CINCINNATI -- Ronnie Allen Jr. is an 18-year-old from Hamilton, Ohio, and a high school senior who makes a long daily commute to Cincinnati Country Day School. A catcher with college and pro aspirations, he is often at the P&G Cincinnati MLB Youth Academy playing as a member of the local RBI Baseball program, but he also works in clinics with other kids.
The coaches and academy staff took notice of Allen's skill and efforts. That was behind their decision to recommend his selection to the inaugural Dream Series, an event that was held during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. It's meant to provide exposure and development for a diverse group of high school pitchers and catchers from around the country.
The latest development camp that works to serve minority high school players, the Dream Series joined other MLB initiatives like the Breakthrough Series and Elite Development Invitational.
"It was just an honor to be selected," Allen said. "A lot of the kids in the other events were top selections in the Draft or went to a Division I school."
The Dream Series camp was free and held at the Angels' Spring Training facility in Tempe, Ariz. The participants included some of the best high school baseball prospects in the country, including Hunter Greene, who is MLB.com's No. 1 Draft prospect and is a long-time participant of the MLB Youth Academy in Compton, Calif. The participants were recommended by Major League Baseball, USA Baseball, MLB Youth Academies, the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, the MLB Scouting Bureau, MLB clubs and the MLB Players Association.
Upon his arrival, the Tempe Diablo Major League Complex immediately left an impression on Allen.
"It was so beautiful," Allen recalled. "When I walked into the clubhouse, everything was laid out at the lockers like it would be for Major Leaguers -- the cleats, the jerseys, equipment and everything. Then I walked out to the field and it made you feel even more like a big league player. You want that moment every single day of your life."
The camp instructors were former Major League pitchers and catchers, including LaTroy Hawkins, Charles Johnson, Marquis Grissom, Dave Stewart, Ken Hill, Lenny Webster, Marvin Freeman, Bob Didier and Darren Oliver.
Former White Sox and Mets manager Jerry Manuel served as the camp's head field coordinator.
"He was giving us information after information. Everything that came out of his mouth, I don't think any of us missed a word," Allen said of Manuel.
Allen and other participants were first introduced to the players via a video that showed their Major League highlights. Allen gravitated most toward Johnson, a former Marlins catcher and All-Star, and spent a lot of time with him during the weekend.
"From the beginning, we had many good talks and we just hit it off," Allen said. "I soaked it all in. He talked to me about how to work with the pitchers, and how important the relationship is between pitchers and catchers. The whole game is based on that."
Allen plans on soon signing a letter of commitment to play for Wabash Valley Junior College, and of course will finish his season at Cincinnati Country Day as it pursues a state championship. He also hopes his exposure to the Dream Series camp will help get him selected in the 2017 MLB Draft.
"I'm definitely looking forward to the Draft," he said.
Allen will also continue to spend time at the Urban Youth Academy. He's usually there five days a week and uses much of that time helping in clinics to benefit younger players.
While his immediate future dream is to catch in the big leagues, Allen also has a long-term goal.
"After I get all I can get from playing," he said. "I'd like to coach."
Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.