Before Darren Hasch even began his junior year at Fort Walton Beach High School, he learned what it's like to play in a major league spring training stadium and win gold in international competition.
Hasch, 17, played alongside some of the best high school talent in the world as part of the United States national team at the USSSA Gold Medal Games Aug. 4-8 at Osceola Stadium, the Houston Astros training facility, in Kissimmee.
"The talent level was the best that I've seen as a team," the Destin native told The Log. "It was just phenomenal baseball."
The U.S. team shut out Puerto Rico 5-0 in the championship game to finish the tournament with a 6-1 record and win gold.
"It was exciting for us. We weren't out there losing the whole time. We were having fun, just enjoying it," Hasch said.
The gold medal game was the third meeting between the U.S. and Puerto Rico in the tournament. The U.S. won the first meeting 13-8, then suffered their only loss of the week 5-4 to the Puerto Ricans in the second meeting.
"(The Puerto Rican team) could hit the ball. That was their strongest point. Their pitching shut us down, too, though," Hasch said.
Hasch, the son of Karen and Michael Hasch of Destin, played third base, his usual position, to start the tournament. A versatile player who can play almost any position, including catcher, Hasch moved to right field later in the tournament.
"I just started playing outfield at Fort Walton. I told (the coaches) that I could play anywhere they needed me, so they stuck me out in right field," Hasch said.
The USSSA Gold Medal Games is a wooden-bat tournament, as opposed to the metal bats used in high school and college competitions. The wood bats give the big league scouts on hand a chance to see how the players may fare in a professional batter's box one day, without the extra velocity aluminum bats provide.
"It feels a whole lot different," Hasch said. "But after a while, (we) got used to swinging a wood bat, and the hits started coming along for us."
Hasch didn't know his exact hitting statistics in the tournament. He said he could have done better, but all around he was pleased with his performance.
After graduating from high school in 2015, Hasch said he hopes to play college baseball. He would be happy to play for any school, but if he could choose the place, he'd prefer to take his talents to Mike Martin Field at Dick Howser Stadium in Tallahassee in a Seminole uniform.
"I go to a lot of their camps. I love the facility they have there. The coaching is pretty nice. And they have a great campus," Hasch said.
For now, Hasch has two more years of high school to think about. He said he hopes to help a big group of seniors lead the Vikings to a winning record and deep run in the district playoffs this year.
"I haven't seen the team much this year, but (compared) to last year, we are going to have a whole lot more seniors who are going to step up, and hopefully we'll do more than we did last year.”