Sean Irick spent most of Christmas day lounging around his hotel room in the middle of Australia, away from his family.
For most 15-year-olds, that wouldn’t be easy. For Irick, though, it was well worth it.
A freshman at Chestatee High, Irick spent 15 days over the winter break representing the U.S. in the Goodwill Series games in Australia, playing baseball against some of the top talent from the other side of the world.
“It was amazing,” Irick said. “I thought (being away) would be a lot harder than it was. It wasn’t that bad.
“It was awesome meeting kids that share my passion that are from all around the country.”
The only representative from the state of Georgia, Irick was chosen to play with the US team after training in Bradenton, Fla. at the IMG Academy, a premier training facility that is home to some of the most up-and-coming athletes in the world, along with professional athletes in the past like Cam Newton and Tim Tebow.
Chosen as the Most Valuable Player at the IMG Academy last year after batting .486 and boasting a slugging percentage of .757 in the league, Irick was an easy lock to play for the Under-16 team in Australia.
After a 20-hour flight from Dallas to Australia, Irick and his new teammates immediately hit the practice field, wearing their team uniforms — the official spring training uniforms of the Cincinnati Reds.
Then came 13 games in 15 days, pitting the American-based team against teams from Singapore, New Zealand and several Australian-based teams.
The end result was a 9-4 record and an 8-1 win over Perth, Australia in the tournament’s championship game.
For Irick, who played center field for the team, it was an experience like no other, especially when he earned MVP honors in his team’s 9-1 win over South Australia.
“It was amazing,” Irick said. “(The best part) was most definitely winning the MVP.”
Irick said the whole experience of playing in Australia was one he won’t forget, especially getting the opportunity to play for coach J.R. Reynolds, a current player in the Reds organization.
When they weren’t focusing on baseball, which Irick admits wasn’t very often, the players were treated to some of the sights of Australia, which included visiting a local zoo.
For Irick, it was one of the top non-baseball related moments of the entire trip.
“There was this petting zoo in the outback,” Irick said, “And I got to hold a Koala (bear) and touch Kangaroos and everything. It was amazing.”
A single-sport athletic since he picked up a bat at the age 4, Irick spent the majority of his youth playing baseball in the Gainesville Parks and Recreation. It was at the age of 11 that his youth coaches started to notice something different.
“It was just a natural talent and ability to play and desire to improve,” said David Ball, Irick’s coach of the Gainesville Cardinals. “I told them he has a lot of natural talent, he’s naturally strong and he has the ability to really, intellectually, grasp the game.”
Even after Ball told Irick of his potential, he didn’t quite believe it. At least he didn’t believe what Ball said until his performance last summer at the IMG Academy.
“Last year, whenever I won the league MVP in the wood bat league, that’s when I really started to understand it,” Irick admitted.
From that point on, Irick took his level of commitment to the sport to another level. For one, he now wakes up at 5:30 a.m. and works out. Then, it is on to school then to baseball.
“I try to hit three to four hours in the cage, five days a week,” Irick said. “And on days when I can’t, I just go to the gym.”
Now that Irick is back in the States, settling back into his life as a high school freshman, he has lofty expectations for his four-year playing career with the War Eagles.
The first is making varsity this season and starting at center field. He’s got a great shot at making the team if you ask Chestatee coach Kyle Counts.
“Sean has all the skills to play varsity as a freshman,” Counts said. “I fully expect him to be in the mix somewhere. You still have to have tryouts and you have to work the guys out to see where they fit in, and for Sean being a newcomer, I don’t know where that is going to be yet.
“But I’m definitely excited about the ability he’s shown so far.”
Following the spring season with Chestatee, Irick will be back on the road playing baseball throughout the summer. He will spend nearly every week traveling with the Ohio Valley division of USA Baseball.
And what will happen in four years?
Maybe Irick will join the list of area players that will have their name called in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, or maybe he will sign with Florida State, his family’s favorite school and a historically perennial power in college baseball.