CARTERSVILLE, Ga. – Baseball to people in Florida is almost considered as normal as breathing or eating. The temperature there allows people to play anytime they want, and it serves as arguably the biggest sport in the state.
The talent the state produces is top-notch. Nationally acclaimed organizations like FTB Chandler, who is playing in this week's 17u WWBA National Championship, call Florida home, and the talent they have is second to none. Jonathan India, a high-profile player on the team, loves the way baseball is welcomed in Florida and how it is played.
“Florida has great talent down there; a lot of D-I prospects,” India said. “It’s a great state to play in. There is hot weather. You always play year-round, so it’s a good sport to play there.”
India, a 2015 grad, is a very talented player with a big 6-foot frame for a shortstop. He does a lot of things very well. He is the type of player that does not show much flash, but he just goes about his business and helps the team in any way he can. Being a big name player one would think a player like India could easily be a guy who wants to pad his stats, but he is the exact opposite. He is the epitome of a team-first guy. Head coach Jered Goodwin, who is also the head coach at Hagerty High School in Oviedo, Florida, appreciates the type of player he is and loves having a guy like him on his team.
“India is an absolute grinder,” Goodwin said. “He’s a high-energy guy running on and running off [the field]. He wants to steal bases. Yesterday he hit a double off the wall, and the next time he came up he got a bunt base hit. He’s a very unselfish player that younger kids especially can feed off of that grinder mentality. He’s another one that just has a big tool box that outside of everything he’s just got a lot of things that can impact a game.”
That grinder mentality is shown off by India’s commitment to working on his game. According to Goodwin, his personality never changes on the field, and he is always working out or running sprints to try and stay ahead of the other players. After high school, India plans to stay in the great baseball state of Florida and attend the University of Florida. The school will benefit greatly from the character and the skill he possesses. A simple kid that likes to surf and fish in his free time, India is the ultimate laid back, good-natured guy.
India’s middle of the field teammate Mitchell Hansen, also a 2015 grad, plays center field for FTB Chandler, and he too is a great talent. Hansen stands at 6-foot-4 with a slender frame. His swing from the left side is superb, and matching that with his play in the outfield, it is clear that there are a lot of things that he does well. Having both of these guys to anchor the defense is something that Goodwin feels lucky to have.
“They’re both special players and really good kids,” Goodwin said. “They work very hard, so obviously it’s a nice luxury to have two middle of the diamond players that go after it and play hard every day.”
Hansen hails from Plano, Texas where he excels not only on the baseball field, but also on the football field. He is a standout safety for Plano Senior High School. He feels that playing another sport, especially football, helps with certain parts of his game on the baseball diamond.
“[It helps by] just being a competitor,” Hansen said. “Football is a very different sport in how you have to prepare for it and play. So, definitely the mental side of it definitely helps.”
Like India, Hansen does a ton of things very well. There is not one thing that he does better than another, but it is clear by watching him play that he can help the team in many different ways. Goodwin feels that he is the whole package and with the addition of a little more weight, he will be “an absolute monster.”
He is not only the whole package on the ball field, but he is also the whole package as a student-athlete. He possesses a 4.0 GPA, and he has already committed to play college baseball at Stanford, which further embellishes how important academics are to him.
“It’s very important,” Hansen said. “My parents always stress school, school, and school. Baseball is going to end one day and you have to fall back on something. So, it’s definitely something that is very important to my family and I.”
In Sunday’s pool play game against the North Jersey Cardinals at the Cartersville Baseball Complex, FTB Chandler scored early and often and wound up on the right side of a 15-0 victory. Hansen, the leadoff hitter, put in a perfect 2-for-2 day, while adding two RBI and three runs scored. With the win, the team improved to 3-1 in the tournament, and they gained some confidence winning their third game in a row.
“The team did awesome,” Hansen said. “They put the ball in play and got some runs up early. I feel like I played well and hit the ball hard, and it was a good day.”
The FTB Chandler team from a year ago starred in the face of greatness last year when they reached the championship game of the 17u WWBA National Championship. Their dream of bringing home the title was dashed though in a tough 3-2 loss to the Orlando Scorpions Prime. Great 2013 and 2014 talent led the team, but they looked to some of their younger players to provide a spark.
As the team began their run in this year’s edition of the tournament, those young guys on last year’s team are now some of the leaders this team looks to for a chance to get back to the title game.
“It’s huge,” Goodwin said of having players from last year’s team on this year’s squad. “You look at guys like Ryan Mountcastle, Bo Bichette, and [Tyrone] Perry hitting 3, 4, and 5 in our lineup, and they hit 3, 5, and 6 last year. And to have that, you can’t put a price on that.”
“It was big last year with them being young and kind of playing up to the competition. Now, with the three of them, even Bo being a 2016, has had to take on a little bit of a leadership role with it because he knows my personality. He knows how I tick a little bit. And, he’s kind of taken that. Ryan plays for me in high school, and it’s the same type of thing. Tyrone is a big, physical kid that can kind of demand respect outside of the field and stuff like that. So, between the three of them they have very different personalities, but all bring some leadership qualities to the table.”
The leadership and experience that Mountcastle, Bichette, and Perry bring, along with the stellar play of India and Hansen, give this team a great shot to avenge last year’s loss in the championship game and bring home a title for this organization. Having already bounced back strong from their opening day loss a few days ago, this team’s resilience will take them a long way.