FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Several members of the coaching staff and some adult parents or supporters of the Gulf Coast Elite baseball team that is playing in the 13u PG BCS Finals national championship tournament this week were spotted Sunday sporting T-shirts promoting the Scott Hemond School of Baseball -- those were the words that adorned the front of the grey shirts with black lettering.
On the back of those shirts, the Scott Hemond School of Baseball was again mentioned, along with the following message: "No. 1 lesson everyday: 'Keep your freakin' head down'." Words every aspiring 12 and 13 year old ballplayer should live by, to be sure.
Scott Hemond is a former first-round pick in the MLB amateur draft who went on to play parts of seven major league seasons with three clubs. These days he runs the Scott Hemond School of Baseball in Destin, Fla., and serves as an energetic, very much hands-on head coach of the Gulf Coast Elite squad that is showing championship-caliber muscle and mindset four games into the 13u PG BCS Finals six-game pool-play schedule.
Gulf Coast Elite Baseball is based in the Florida panhandle city of Destin, and draws its players from all across the northwest Florida panhandle region. It has just the one team, the 13u group that is here this weekend.
"The area up in the panhandle is not a real huge area, so trying to run an independent team that would be any good would be tough to do," Hemond said from the Player Development Complex late Sunday morning before GCE took on the South Oakland A's Horbath in the first of the three pool games it will play in the second segment of the tournament.
"We branched out a little and got some guys ... and every time we've come up with this team, the parents are committed and the players are definitely committed."
Some of the youngsters on this team's rosters have been with the Gulf Coast Elite since they were 10 years old; others, as Hemond alluded to, have just recently come on board. The idea is to keep the operation as local as possible so that the players can receive instruction from Hemond at his facility on an almost daily basis.
"I'd say the best quality about our team is our coaching staff," GCE general manager Jason Romair said Sunday. "Scott (Hemond) gives our team a lot of instruction; some of these kids have been with us for three years, and he gives solid instruction on catching, infield, outfield, hitting and pitching. I think that's the strongest quality about our team is that we have top-level instruction."
The youngsters on this squad -- just 11 of them on a roster that includes kids from the high school classes of 2017 and 2018, and even one 2019, catcher Rece Hinds -- seems to have soaked in that instruction with a fervor.
After dropping its tournament opener to the SBA Canes Donathan on Friday, 3-2, the Elite outscored their next three pool-play opponents by a combined 40-7. That includes a 13-4 win over South Oakland on Sunday in a pool-play round that will ultimately determine if they advance to Tuesday's 13u PG BCS Finals round of 16 playoffs.
Gulf Coast seems to have its share of potential high-end prospects but, of course, only time will tell as these young guys continue to mature and develop.
Through the first four games GCE played here over the tournament's first three days, Cameron Gray (2018, Cottondale, Fla.) has perhaps made the biggest impression. A 6-foot, 165-pound eighth-grader-to-be in the fall, Gray both throws and bats from the left side. He is 6-for-10 (.600) with a triple, five RBI, seven runs scored and a 1.383 OPS heading into Monday, and also pitched three innings and allowed one earned run on five hits while striking out two.
Other offensive standouts include leadoff hitter Michael Carter (2017, Navarre, Fla.), who has reached base six times, stole five bases and scored six times; Justin Kelley (2018, Lynn Haven, Fla.) with a .455 batting average and four RBI; Drew Williamson (2018, Brewton, Ala.), .375, five RBI, five runs; Brandon Schrepf (2018, Gulf Breeze, Fla.), .400, a triple, six RBI, four runs; Rashard Lewis (2017, Panama City, Fla.), .444, two RBI, six runs; and Hinds, . 500, three RBI, five runs.
Right-hander Colt Buckingham (2018, Destin, Fla.) threw five effective innings of relief Sunday, allowing two earned runs on three hits with four strikeouts and four walks. Gulf Coast Elite has averaged 10.2 runs and posted a team batting average of .411 to go with a team ERA of 2.62 through its first four games.
"For this tournament we rented a van and traveled down as a group," Romair said. "The environment of having a major league coach (Hemond) in the hotel with us and playing in this quality event -- just coming as a group has been a great experience."
It really all does come back to the influence Hemond has on the program. He is a graduate of Dunedin (Fla.) High School who went on to enjoy an NCAA All-American career at the University of South Florida in Tampa, where he had his jersey retired. In 2007 he was inducted in the prestigious collegiate summertime Cape Cod League Hall of Fame.
Hemond, now 47, was selected with the No. 12 overall pick of the first round in the 1986 MLB amateur draft by the Oakland Athletics, and played all or parts of six big-league seasons with the A's. All told, he played in 298 major league games from 1989 through 1995 with the A's, St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago White Sox. Now he tries to pass on what he learned to kids a generation behind him.
"We train all age groups and all that stuff, and when this team comes in they're part of the deal and they get all the individual training that we offer," Hemond said. "I've had my school up there for about eight years now, and it's worked out pretty well."
Their appearance at the 13u PG BCS Finals has worked out pretty well, too. Their runs scored/runs against differential alone seems to make them a championship favorite, but Romair seems happy enough just with the exposure this team gets at an event like the BCS Finals.
"I take my kids to the best tournaments in the country; this has been the best event we've been at," he said. "That's because of the fields, because of the umpires, because of the quality of the teams. The fields have been great -- Friday morning we had 2 or 3 inches of rain in an hour period, and an hour after the rain stopped, these fields are cruising along and we're playing. It's high quality."
Romair has another reason for finding the time he spends here this week so gratifying. His son, Ryan Romair (2018, Destin, Fla.), is a second baseman on the team, and dad and son get to spend a lot of quality time together at the ballpark.
"We're playing quality teams so we're in that competitive environment together in the dugout," Jason Romair said. "When the game's on the line and you're there with your son and the opponent on the other side is that good and you can face those challenges together, there's nothing better."
Romair and Hemond are considering keeping this team together as the players get older, depending, Romair said, on the commitment from the players and their parents. The team has sponsorships that cover a lot of the expenses that come with fielding a national travel ball team, so it does have that working for it. "Travel ball is changing and we're feeling our way through it," Romair said.
For his part, Hemond is perfectly happy living in the present. The ex-big-leaguer just seems an ideal match with these 13-year-olds, and watching him even while a game is in progress, it becomes obvious he loves to coach-up both the fundamentals and the more abstract nuances of the game.
"I love it because they're just the right age; you can teach the crap out of 'em," Hemond said with a smile. "They're just formulating their mechanics and all that stuff, so it's kind of a good time for them. They're at that age where they're really hungry -- 8s, 9s, 10s are too young, but the 13s and 14s, you can really make a difference, I believe.
"These guys are hungry; they all want to play at the next level," he added. "You don't have to ask a whole lot of them, they're ready to play."