Greg Pace is on his way from his classes at Detroit Edison to the baseball team’s practice.
It’s 4 p.m. on a Wednesday as he cuts through the parking lot —still in his school uniform (a white button-up shirt and red tie — passes through the gate and reaches the turf at Chene and Mack, with the downtown skyline to the southwest.
Just turf, marked at either end with the “Pioneers” at either end, where Detroit Edison plays its football games in the fall. No infield. No outfield. No fence. No bases.
It’s not the type of field on which you’d except a player such as Pace, who is committed to Michigan baseball and projected to be selected in the first five rounds of July’s MLB draft, to hone his baseball skills.
As Pace approaches teammates and coaches, sixth- and seventh-graders — using the track that surrounds Detroit Edison’s football field — watch him as they continuing their laps.
“We’ll do our infield and pop fly work first,” Pioneers baseball coach Mark Brown laments. “Hopefully, by the time we’re done with that they’ll be done out here, and then we can hit.”
The community diamond the team normally uses has “grass up to your knees right now,” Brown says. “We lost like seven balls yesterday, so I said, ‘We’re not going to do this again, we’ll go to the turf’.’ ”
But Pace, who stars for the Pioneers in the outfield and on the mound, doesn’t see it as a problem.
“Some schools like ours might not have the funding, or the environment might be off (in some ways), but that doesn’t mean you pass it up,” he says. “The coaches here are great, I couldn’t really ask for better. On top of that, the school, the kids, my teammates, friends are here.
“Put me on any field. I mean, put us in a parking lot, and we will still play with tons of energy. Here at Edison, we just want to play. Yeah, we may not have a field, but that’s not stopping us from success.”
Scouts would track down Pace’s talents regardless of his school’s facilities.
In fact, they’re familiar with Edison already; in 2020, Edison’s Werner Blakely was drafted in the fourth round (No. 111 overall) by the Los Angeles Angels.
Now, Blakely plays for the Inland Empire 66ers, the Angels’ Class-A affiliate in San Bernardino, California, and is hitting .319 with two home runs, 10 RBIs, a .450 OBP and a .982 OPS.
Pace says the two talk “almost every day.” He picks Blakely’s brain about life at the next level, the professional training regiment and what he can do to set himself up for success.
“I just want to be as prepared as I can be,” Pace says. “He’s taught me a lot about what to expect, what it’s like (in the pros) and all of that.”
He doesn’t have much left to prove at the high-school level.
This season, he’s hitting .510 with six home runs, 27 RBIs, 34 stolen bases and 38 runs in 20 games. On the mound, he’s 4-1 with with a 1.54 ERA, 62 strikeouts and just eight walks over 34 innings.
“When you talk about a guy with all the tools, that’s Greg Pace,” Brown said. “He’s got world-class speed, has major-league power, you know he checks off every box.
“That’s along with a work ethic that’s second to none. He sets a great example for the younger guys, but in terms of the next level, he has all the tools, and he can handle the grind.”
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound 17-year-old — he doesn’t turn 18 until the end of August — still has room to grow into his frame, making him that term favored by scouts: Projectable.
Pace showed why he’s so highly regarded in February, in front of approximately 100 pro scouts; he ran the 60-yard dash at the Prep Baseball Report Super 60 Pro Showcase in 6.35 seconds, the best time among the 67 camp attendees.
On the same day, he registered 97 mph on the radar gun when throwing from the outfield and had a 101 mph exit velocity off the bat.
“If he does sign, he would play his first professional season at 17, which just doesn’t happen in the United States,” Brown said. “You get kids who come from the Dominican (Republic) who sign when they’re 15, 16 or whatever, but very rarely, man, do you get a kid here like that.
“And another thing, we’re talking inner-city, too. An inner-city kid that’s getting it done.”
Baseball, school, family, loyalty
Pace is unassuming, with a vibe more suited to the friendly kid from down the block, rather than one of the top 200 baseball prospects in the country, right down to the colorful braces dotting his smile.
“I’m going to miss them,” he says with a grin, knowing the braces will likely come off in June. “I just love the bright colors. I always do a bright blue, like a lavender or turquoise.
“I think it brings out my smile.”
Pace is smiling a lot these days, with a future that’s blindingly bright.
He said he knows he will soon have to choose between two “dream” options. Play ball in Ann Arbor, or sign a pro contract and get started in pro ball.
His 3.8 grade-point average got him into Michigan as a student, even without the baseball scholarship. But following Blakely, his role model, straight into the pro ranks looks enticing as well.
He doesn’t like to talk about those options too much. At least not right now.
“That’s going to be a family decision,” he says. “Like, I’ll sit down and talk about it with my family, but in the end, they’ll support whatever decision I make.”
For now, he plans to work hard and rely on that to show him the best path. He’s also trying to soak up his remaining high school days.
“I been here all my life, Edison schools the whole time,” he said. “And now it’s three weeks left exactly. I just can’t believe it.”
He has prom coming up, where he’ll be matching his date (of course) in an emerald-green suit.
He points to his friends on the field, another major reason he stayed at Edison. He had the opportunity to play at Birmingham Brother Rice or Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, which also rank among the top teams in the state. (Brother Rice was ranked at No. 15 in Division 1 in the most recent Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association poll, while Liggett ranked No. 1 in Division 3. Edison is No. 6 among D-3 teams.)
But Pace isn’t seeking greener grass, or even grass at all.
He’s friendly and charismatic, but keeps his circle close and wants to enjoy his success with those he has been with.
“Outside of baseball, one of the things that’s most important to me is family, friendships, bonds and relationships,” he said. “I put those first. It means a lot to me, the people that were here when I was down, the people I can always depend on.
“Those people I have in my corner, that’s what I focus on off the field.”
Contact Tony Garcia at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter at @realtonygarcia.