For Belleville East senior shortstop Kevin Horner, getting to play his final high school baseball game at Busch Stadium is about as cool as it gets.
Horner is one of 25 senior all-stars on the Illinois squad that will take on their Missouri counterparts in the annual PNC Bank High School Baseball Showcase at 7 p.m. Thursday.
"To end my senior year like this I couldn't be happier," Horner said. "Getting first-team all-conference and getting to play in this all-star game, that's exactly how I pictured it."
Horner said that while he has had some college baseball recruiting interest, he is headed for Missouri to study mechanical engineering or possible a pre-med program.
His father, Steven Horner, is a local orthopedic surgeon.
The younger Horner led East with a .390 batting average this season and had five doubles and 18 RBIs. He was extremely excited to be chosen to compete in the game, which includes 25 seniors from Illinois and 25 more from the St. Louis area.
"I was in P.E. when Coach (Tim) Funk called me over and said someone wants to talk to me down in the athletic office," said Horner, who feared he had done something wrong.
That feeling changed after coach Tom Lodes gave him the good news.
"Right then my heart just felt amazing," Horner said. "I knew I'd put in the work for it, but I didn't know I was even eligible for it."
The players will be treated to a luncheon with their families at Ballpark Village on Thursday before heading to Busch Stadium to compete in a Home Run Derby or other skill challenges.
The event is free and open to the public. Ballpark gates open at 3:30 p.m. when the skills competitions begin, with the Home Run Derby set for 4:30 p.m.
Players will occupy the same major league dugouts as the St. Louis Cardinals and their opponents and play on the same field. Just hearing their names called at Busch Stadium for the pregame introductions will be a thrill.
"There's going to be a lot of really talented kids out there," Horner said.
One is Collinsville pitcher Tanner Houck, a Missouri recruit drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 12th round Saturday in the major league draft.
Tuesday night was Exhibit A of metro-east baseball talent as former Highland All-American Jake Odorizzi pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays. Odorizzi shut down the Cardinals until Matt Holliday's solo home run with two outs in the sixth inning.
Holliday's homer provided the only run of a Cardinals' 1-0 victory.
In addition, St. Louis area natives Max Scherzer and Mark Buehrle are two of the top pitchers in the American League.
"It's amazing," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, one of the original organizers of the high school baseball showcase. "We'll go city to city even in the big leagues now and I'll mention to the bench coach, 'Hey this kid's from this part of Illinois' or 'This kid's from Missouri.' It's surprising how many great baseball players this area produces."
Matheny is glad the Cardinals are involved in the event, which has added KMOX Radio as a sponsor this season.
"The venue makes it (special) in part, but also the idea you're out there competing with and against the best of the best," Matheny said. "(It's) the best seniors in this area and into Illinois, some of the names that you'd never even hard before, then you get to watch them and you follow them and start to develop some friendships and some relationships."
Former Cardinals pitcher and Freeburg area Danny Cox will coach the Illinois team and another former Cardinals pitcher, Alan Benes, will coach the Missouri squad.
When Matheny was growing up in Ohio, there was a state-wide all-star baseball game but it wasn't played at a major league park in Cincinnati or Cleveland.
"We had an all-state game," Matheny said. "Players that made first-team all-state got to play at Ohio State, which was a big deal for us. I'd never played on a college field before so that was something special."
(colleges in parentheses)
Pitchers: Tanner Houck, Collinsville (Missouri); Ryan Netemeyer, Mascoutah (SIU Carbondale); Zach Neff, Gibault (Austin Peay); Nick Yung, Freeburg (McKendree); Blake Deatherage, O'Fallon (McKendree); Parker Beine, Belleville West (Jefferson); Alex Meyers, Edwardsville (Concordia); Josh Fleming, Columbia (Webster); Keegan Anderson, Nashville (Kaskaskia).
Catchers: Chad Spanberger, Granite City (Arkansas); Jordan Harre, Nashville (Rend Lake).
First Base: Auggie Ward, Gibault (Knox); Collin Renth, Mascoutah.
Second Base: Collin Holton, O'Fallon (Southwestern Illinois); Luke Frazier, Althoff.
Shortstop: Wes Degener, Gibault (Lindenwood-St. Charles); Kevin Horner, Belleville East.
Third Base: Nelson Martz, Roxana; Alex Oltmann, Mascoutah.
Outfield: Michael Klein, Wesclin (SIU Carbondale); Joe Duncan, Highland (Eastern Illinois); Jeff Hahs, O'Fallon (John A. Logan); Austin Werner, Edwardsville (Kaskaskia); Collin McClellan, Althoff; Matt Mersinger, Triad (Kaskaskia).
Coaches: Jason Portz, O'Fallon; Don Eddy, Mascoutah; Mike Waldo, Edwardsville.
Pitchers: Jake Hemphill, Vianney; Glennon McCreary, CBC; Jordan Smith, Westminster; Brenden Schaefer, Pattonville; Anthony Herron, Affton; Shane Strom, Timberland; Lucas Swindle, Lutheran St. Charles; Brandon Downey, Lutheran South; Tom Kalish, DeSmet.
Catchers: Nic Perkins, Francis Howell; Brett Bond, Westminster.
First Base: Carter Hanford, Pattonville; Bobby Marco, Timberland.
Second Base: Harry Markotay, Hillsboro; John Ceriotti, St. Louis U. High.
Shortstop: Caleb Hicks, Westminster; Keith Grieshaber, Marquette.
Third Base: Jake Burger, CBC; Mat Jones, Vianney.
Outfield: Nick Allgeyer, Vianney; Eli Dilday, Francis Howell; Danny Biggs, Fort Zumwalt West; Kyle Stevens, Timberland; Luke Robinson, St. Louis U. High; Collin Einertson, Westminster; Matt Scheibel, Marquette; Michael Schwarze, Chaminade.