As a child, Scott Kingery attended Arizona Fall League games and watch future Major Leaguers like Carl Crawford, Albert Pujols and Dustin Pedroia.
"I've dreamed of playing in this league since I was a little kid," the Phoenix native said. "I was watching the games, knowing that a ton of big leaguers came up through this."
So when Kingery learned he was chosen to play in his hometown league, he couldn't help but feel honored to be a part of such a selective group while appreciating that he could live with his family.
"I remember watching these guys out here and you see how much fun they're having, and now to be a part of that and be able to have fun with my friends and a bunch of different guys that I've never played with before, it's an incredible experience," the Phillies' 13th-ranked prospect said. "So it's about the best thing that could've happened for me this offseason."
Playing his first two pro seasons on the East Coast, it had been a while since Kingery got to play in front of so many familiar faces, although he's no stranger to playing near home. Coming out of Mountain Pointe High School, the second baseman didn't get any offers from major Division I schools, but he did get the opportunity to be a preferred walk-on at the University of Arizona.
Ninety minutes from home, Kingery decided to go for it. Soon, he was invaluable to the vaunted Wildcats program.
"I told myself if I wanted to make it in baseball, I'd take my shot at Arizona as a preferred walk-on and then if I didn't end up making the team, then I would just get my education there," he said. "I liked it because it's about an hour and a half away from where I lived and it was good to get away a little bit from home, [but] I was close enough away that my parents could come watch me and my friends could come watch me. … So it was, I think, the perfect distance from my home for me."
After the Phillies selected him in the second round of last year's Draft, Kingery quickly climbed through the system, making it to Double-A in July of his first full season. This year, Kingery hit .281 with 46 RBIs and 30 stolen bases for Class A Advanced Clearwater and Reading in "a long but satisfying journey." With the Fightin Phils, the 22-year-old got to learn more about his strongest tool from fellow speedster Roman Quinn.
"He's fearless on the basepaths," Kingery said of the Phillies' No. 7 prospect. "Every opportunity, he takes a bag, and I would watch him, watch his jump and watch his lead and I would just try to pick up little things that I saw that he did to try to make my game a little bit better."
Kingery is winding down his season with Scottsdale in the Fall League, where every game feels like a home game.
"Every game, there are friends or family members calling me, asking me to leave them tickets. So it's awesome just to be able to have that support out there," he said. "It makes me want to play better for them and show them that I'm doing well, and they can watch a good game and have fun out there watching me do what I love to do."
Kingery is teammates with Angels outfielder Michael Hermosillo, who is from Mesa, and plays against Arizona natives Cody Bellinger (Dodgers), Alex Verdugo (Dodgers), Josh Taylor (D-backs), Jamie Westbrook (D-backs) and Dustin Peterson (Braves), plus fellow Wildcats Brandon Dixon (Reds) and James Farris (Cubs), who's also from Arizona.
"I like to say [it's] an advantage for me because I'm playing against guys that I played high school with, travel ball, college ball with and they're all from Arizona and I've known them for such a long time," Kingery said. "But it's awesome, I'm out there having fun. If they get on second base, then I get to talk to them, or I get on base and get to talk to them. It's a blast just having family be able to come watch and having a bunch of friends out on the field with me."
So how does playing in the AFL compare to how Kingery imagined it as a kid?
"It's even better."
Age is just a number: The Scorpions roster features both the youngest and oldest players in the AFL in Gleyber Torres and Tim Tebow. The Yankees' No. 2 prospect, who turns 20 next month, has a .341/.482/.659 slash line with nine RBIs in 13 games. On the other end of the age spectrum, the 29-year-old Tebow is starting to get comfortable in the new league with all seven of his hits coming in his last nine games. While Tebow may be considered an outlier due to his recent return to the sport, the Scorpions also have the second-oldest player in 28-year-old Eliezer Zambrano (Giants).
Champion of speed: Coming off a season in which he led the Mets organization with 40 stolen bases, Champ Stuart is flashing his speed in the AFL. The 24-year-old outfielder ranks among the league leaders with eight steals, including three in a Halloween victory.
Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan.