EMERSON, Ga. – Very rarely do you see the winning team huddled together on the pitcher’s mound with their opponent after a game. When a team’s first priority is not baseball, though, that is exactly what you get.
The East Coast Baseball Elite organization is a rarity in that they look to serve God through baseball. Acting and playing in ways to glorify the Lord are more important than winning to them.
“Each and every day we want to come out and do our very best to honor the gifts that God has given us, and a lot of our guys take that to heart,” head coach Joe Caruso explains.
After their 8-5 victory over the Jacksonville Warriors 18u Saturday in the 18u WWBA National, Caruso quickly approached the Warriors coaches and asked if they would join them in a post-game prayer. The site of the two teams standing in a circle praying around the pitcher’s mound at LakePoint’s field 14 was the ultimate sign of East Coast’s dedication to the Lord.
The East Coast coaches and players use their religious approach to their lives on the baseball field. The organization has expectations of everyone involved, and they try to live out those expectations each and every time they come to the ballpark. When it comes to how the coaches select players, though, they are diverse in the types of kids they get to play for them, but all of the kids are expected to play and act a certain way.
“We’ll take all kinds,” Caruso said about the players in their organization. “We’ll take Christians and non-Christians.
“What we do is we have a standard of excellence we want them to abide by; the way that we compete and the way we go about our business. We want to be excellent at baseball and excellent at serving the Lord at the same.”
Although winning is not their main reason for playing the game, they usually come out with the upper hand thanks to the quality of players they have in their organization. Caruso credits a lot of the quality of talent the organization produces to the men in charge and the people that are involved throughout the East Coast family.
“I think it comes from a lot of hard work from the directors and a lot from the coaches,” Caruso said. “It comes from just getting the right kind of people. When you have great coaches and great people, it makes for a fun time and I think that is why we are successful.”
This year’s edition of the East Coast Baseball Elite is keeping up with the tradition of this organization in that they have a great deal of talent. An outstanding player in Sam Finnerty leads the team, but it is his character and his devotion to the organization’s mission to serve the Lord that is even more impressive.
“It’s a great team,” said Finnerty. “It’s a great organization. I love Jesus, and I just play for Him.”
Finnerty is a standout player for his hometown Pelham High School, and he has already signed to play college baseball at the University South Carolina after he graduates in 2015. His talent led him to be invited to this year’s Perfect Game National Showcase in Fort Myers, Florida, in which he really got to see where he was baseball wise relative to the other top players in the nation.
In this week’s tournament he has already started to stir some heads with his play. In the team’s opening game against the talented East Cobb Astros 18u, Finnerty hit a home run and helped the team to a 4-3 win. He also came in to close the game out on the mound flashing a fastball that consistently sat between 87 and 88 mph. Caruso acknowledges the talent in Finnerty and praises the way his everyday center fielder plays the game.
“I think he makes everybody else better around him,” Caruso said. “The way he competes, the way he goes after his game on the mound or at the plate, you just went him at the bat and you want him on the mound. He’s just one of our better players who leads by example.”
Being around talented players has benefitted this team greatly in their progression as ballplayers. Matt Morgan, a 2014 grad who was selected in the fourth round by the Toronto Blue Jays in this year’s draft, was a member of this East Coast team before signing his professional contract. According to Caruso, Morgan’s ability as a baseball player helped his East Coast teammates get better.
“When you have high-level talent like that, it just feeds into everybody else and says ‘hey, this is what I got to do to get to that level,’” said Caruso. “When you get to see the level, you want to rise up to that level.
After Saturday afternoon’s game against the Warriors, East Coast has jumped out to a 2-0 start in the tournament. They have shown that high-level of baseball and are quickly making their way into the conversation of being one of the better teams here.
For Finnerty, Caruso, and the rest of the East Coast team, the main objective will always be linked to Christ and the word of the Lord, but it is clear by their success on the field that baseball fits very well into their every day goals. The team will continue to look to their standout players like Finnerty to lead them to the promise land at this tournament. With an undefeated record and a Christian mindset, this team should not only be admired, but they should be feared as they continue their way through pool play and into bracket play here in Emerson.