Lake Oswego's Thomas Dukart has always wanted to test the best.
He did it during the spring season as a right fielder for the Laker varsity baseball team. He did it again over the summer for Lake Oswego's OIBA team and for his club team, Gunderson Baseball.
So it probably shouldn't come as a surprise that Dukart got after it again during the 2019 Area Code Games.
Dukart, incoming senior at Lake Oswego High School, started in left and center field in four of five games as a member of the Royals team during the Area Code Games, held Aug. 5-9 at Long Beach State University. The Area Code Games bring together the best high school baseball players in the country to compete in a five-day showcase while simultaneously being evaluated at the highest level.
While he didn't hit as well as he would have liked, Dukart used his keen batting eye to collect a handful of walks and also played error-free baseball in the outfield.
"At the end of the day, I just played my heart out and, hopefully, I had a good week," said Dukart.
Dukart, 17, earned his place on the Royals — a team comprised of players from the Pacific Northwest — following an earlier tryout at the University of Portland. He competed against some 60 of the area's best players, and three weeks later, learned he was one of six Oregon players selected to the team. A second tryout for the Royals was held at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington.
The other Oregon players on the team were Jesuit's Mick Abel, Lincoln's Jake Leitgeb, Central Catholic's Dylan MacLean, and Barlow's Jaren Hunter and Durham Sundberg. The rest of the Royals' lineup included players from Washington, Idaho, British Columbia and one each from Montana, Florida and Texas.
Needless to say, the talent level — on the Royals as well as the seven other teams in the showcase — was off the charts.
"With my club team, I saw a decent level of competition, but Area Code was a whole different thing," Dukart said. "A bunch of the kids were big, college size, and (all the pitchers) threw like 91."
While he was geared up to compete with the country's high school elite, Dukart couldn't help feeling some nerves. Fortunately, he knew someone uniquely positioned to help him deal with those nerves — his big brother Jake, a 2018 LOHS grad, a member of the Oregon State University baseball team and an Area Code Games alumnus from the summer of 2017.
"At the end of the day, I just played my heart out and, hopefully, I had a good week."
— Thomas Dukart
"I was nervous, but he said 'Yeah, there's a lot of big guys down there, but you've got to remember, you're the best in the Northwest so just play your heart out,'" Dukart said.
Dukart, listed at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds as a junior, definitely wasn't one of the big guys at the Area Code Games, but he fought to get on base, used his speed and ability in the outfield, and tried to learn as much as he could from the experience.
"I was always having to adjust my swing because there were just an awful lot of good pitchers there with good ball movement and different types of pitches so I was constantly updating my swing," Dukart said. "I had to make changes to my swing path and changes to my timing before the pitch was thrown.
"There were a lot of good pitchers out there and you see some good pitchers in the Northwest, but when you go down there, you see a lot of things that keep you off balance. You've got to keep your poise and play your best."
Dukart's Royals opened their week with a 4-1 loss to the White Sox (representing the Midwest) on Monday, Aug. 5, then tied the Nationals (representing the Southeast) 2-2 on Tuesday, Aug. 6.
Next, the Royals fell 10-2 against the Brewers (representing Southern California) on Wednesday, Aug. 7, fell 5-4 against the Athletics (representing Northern California) on Thursday, Aug. 8, and finally, beat the Reds (representing the Southwest) 5-4 on Friday, Aug. 9.
While Dukart would have liked to see a few more "Ws" on the Royals' side of the ledger and a few more hits on his own (he went 1 for 10 with five walks and one run scored), he knew that the experience and the exposure would eventually pay dividends.
According the Area Code Games' website, players are "evaluated at the highest level. Scouts from all 30 Major League teams and the Major League Scouting Bureau will be in attendance. This tournament serves as the beginning of a nine month interview process culminating with the Major League Baseball Draft the following June."
Dukart also stole two bases in the Games and made 19 putouts without an error in left and center fields.
"(Defense) went good. I had a clean slate — I had no errors — which was very good and I caught a ball at the wall," Dukart said, explaining that "I had to (play deeper) a little bit because the guys were a little bigger … But besides that, the main thing was I was kind of moving around trying to get their timing down and put myself in the best spot to make a play."
In addition to what he learned from the experience first-hand, Dukart — who will attend Oregon State to play baseball beginning in the 2020-21 school year — just tried to soak up as much knowledge as possible from his fellow players, coaches and scouts.
"When I was down there, I talked to a lot of (people) … so I'm going to take those lessons with me into the offseason and, hopefully, I'll break out from my high school career and into college," he added.
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