FORT MYERS, Fla. – The Texas Hardball Navy are one of seven teams from the Lone Star State competing at this week’s 2014 14u Perfect Game BCS Finals and just may be one of the least known.
With their home base in Round Rock, the Hardball Navy are here alongside the much better know outfits like the Banditos Black (Tomball), the Banditos of Austin, the Houston Banditos and the Dallas Tigers-Watten (Coppell), among a handful of others.
There is an easy explanation. This is the first Perfect Game tournament this Texas Hardball 14u team has ever been a part of, which also explains why some eyebrows were raised when they won their first two of what will eventually be six pool-play games at the PG national tournament.
Rain delayed and postponed play at every venue across Lee County on Saturday, affecting both the 14u and 15u PG BCS Finals events, which are running simultaneously. Texas Hardball was able to get its third pool-play game in late Saturday afternoon, losing to the Elite Squad 14u from the Miami area, 8-0 in five innings.
“Our guys are really, really excited to play against some of the upper echelon teams that have been around forever,” Texas Hardball founder and head coach Jeff Meyer said from the Player Development Complex Saturday afternoon during the first of several rain delays.
“The Dallas Tigers and the Banditos and some of these other teams – the East Cobb Astros – (my players have) heard all about these teams but they’ve just never been able to get involved in these types of tournaments.”
The Navy began their first foray into a Perfect Game tournament experience by beating DeMarini GA 14u Black, 7-5, and the Mizzuno Barracudas, 8-5, on Friday. It was an impressive start considering the Texas Hardball players were making their first appearance on a national stage.
“We played the game right the way the first two games and if we (continue to) do that we’ll have a chance to play with anybody,” Meyer said. “Bunting and squeezing and pitching and playing defense – that’s what we’re built on is pitching and playing defense. It’s fun to watch these guys deal with adversity and overcome it and move on; that’s kind of what our program is about.”
Meyer noted that his inexperienced team went through just about every situation imaginable in its first two games Friday. It allowed an opponent to load the bases with nobody out and turned a triple play; it loaded the bases with nobody out and didn’t score. It made a couple of errors but rebounded and made some great plays.
He first brought this Texas Hardball Navy team together in 2008 and 2009 when a core group of five young players were 10 and 11 years old. That core group includes outfielders Jeremy Williams and Cameron Bush; catcher Jake Rugeley and third baseman Nicolas Oslovar, all 2018s, and 2019 second baseman Cade Webber.
The 13-man roster includes four prospects that attend (or will attend) Round Rock High School –Williams, Webber and Bush among them – and four that attend Cedar Ridge High School in Round Rock, including Oslovar. Two others attend Lampasas (Texas) High School and Rugeley is at Anderson High School in Austin; these guys all knew each other before joining forces on the Texas Hardball Navy.
“(The familiarity) helps because they all get along so well,” Meyer said. “They know what we’re doing; they know exactly who is going to be where (on the field). They’re friends off the field so when they get on the field they have a good feeling (for each other).
“This morning they were all sitting at the same table eating breakfast together and jacking around and having a good time, and having that kind of chemistry is important,” he said. “We always teach our kids that it’s more important for your buddy to do well than yourself, so if they all feel that way you’re going to have some good chemistry on your team.”
Not once during his conversation with PG did Meyer ever make it sound like his team was going to enjoy a cakewalk at this 88-team PG national tournament but he also made it clear he expects them to compete for a spot in the 32-team playoffs. It’s a brave new world but Meyer senses his players are looking forward to the opportunities laid out before them.
“This is their first trek into big time, big boy baseball,” he said, “and they’re excited to get out of Texas and excited to play different teams. Our program is all about development; it’s not about winning trophies. We put our kids in positions just to develop, so being able to come out here and play against good competition has been a lot of fun.”
Before starting Texas Hardball Baseball, Meyer coached at Concordia University-Texas in Austin for 10 years and also coached summer and fall league teams for Round Rock High School for six years during that tenure.
He is a close friend of legendary University of Texas-Austin head coach Augie Garrido and tries to apply many of the same approaches to the game Garrido used to achieve his Hall of Fame success.
“We really push the mental side of the game on these guys,” Meyer said. “(On Friday) we started some new advanced things, talking about being positive regardless of the situation and being relaxed, that’s a big part of competing at a high, high level. And then, of course, focus. We talked about those three things and our goal was to do those three things the best we could and then let the outcome happen.
“As long as you can stay focused, stay relaxed and stay positive good things will happen and for the most part I was really, really pleased with their intensity and their focus.”
There is, of course, a big difference between coaching college-aged players and 14-year-olds, and Meyer completely understands that. He made adjustments for the level of play between the two age groups as well as the level of teaching required.
He said he misses the speed of the college game, something that can’t be replicated at the 14u level. But a similarity is the hands-on requirement of dealing with temperamental early teenagers and temperamental young men in their late teens and early 20s.
“The massaging of the heads will always be there, whether its college guys, high school guys, little-leaguers, whatever it is – you’re always going to have to play psychologist,” Meyer said. “The thing that we’ve had to really deal with these guys is some guys you can on pretty hard and some guys you have to whisper.”
The Texas Hardball Navy are at the 14u PG BCS Finals hoping to prove they belong here with the other elite programs not only from Texas but from across the country and Puerto Rico. They’ll use this Perfect Game national tournament to get their feet wet, take measure of their standing and gain valuable experience. Early indications are they’ll be just fine.