FORT MYERS, Fla. - It should surprise no one who knows Sam Marsonek that the SCORE International team he is coaching at the Perfect Game 18u BCS Finals would be able to find a silver lining in what has been the only negative at both of this week's 18u and 17u BCS Finals.
Marsonek, like just about everyone else, is getting frustrated with the rain delays and necessary schedule changes handled adroitly by PG staff, but his group seems more able to handle any inconvenience brought on by those delays than some of the other teams in attendance.
"It gives us some time to sit down and keep learning and talking about the game," Marsonek said before SCORE completed the last 18u BCS Finals pool-play game played Tuesday afternoon before the rest of the schedule was postponed until Wednesday by persistent rain showers.
"It gives the kids time to just be together and just continue growing," he said. "(SCORE) is a ministry first, and we think that if we're doing the process the right way, teaching the game the right way, having kids respect the game and each other, their opponents (and) the umpires, then we feel like the results will come."
The results were very positive for the SCORE International 18u squad in the first three days of the rain-plagued tournament. It posted a 4-0 record before play was postponed Tuesday, including a 14-0 win over the Coastal Georgia Hooks in the first game of the second round of pool-play at the Boston Red Sox's JetBlue Player Development Complex Tuesday afternoon.
Marsonek, the head baseball coach at Cambridge Christian High School in Tampa, is used to success at PG BCS Finals tournaments. He served as the head coach of Bullets Baseball last year, the team that was declared co-champions of the 2011 18u BCS Finals with the East Cobb Braves 17u after rain forced the cancellation of the championship game.
SCORE International is a Christian ministry and the capital letters are an acronym for Sharing Christ Our Redeemer. It was founded in 1985 by Ron Bishop, a former college basketball coach, who used sports to preach the Gospel in Mexico and Latin American countries.
According to its website, the Tampa-based SCORE International has partnered with the Rawlings Foundation to build and operate baseball academies, camps and bible colleges in the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica.
Marsonek said there are 14 Dominican youngsters playing on SCORE International teams at some of the younger age groups, but not on the 18u and 17u teams that are here this week.
"Just raising all the funds to support all the kids" has been a challenge, he said. "Our main motive is to give kids an opportunity who don't always have the necessary resources."
Marsonek first got involved with SCORE six years ago when he went on one of their mission trips shortly after retiring from professional baseball. "It really just changed my life, and I wanted to get back involved with them," he said.
The SCORE International 18u squad that Marsonek is coaching here this week boasts a roster with 10 college signees, but only two of those signed with NCAA Division I schools. Left-hander/first baseman T.J. Peterson (2012, Plant City, Fla.) has signed with Florida Gulf Coast University right here in Fort Myers and right-hander Matt Harris (2012, St. Petersburg, Fla.) has signed with Presbyterian College in South Carolina. Both are veterans of more than a dozen PG events and Peterson played with Marsonek on Bullets Baseball last summer.
All of the other commitments are on a smaller scale. As examples, middle-infielder Jordan Doyle (2012., Seminole, Fla.) and outfielder Sam Machonis (2012, Tampa) are prepared to be at Polk State College, a junior college in Winter Haven, Fla., in the fall; other SCORE signees will be at D-II Newberry College in South Carolina and Saint Leo College in Florida.
"It seems to me that (some of) the bigger, Division-I type kids are more individuals than these kids are; these are more blue-collar, and that's what I want," Marsonek said. "I'm not concerned about having all the top D-I prospects and top (MLB draft) round picks as I am giving a kid who plays really hard a chance to continue to play college baseball."
Considering there are at least a dozen teams here at the 18u BCS Finals that have rosters stocked with some of the top D-I prospects in the land, it would be safe to say that SCORE International isn't among the favorites to still be playing in the final four on Friday morning. Just don't tell that to SCORE.
"I always have high expectations," Marsonek said. "As a pitcher and now with my own players, I always expect the very best. Winning is not a surprise; losing is a surprise, no matter who we play against."
Although the team is based in Tampa, just over two hours away from Fort Myers on I-75, Marsonek appreciates the relative isolation the PG 18u BCS Finals provides his players.
"It's good because I can get them away from everybody," Marsonek said. "I can get them in the hotel, and we meet all the time and just share stuff with each other. We get kids who can just open up and be real with each other and talk about whatever our struggles are or what our fears are, and just try to help unify everybody that way."
Marsonek was a 6-foot-6, 225-pound right-hander drafted right out of Tampa Jesuit High School with the 24th overall pick in the first round of the 1996 MLB amateur draft by the Texas Rangers.
He spent eight seasons in the minor leagues before making his big-league debut with the New York Yankees on July 10, 2004, when he pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings of relief. An injury kept him from ever making another big-league appearance.
Marsonek said once he officially retired from professional baseball in 2008, he decided to get into youth baseball at upper age-group levels to stay involved with the game while also trying to impart some of the wisdom he had picked up along the way on the young minds he was coaching.
"Just to invest in young people and try to impact their lives, not only on the field but most importantly as men and hopefully as Godly men," he said of his motivation. "One day the game is over and most of us don't expect it to end when it ends, so I just want to give them a good foundation.
"That's why I'm here," he concluded. "I made a lot of mistakes as a player and now I'm just trying to guide them the best way that I can."