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Plant baseball star Givens wins national Jackie Robinson Award

Mychal Givens was just 6 years old when Ozzie Smith retired, so everything he's seen of the player who revolutionized the shortstop position is relegated to baseball videos and ESPN Classic.

This week, they came together.

Shortstop of the past, meet the shortstop of the future.

On Friday night, the Plant standout was given the Jackie Robinson Award, annually given to the top rising high school baseball player in the nation that nearly cements Givens as a first-round draft pick in the 2009 Major League Baseball draft. Today, he will play in the nationally televised Aflac High School All-American Game, which showcases 38 of the game's best high school seniors at Dodger Stadium.

Along the way this week, Smith — who won 13 consecutive Gold Gloves — has taken notice of Plant's 18-year-old star. Smith is the honorary chairman of today's game. He has shaken Givens' hand and posed for photos with him, photos that could decades from now bridge the shortstop generational gap.

"I've seen him do the flip, I've seen him do the behind-the-back plays," Givens said. "He's one of the guys I grew up looking up to. He's one of the reasons I'm here."

Smith sees everything in Givens — a solid glove, great athleticism, a strong arm, ideal size and even a 3.7 grade point average — that he needs to become a great shortstop.

At a national showcase this summer, Givens was rated the top prospect. As a pitcher, his fastball topped 95 mph. He hit .421 this past spring, had a .521 on-base percentage and stole 16 bases.

"He can do so many things," Smith said. "He has all the things that are very important for a young man coming out of high school."

Ozzie Smith, a 15-time All-Star, made the difficult play look routine. He brought flash to the position.

But now, as he serves as a mentor for tomorrow's stars, he tells them one thing: Focus on the routine play.

"The position is so different now," Smith said. "A lot of them can make the spectacular plays. You have to know how to make the play when the ball comes to you. You want them to be the guy everyone wants the ball hit to late in the ballgame."

Smith doesn't consider himself a coach, but three springs ago he came to Tampa Bay Rays camp to help tutor B.J. Upton when he was coming off a 53-error season as a shortstop in Triple-A. Since then, Upton was moved to second base and now is flourishing in centerfield.

"Sometimes teams rush a guy through," Smith said. "His bat was so potent, and he's doing well as an outfielder, but sometimes teams don't understand it takes time, and a lot of blood sweat and tears. Sometimes they don't give guys enough time to learn the position."

"It's not going to happen overnight," Smith said. "A guy like Mychal Givens, he is an offensive player and can play everywhere. A lot of players go to the big leagues too quickly without honing their skills and consistency. It takes time."

So Givens will soak up Smith's advice. Even though Givens might be the best talent in the country, sometimes his fielding, such as in his previous high school season, can be slightly erratic.

But it's not every day you get advice from a Hall of Famer.

"I'm going to listen to that," Givens said. "The amazing plays come in time. It's the routine play that's important."

Plant baseball star Givens wins national Jackie Robinson Award 08/09/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 11, 2008 3:15pm]
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