FALMOUTH — A year ago, Princehoward Barbecue Yee filed an unsuccessful lawsuit in an effort to play varsity baseball at Deering High. The lawsuit claimed that not playing with the varsity would stunt his athletic growth and could even cause “lasting economic” harm.

This spring, Yee isn’t even bothering to attempt to play high school ball.

What gives?

“Last year he wanted to play. He wasn’t allowed to play (on the varsity),” said his father, Howard Yee, who filed the lawsuit on his son’s behalf. “This year he can play but he doesn’t want to play. But the learning curve is at different levels.”

Howard Yee listens to his son, Princehoward Barbecue Yee, talk to a reporter at their home in Falmouth. Portland Press Herald photo by Derek Davis

The 16-year-old catcher and pitcher – who goes by his legal middle name – is constantly working on his game. Yee combines online home-school courses with regular classes as a junior at Falmouth High. That frees up plenty of time for private lessons and daily workouts at the Hitters Count in Saco, and makes it easier to travel to baseball camps, clinics and club-team opportunities across the country.

At least in terms of recognition, the unconventional strategy is working. He is ranked in the top four among Class of 2020 players in Maine, according to the national scouting service Perfect Game, despite playing just four varsity high school games in three years, as a freshman at Deering.

Yee said he is academically eligible and could play for Falmouth. But he believes individual training will have more benefit.

“I’m not saying (high school baseball) is a waste of time, it’s just I would rather train a lot harder, more reps and stuff, to get ready for the summer,” he said. “The summer, I go down south, and in the fall I’m going to a couple more camps at colleges, so I have to prepare for that.”

The family’s unorthodox path is directed toward defined goals: Playing college baseball and getting picked in Major League Baseball’s amateur draft. But first, there is Yee’s goal of being selected this summer for the 20-player USA Baseball national 16-and-under team. The key audition will be playing for Team Freedom at the USA Baseball East National Team Championships in Jupiter, Florida, from June 20-25. It will be Yee’s fourth trip to the USA Baseball event, but the first time he’ll be one of the older players on his team.

Princehoward Barbecue Yee, 16, is ranked by Perfect Game as the fourth best baseball player in Maine in the Class of 2020, even though he has played just four varsity high school games and isn’t playing high school baseball this spring. Portland Press Herald photo by Brianna Soukup

“I think it could be realistic. I don’t think it’s impossible. I mean, it’s going to be hard, but it’s not impossible,” Barbecue said.

At a recent tournament in Alabama, playing on a Hitters Count team, Yee’s fastball was clocked at 86 mph, putting him in the 85th percentile of Class of 2020 pitchers, according to Perfect Game’s website. A switch-hitter, Yee had one single and drew five walks in 16 plate appearances over five games. At 5-foot-9 and 193 pounds, he is regarded as a strong defensive catcher.

“As far as a catcher, his skills are as good as anybody’s in terms of calling a game, blocking, receiving and transferring (to throw). He projects to play at a high level,” said Hitters Count general manager Marcus Crowell, who has been Yee’s private instructor for three months.

Perfect Game ranks high school players across the country, Puerto Rico and Canada. Trejyn Fletcher, now a senior at Deering, is ranked 15th nationally among the Class of 2019. In the 2020 class, South Portland left-handed pitcher Hunter Owen, who has verbally committed to Vanderbilt, is considered “top 500 caliber” by Perfect Game. Marshwood catcher and University of Maine commit Connor Caverly is termed “top 1,000 caliber.” Barbecue Yee and Scarborough left-hander Nick Thompson are in the next group of players with “high follow” status.

“Yeah, we set our goals high,” said Howard Yee. “I mean, maybe he’ll fall short, but we won’t know until we try.”

OH, THAT NAME

A kid named Barbecue combined with a litigious sports parent? Unsurprisingly, the Yees’ lawsuit in April 2018 became a national news story after first being reported by the Press Herald.

The Yees sued Portland Public Schools after Deering High principal Gregg Palmer denied Yee’s request for eligibility. In court documents, Palmer said he “sincerely” believed Yee, who lives in Falmouth, had transferred to Deering for athletic purposes.

After a federal judge denied Yee’s request for an injunction so he could try out for Deering’s varsity team, Yee was allowed to play junior varsity baseball for Deering because Maine Principals’ Association eligibility rules do not apply to sub-varsity competition.

Going through a court case and not playing varsity baseball “hurt in the beginning. That definitely hurt,” Barbecue said. He says he played JV ball “because I love the game,” but felt he gained little from the experience.

During the summer, Yee, then 15 and competing against players several years older in American Legion, earned the starting catching job for eventual state champion Coastal Landscaping and shined in the state tournament with his bat and glove.

Princehoward Barbecue Yee trains with his coach Marcus Crowell at Hitters Count, a baseball training facility in Saco, last week. Portland Press Herald photo by Brianna Soukup

“He had a great tournament,” said Dan McCarthy, Coastal’s manager, who believes Yee’s future is as a catcher, not a pitcher.

“There’s so much more upside. What’s expected of him from his dad, it might not be achievable, but they’re definitely going full bore to achieve that. They’re not leaving anything to chance,” said McCarthy, who adds he wishes Yee was playing high school baseball because, “it’s all about building camaraderie with your peers at this level.”

The Yees’ decision to prioritize travel opportunities over high school sports is not unprecedented, though in Maine it happens most frequently in individual sports such as tennis and swimming.

“I think they’re making the decision that they believe is in the best interest of Barbecue,” Crowell said.

For Howard Yee, seeing his son achieving certain measurable standards is paramount. If Barbecue can get his fastball into the 90s, hit the ball at a similar speed and keep lowering his pop time (the time it takes for a catcher to receive a pitch and get his throw to an infielder’s glove), scouts will notice and the opportunities will follow.

“Can he add another five miles an hour (to his fastball) in three months? I don’t know,” Howard Yee said. “But those are the matrix for the national team. So he just has to train very hard for it.”

So is a future in baseball Barbecue’s dream or his father’s?

“Actually, it’s a family dream to be honest,” Barbecue said. “My brother takes time off of his school to travel with us, it’s also his dream. My dad’s spending the resources, and I put my effort into it. And if it pays off, great. But if it doesn’t, it hurts.”

“I’m a single parent. It’s just the three of us. It’s really the bonding experience,” Howard Yee said. “The lifestyle is kind of unorthodox. And the thing is, it’s not really the goal itself, it’s the journey of that experience of bonding together as a family.”

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

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Twitter: SteveCCraig

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