By Chris Katz
Jason Wilpon, a former Division I baseball player from 2011 to 2013 at Florida Gulf Coast University, grew up in Cooper City, Florida, where baseball was everything.
“I made all my friends playing baseball,” Wilpon said. “We played everyday, rain or shine.”
Wilpon’s family pushed him to play baseball at a very young age. He started playing when he was just 7 years old for one of the many youth leagues in the region.
“I’ll never forget the first time my dad brought me to the batting cages down the street,” Wilpon said. “I cried my eyes out when he told me it was time to leave.”
South Florida has some of the nicest training facilities in the country. Not only are they nice, but they are also easily accessible.
“In my city alone there were three baseball training centers all within three miles of each other,” Wilpon said. “Luckily, my friends and I would just walk there every day after school.”
One of Wilpon’s favorite memories of growing up in Florida was watching teams complete their spring training every year before the regular season.
Whether Major League Baseball teams are warming up for the regular season, or retired players are settling down and training talented young players, warm-weather places like Florida, Arizona and California are typically considered hot spots for baseball. An analysis of where MLB players are from -- and where they played in college -- confirms that where the temperatures top out above 100, there are likely future pros in waiting.
Warm cities produce more players than cold cities
There are 750 MLB players (30 teams, 25 players per team) at any given time. An analysis conducted early in the 2017 season showed that the pros largely grew up where they could play year-round.
According to MLB.com, San Diego County and Los Angeles County in California have produced 16 MLB players each; Miami-Dade county in Florida has produced 11; and Harris County in Texas (which includes Houston) has produced 10.
By comparison, colder states like Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, Wyoming, New Hampshire and Maine are the only states that have not produced a single active MLB player.
“Obviously warm weather makes it easy for guys to play year-round,” said Mark Rogoff, vice president of public relations and marketing at Munger English Sports Management, who spent his entire childhood in San Diego. “But the weather indirectly establishes year-round facilities and brings retired players around to help train the youth of the city.”
Another factor that adds to the popularity of baseball in warm-weather cities is affluence. Baseball is more expensive to play than other sports because it requires much more equipment than sports like soccer and basketball.
“You can’t just go outside one morning and play baseball,” Rogoff said. “You or your family has to make a decent living in order to buy all the equipment.”
The top MLB player-producing colleges are all located in the southern half of the U.S.
Although the MLB has a high share of players who come straight from high school, a number of active players went to college in the United States. The colleges that produce the most MLB players are all located in the southern half of the United States. Long Beach State (California) has produced 10 players, LSU (Louisiana) has produced nine players, Cal State-Fullerton (California), University of North Carolina and Arizona State University have each produced seven players.
Records show that 194 players went to college in a different state than they were born in, while 179 players stayed in state.
“Baseball teams are pretty regional,” Rogoff said. “Unlike other sports, these kids just like to stay near home where they have played their whole lives.”
Since most MLB players were born in warm-weather states, they don’t have to leave home to play in nice weather. The competition is so tough in the southern states that most college recruiters put all of their focus in their own state.
The MLB is filled with international talent
As of early 2017, 234 of the 750 active MLB players were from countries other than the U.S. These home nations range from the Carribean to Germany to Saudia Arabia and all the way to Japan and Australia. Eighty-five of the international-born players are from the Dominican Republic and 24 are from its capital Santo Domingo.
Central and South America are also leading regions of international players in the MLB. Venezuela is home to 65 players and Cuba is home to 19.
“Baseball is America’s pastime, but it’s the world’s present time,” Rogoff said. “There are so many passionate players and fans from all around the world that are breaking the old cultural divide of baseball.”
Since the U.S. is one of the most affluent countries in the world, players from all around the globe are finding their way into America in order to train in the nicest facilities and eventually make their mark in the MLB.
The World Baseball Classic is becoming more and more popular every year, which brings very different cultures together to play the same beloved game.
International players largely play in the field
There are more position players that come from international countries than there are pitchers that come from international countries. Data show that 135 of 376 active position players are from countries outside of the US, while 101 of the 374 pitchers are from outside of the US.
“It is much easier to make it to the big leagues as a pitcher than it is as a position player,” Rogoff said. “Everybody wants to be a big hitter, but learning how to throw a good curveball will get you a faster ticket to the MLB.”
In the U.S., the youth baseball organizations are very prevalent, but in the international sphere, the game is not as widely played.
Making it to the MLB as a hitter is less competitive in other nations, which is why the best way in to the big leagues as an American is with a good arm.
“Nowadays, everybody is a Madison Bumgarner,” Rogoff said. “These kids can hit long bombs, but also throw nasty curveballs.”
The graphic below shows the state or country (with at least eight active MLB players) that has produced the highest proportion of players at each position.
For example, out of Mexico’s nine active MLB players, all nine of them are pitchers, which is the highest percentage of any state/country for pitchers.
“My dream as a child was to become an MLB superstar,” Wilpon said. “It took me a while to realize that not only all over the country, but all over the world there is another kid with the same dreams that I once had.”
NBA pipeline has prospects from california dreamin'
By Lexie Williamson
The Ball family -- recognizable by last name only -- has taken the hoops and sports media world by storm. The Chino Hills, California, crew is led by LaVar, the vociferous father of three sons (of Big Baller Brand fame) who played college basketball at Cal State-Los Angeles. Given his passion for the sport, it's no surprise that Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo have been playing basketball their entire lives
Lonzo played for UCLA this past season as a freshman and is likely a top pick in the NBA Draft. LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball will soon follow their big brother's path to college and, quite possibly, the NBA.
Although the Balls may be the most high-profile basketball family in Southern California, they are just one of many who have NBA hopefuls in their midst. Given the region's history of sending players to the pros and the current SoCal presence in the pros, it's easy to see why prospects would be California dreamin'.
Harvey Kitani, the boys’ basketball head coach at Rolling Hills High School in California, said boys in California are inspired to be in the NBA at a young age.
“Basketball is a sport every kid dreams of, so there’s high activity in terms of kids spending enormous amount of time trying to be the next one," Kitani said.
According to Eric Sondheimer, a Los Angeles Times writer who has been covering local high school sports since 1997, several inner-city neighborhoods in Southern California are responsible for producing the top talent.
“The kids grow up in the gym,” Sondheimer said, “I can only speculate that being in a gym is a lot safer than a park. It gets you away from gangs and so forth, so they probably work on their games.”
Southern California produces the most NBA talent
California is the largest state, both geographically and in terms of population, with 39.25 million people as of 2016, according to US Census Bureau.
An analysis of rosters from NBA.com shows that 45 current NBA players' home state is California, 25 more players than the second-most-common state of origin (Texas). New York and Illinois are shortly behind with 20 and 18 players, respectively.
According to the US Census Bureau, Florida is the third largest state in population with 20.61 million people. Yet just eight NBA players are from Florida.
Los Angeles is the No. 1 feeder for the NBA. Out of the 45 California players, 33 of them are from within a 70-mile radius of Los Angeles. The question: Why California? Sondheimer said there are many factors.
“There’s no surprise that lots of athletes in various sports come out of California," he said. "It comes to a popular region, the weather, the ability to go year-round, good coaching, and the college and pro teams that are in the area that provide inspiration for the kids.”
According to Kitani, with his 36 years of coaching experience, California is producing a large amount of talent because it has some of the top high school basketball programs and good AAU teams. He noted that California has a large African-American population.
“The ethnicity throughout our state has something to do with how people migrate to certain sports, in this case basketball," Kitani said. "AAU ball is big and the numbers allow for a lot of AAU activity. Also, we do have top high school programs in the state as opposed to a smaller state.”
And then there's the state's rich history of talent.
"LA is known for having athletic people, whether its Russell Westbrook or in the neighboring areas you have Reggie Miller out in Riverside or Kawhi Leonard or James Harden we are talking about athletes that focus on basketball only," Kitani said. "I don’t know how many Hall of Famers have come out of the area, but there’s certainly been enough.”
California is the top hotspot for the guard position
The guard position (including guards and guard-forwards) is especially heavy on California natives. The top three cities and states for the guard position are: Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston, Texas. Data show that 22 current guards came from California, making up 11 percent of all the guards in the NBA. 19 of the 22 are from Los Angeles and its surrounding areas.
The forward position (including forwards, forward-guards,and forward-centers) also is LA-rich. The top three cities that produce the most forward position players are: Los Angeles, Dallas and Brooklyn, New York. Los Angeles and its surrounding areas make up 11 of those 16 forwards from California.
The top three cities and states for the center position (including centers and center forwards) is different from the other positions. The top cities are Los Angeles and New York City, with four players coming from each.
California produces the most centers with seven players. France falls second, producing five. Canada and Indiana are also top feeders each with four centers.
“The population of California is the largest in the country so you have a greater amount of people to draw from and you have the LA Lakers -- one of the greatest franchisees around, Sondheimer said, “Whether it’s UCLA basketball, the Lakers or the Dodgers, we have all pro athlete teams, they’re all here.”
92 players in the NBA went to college in their home state
With warm weather and a rich talent pool, it's no surprise many California prospects stay in state for college.
Out of the 452 players in the NBA as of the end of the 2017 season, 92 went to college in their home state. Of those 92 players, 19 of them are from California.
The top college of these 19 players was UCLA (8). Three went to University of Southern California, two went to Stanford University, two went to University of California, one went to California Polytechnic State University, one went to Fresno State, one went to San Diego State and one went to Long Beach State.
It’s not a surprise that California is the top state that players choose to stay in-state for college. UCLA has a dominant basketball program, so it makes sense that they would be the number one feeder for players who stayed in state.
“I think it’s because we have a lot of opportunities with the numbers of schools," Kitani said. "Also, how many NBA teams we have in our state, we have two in Los Angeles. By far we have a lot of good Division I programs here in the state, opposed to other states because of the size of the state.”
Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina and UCLA are the top five colleges that produce the most NBA talent
One claim that California can't make: Home to the college that sends the most players to the pros.
That bragging right goes to Duke, which has 22 current NBA players. 17 players went to Kentucky and Kansas, which were the second and third largest college for producing NBA talent. North Carolina (14) and UCLA (13) are next.
UCLA, while not at the top of the list, still represents California well.
“UCLA is here, they’ve won 11 NCAA titles and so they attract a lot of talent," Sondheimer said.
The NBA is an international league
Of the 452 NBA players, almost 25 percent (111 total) are international. North America and Europe produce the most NBA talent. North America (including the United States, Canada, Bahamas, Dominican Republic) has 357 players. There are 60 players from Europe, 15 from Africa, 11 from South America, eight from Oceania (mainly from Australia) and one from Asia.
According to an article on CBSSports.com, basketball has grown in popularity globally. The road to the NBA can begin anywhere in world. In California, it's more like a superhighway.
nfl players often southern bred, spread for college
By Annie Rigterink
When you think of football, what comes to mind?
Maybe it's peewee games in Georgia or Friday Night Lights in Texas -- states with longstanding traditions of youth and high school football. They are places rich in pigskin pride, where parents invest heavily in preparing future college and pro prospects.
It's the kind of environment that Oakland Raiders guard Kelechi Osemele grew up in and remembers fondly. Hailing from Katy, Texas, the NFL Pro Bowler knows all about the importance placed on football in Texas and the pressure to get to the next level.
“There was never a question in my mind that I wasn’t going to work my [butt] off to get to that next level and provide for my mama,” Osemele said. “Houston is full of temptation but if you focus on the right things, creating your own opportunites and bettering yourself, good things will come.”
Though Osemele does have a physical advantage, standing tall at 6 feet, 5 inches and weighing in at 330 pounds, it was his work ethic that earned him a full-ride scholarship to Iowa State University and a spot in the NFL (he was drafted in the second round in 2012 by the Baltimore Ravens).
“Work ethic is what you’re recruiting,” said Towson University head football coach Rob Ambrose. “I like to keep men in my program that work hard. 100,000 guys could have the size, skill, talent, etc., but only a small percentage have the work ethic and focus for a Division I program, and ultimately, the NFL”.
When you grow up in states like Texas, with a host of talented recruits around you, working hard is one of the only ways to get noticed. Texas is among the top feeder states for sending players to the pros.
“Not to say I would ever discount a kid for being from a specific state, but we have kids from California that are great, and kids that are just as talented coming from Virginia," Ambrose said. "It all depends on the kid."
Outside of the top five feeder states, there is a wide distribution of players all across the United States. Almost every state is represented with at least one starter.
Plenty of colleges vie for top college players -- and the most effective pitches to recruits may come from the schools that send the most players to the pros. Those include Louisiana State University (18 current NFL starters), followed by Ohio State University, Penn State University, Stanford University, Florida State University and University of Georgia.
The NFL, unlike other professional sports in the United States, is dominated by home-grown talent. Ninety-seven percent of starters in the NFL are of domestic origin and only 3 percent of NFL starters come from another country.
“I don’t mean to sound ignorant, but good football just doesn’t translate internationally,” Ambrose said. “The NFL is the premier league and other foreign leagues cannot compete”
Added Osemele: “I don’t remember playing with a lot of guys from Europe. Football is something you think about when you think about America. They’re not really playing high school football on the same level as the US.".
However, there are exceptions. Towson University’s Karl-Johan Brandal came from Oslo, Norway, to a prestigious athletic preparatory school in Florida to better his chances at getting picked up by a Division I institute.
“My parents could afford it and wanted to give me every opportunity to succeed," Brandal said. "Do I think I’m going to go to the NFL? No. But I wouldn’t trade my years as a collegiate athlete for anything in the World."
Most NFL players are U.S. born, but many venture away from their home state to play in college, as the graphic below shows.
major U.S. sports leagues go global for talent
By Zach Brook
Baseball is America's pastime. Football is America's current obsession. The NBA has the biggest home-grown superstars. But all three sports -- baseball and basketball to a greater degree -- have gone global in search for talent, as these visualizations show.