Prep Focus
by: JAIME VALDEZ Cleveland High's Dillon Abate (right) and the Warriors' Cole Hamilton.

A year ago, Dillon Abate briefly wondered if he would ever play baseball again.

The Cleveland High second baseman was coming off surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff on his right throwing shoulder.

'Through the healing process it became like that a little bit,' Abate says, of his concerns about the future. 'Getting into the later months, maybe five months into it, it kind of seemed like it was never going to get better.'

Abate suffered the injury midway through his junior season. He originally tweaked his shoulder stealing second base, when he dove for the bag and stretched to stay on the base. A few games later, he slid into home, and the ligaments were ruined.

The only silver lining to the injury was that it did not prevent Abate from swinging the bat. He became Cleveland's designated hitter for the rest of the regular season. But he missed the entire summer after the surgery.

Cleveland coach Casey Dyer says the Warriors learned just how important Abate was to the team after the injury.

'Last year, we didn't know how good we had it with him until he got hurt,' Dyer says. 'After he got hurt, it was try and find a guy, try and find a guy. We never found a guy to replace him.'

Fast forward to 2011. Being selected to any kind of All-Star team did not seem even in the realm of possibility.

Baseball is a game of magic, though, and the 5-9, 160-pound Abate was the engine of Cleveland's offense, hitting for both average and power in the leadoff spot. And this weekend, he will play in the Oregon High School 6A/5A All-Star Series for the North as it faces the South at Oregon State's Goss Stadium.

'It's a big privilege,' Abate says. 'I wasn't even thinking about it this year. So when I heard about it, I was very excited.'

Abate admits he will face better pitching than what he has seen in the PIL. He plans to use the game as a measuring stick.

'There are going to be some really good pitchers,' Abate says. 'I'm a little nervous about the pitching. But I'm just excited to see how I do and how I compare with these other kids.'

Abate transferred to Cleveland after two years at Central Catholic. Though he liked the Rams' baseball program, the school was not the right fit for him.

'I've gone to public school my whole life, and the school just didn't do it for me over there,' he says.

This season at Cleveland, Abate made position changes both in the lineup and in the field, moving from the three hole to the leadoff spot and from second base to shortstop for much of the year.

While it was what the Warriors needed, the move to shortstop put Abate out of favored position, especially with the longer throw on his rotator cuff.

The move to the leadoff spot was not only something Abate liked, but also something he asked Dyer to make.

'I just feel more comfortable getting more fastballs and trying to get on base,' Abate says. 'It's mental. Because I'm going up there and I'm going for singles. And when I was hitting the ball the hardest is when I was just trying to get base hits. Three of my home runs were (batting) leadoff. So just going for a nice short swing, getting base hits, is where my power came from.'

Abate will spend the summer playing for The Barbers, a AAA American Legion team. Next season, he plans to play at Linfield.

Abate is too young to have watched Linfield coach Scott Brosius' 1998 World Series MVP heroics with the New York Yankees.

'But I've learned about it,' he says.

Abate's decision to go to Linfield was based on the high-quality program Brosius has created there.

'It's a strong program,' Abate says. 'I like Coach Brosius. He's a good guy, and it will be fun to compete there.'

Dyer says Abate will need to become a more well-rounded hitter at the next level. But he says Abate can continue to succeed at Linfield.

'He could definitely be a contributor for them,' Dyer says. 'His baseball IQ is off the charts. He needs to learn how to hit a little bit more. Right now, he is 'see ball, hit ball.' At the next level, he'll learn how to work counts better and do all the things they want him to do up there.

'He will learn. That's the good part about Dillon, he's so smart and he understands the game. He'll do it, and he'll understand why he's doing it, and he'll get better because of that.'

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