Competing for a title and playing for a dream at Champs Arizona

To amateur baseball players around the country like Brady Ebel, Champs Arizona just means more.

USA Baseball’s National Team Championships provide an opportunity for more than 250 elite travel baseball teams to compete for gold medals. With 64 teams per age group at Champs Arizona, Ebel and many like him are gunning for first place across 14U, 15U, 16U, and 17U competitions.

However, they’re fighting for more than simply a place on the podium. They’re playing for a chance to represent their country.

The National Team Championships serve as the primary identification vehicle for USA Baseball’s national teams and development programs. With chances to make the 15U or 18U National Teams, among others, Ebel and others playing in USA Baseball’s National Team Championships come to Arizona to compete for more than just a title.

Playing for a title is the first step in the process, one that Ebel’s already mastered. After competing in last year’s 16U Champs Arizona, Ebel and his team, GBG National, didn’t just compete. They won it all.

“It's really hard to make it to that championship game,” Ebel said. “You have to play a lot of games out there, and it's nothing but great talent out there. And to be able to come out on top with my team, what an amazing feeling it is to celebrate a great accomplishment.”

Jeff Feltman, USA Baseball’s Baseball Operations Coordinator, helps captain the Champs Arizona event every summer. Feltman and a large team of staff organize, then witness multiple 64-team tournaments unravel and ultimately name four winning teams by the end of the summer.

“To come all the way from top-64 to number one and be able to play seven, eight, nine games and win them all, it’s just something special,” Feltman said. “And if I was in this kid's footsteps, I think I would feel it too. I think it's such a great experience for them, and to be able to say you’ve won at a USA Baseball event is special. It's something that not a lot of people get to say.”

Ebel, a third baseman and infielder from Rancho Cucamonga, California, would tend to agree. As one of the few that have won at a USA Baseball event, Ebel knows firsthand how much hard work, dedication, and commitment it takes to come out on top.

Most importantly, he knows how sweet it feels to win it all.

“We worked so hard all through the summer, playing all the tournaments,” Ebel said. “All the work we put in and the team chemistry we have — knowing that we're doing the right thing, it's awesome to know that.”

Because of that hard work, championship days in Arizona don’t disappoint in the slightest. Players from around the country never fail to bring the energy as they compete in those final rounds, just one step away from the ultimate payoff.

“I think my favorite part is the championship days and seeing these players where everyone hits another level that day,” Feltman said. “They are so excited. They want to win so badly. They want to stand up on the field and have us place that gold medal around their heads — it's really seeing the passion and the energy in the building that day.”

This summer, Ebel and GBG National are gunning for a repeat. With a similar roster to last year’s 16U-winning team, they know what to expect as they compete in the 17U bracket, and their end goal is crystal clear.

“It's mostly the same team this year and going into there I think it's the same goal — coming out on top,” Ebel said. “We're coming in here excited; we know what to expect, and we know how hard it's going to be to win it all. We plan to come in here, play hard, work hard, and hopefully come out on top.”

But as mentioned, a podium finish isn’t the only thing Ebel and his peers are at Champs Arizona for. The pipeline from the National Team Championships to playing for Team USA is truly what sets Champs Arizona apart from any other tournament.

“I think just the aspect in knowing that you’re being considered for USA Baseball, it’s something bigger than just the game and something bigger than just a normal travel baseball tournament,” Feltman said. “It's very unique, and I'd argue that it's one of the only tournaments in the country that are like this. It's not just there for someone to win, but it's there for what's going to come from after it.”

Assembling a carefully crafted group of scouts, program directors, former big leaguers, and more, Feltman and others at USA Baseball create a task force to collectively evaluate players that have what it takes to wear the stars and stripes.

After making and playing for the 15U National Team years ago, Ebel wants to earn his way onto the 18U National Team after his performance at Champs Arizona this summer.

“Going to any USA Baseball event, it means a lot because I know there's USA scouts there,” Ebel said. “So going there, I hopefully do well enough where I get invited, and my goal this year is to make the 18U National Team so that's what I'm looking forward to. So I just want to go out, have fun, play baseball, and that'd be sweet if that happens.”

On-field skill, ability, and decision-making aren’t the only things USA Baseball’s Task Force is looking for, though. Mental toughness, determination, maturity, and a high level of energy are required to compete abroad for the United States.

“Obviously, baseball talent level is a very big piece of it,” Feltman said. “But that's only probably half of what we're actually looking for. We're looking for players that compose themselves well, that have great attitudes, that are great teammates, that are energetic, and have that mental toughness to represent the United States.”

Representing the United States on an international stage is no easy feat. However, it helps when your father was the third base coach for Team USA in the 2023 World Baseball Classic.

Dino Ebel, also the third base coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers, is able to coach Brady — along with his younger brother Trey — in baseball and in life.

“I'm very blessed to be able to come from a baseball family,” Ebel said. “My dad, he's been in the game forever, and I'm lucky enough to have him be my coach but also my dad. He taught me a lot, and I'm so thankful for him and what he's done for baseball for me.”

With his dad as his ultimate role model, Ebel lives and breathes baseball, but he isn’t just following in his father’s footsteps when it comes to representing Team USA. Featured on signs and posters around Peoria Sports Complex and Surprise Stadium in Arizona, Team USA legends such as Bryce Harper and Clayton Kershaw are integral to the United States’ legacy of success on the international stage.

And those legends all start at events such as Champs Arizona.

“They walk into the fields and they see Mookie Betts, Bryce Harper, Paul Skenes, and these guys that they look up to and they realize they’re at the right place to be like that,” Feltman said. “... They can look at these guys and envision themselves there. I think it’s pretty cool for them to walk in and see that and to realize the extent of the tournament and how special this tournament is.”

Ebel, one of the many players who hopes to see his face dotted around the event one day, already knows how it feels to win gold for Team USA. While on the 15U National Team, Ebel and his squad won it all at the World Baseball Softball Confederation U-15 Baseball World Cup in Hermosillo, Mexico. Knowing what it takes and what it feels like to win, Ebel is excited for yet another chance at making another national team roster this summer.

“It's one of the best feelings that you could have in baseball,” Ebel said. “Winning gold for your country — there’s nothing better than that. So being able to do that again this year, having a chance to — what an amazing feeling. I feel very blessed, very lucky to be able to represent and knowing that you did something good for your country, it's an amazing feeling.”

That feeling is something Ebel and the rest of the most elite high school baseball players that compete at Champs Arizona will chase this summer.

While Ebel and his peers want nothing more than to compete on the world stage for their country, the 15U alum is excited to spend one more summer with his team doing what he loves and what Champs Arizona is all about: playing baseball.

“This is all our last summer together, and knowing it's a huge summer, it's pretty cool to know that scouts are there because they see we’ve got something in us,” Ebel said. “But I know for a lot of us, we just want to keep having fun, keep playing the game right, and good things will happen for us.”