of the New York Mets' minor league system. The shortstop for the short-season Class A Brooklyn Cyclones, Cecchini has transformed himself from one of the top players at the 2006 Little League World Series to one of the top prospects in the Mets system.
Gavin Cecchini recently returned to Williamsport when the Brooklyn Cyclones visited Bowman Field.
The 2012 12th overall selection in the MLB Draft doesn't feel the pressure of the hype which comes with being selected in the first round of the draft. To him, it's still all about baseball, the same game he played with his friends from South Lake Charles Little League nearly a decade ago in his first trip to Lycoming County.
"It's still the game of baseball and still the game I love to play," Cecchini said. "The only difference is it's an every day grind."
The game is the same, just the surroundings which have changed. Cecchini has traded in cut-throat ping pong games with players from Japan, Curacao and Venezuela in the International Grove for hours-long bus rides through the no-name cities of the New York-Penn League.
He's still at shortstop, the position he manned for South Lake Charles, La., when he wasn't pitching. The movements are fluid, the arm is strong, the range is best measured with a map.
He fits the mold of a baseball player perfectly. The game courses through his veins. When talking about his experience at the Little League World Series, the now 19-year old cited playing in the games as the best part of the Series. Not the ping pong games, not the swimming pool in the Grove, not the signing autographs or the bags of merchandise companies gave the 11 and 12-year-olds for playing in the tournament.
"Playing in front of 30,000 people, not many 12-year-olds can say they did that," Cecchini said. "It was kind of like a mini big league game when I was 12-years-old. Just to be treated like that was pretty cool."
He wasn't nervous stepping on to the Volunteer Stadium grass for the Southwest Regional champion's first game. The baseball field is where he's always felt at home.
You see, Cecchini comes from a baseball family. His dad, Glenn Cecchini, was his coach at Barbe High School (La.) and even benched Gavin as a freshman when he was struggling. His older brother Garin was a fourth-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2010 and is ranked as Boston's seventh-best prospect by MLB.com.
The only thing which has changed about baseball has been the focus for Cecchini. In high school it was a physical game, even as he traveled the circuit in the summer playing in various showcases for the top talent in country.
It's more of a mental game now. It's learning how to deal with those hours-long bus rides while still being able to be fresh the next day to not only play a game, but put in extra work as well. It's an every day grind Cecchini is still getting used to just over a year after being drafted.
"This game is all mental. Once you get to this level, everyone has talent, or else they wouldn't be here," Cecchini said. "One thing that separates the really great players from the mediocre ones in the mental side. This game will trample on your feelings because you're going to fail more than you're going to succeed. It's different playing every day, but I love it. I wouldn't want to do anything else."
He's doing it pretty well, too. Despite slumping during his trip to Williamsport to play the Crosscutters, Cecchini has raised his batting average 68 points in his nine games since leaving Williamsport to .282. His OPS is at .656, the highest it's been in a month.
An ankle injury took away a couple weeks of playing time while he walked around in a boot. But he's gotten back to the form which made him a first-round draft pick.
He's taken the same approach to getting healthy again as he did to trying to help his team win as a 12-year old at the Little League World Series. Crowd size doesn't matter. Pressure doesn't matter.
Playing as hard as you can, busting your butt in practice and doing what's asked to try to help the team win are the philosophies he's carried since that 2006 summer. South Lake Charles went 1-2 in pool play that August, failing to advance.
Cecchini went 2 for 8 for South Lake Charles during the '06 Little League World Series. He also threw six shutout innings in an eventual 1-0, nine-inning win over the Midwest representative. Cecchini struck out seven and allowed just one hit in his only pitching performance of the tournament.
Playing in South Williamsport was something Cecchini said he and his teammates knew was possible from an early age. They had been winning tournaments as long as he could remember. Qualifying for the Little League World Series was just the culmination of those years of work coming together.
"We always just focused on winning one game at a time," Cecchini said. "We ended up going to the Little League World Series and it was a blast. We only won the one game, but it was great meeting new people and seeing how they do things.
"It was just a great experience."