FORT MYERS, Fla. – There are few places in the country where high school-age baseball is played at a higher level than Southern California’s San Diego County. Just last month, SDC high school products Brady Aiken and Alex Jackson were taken with the No. 1 and No. 6 overall picks during the 2014 MLB June Amateur Draft, further solidifying the area as a leading manufacturer of elite prospects.
Despite the high level of play at the place they call home, one small group of 15-year-olds from the San Diego area wanted to see what the baseball world had to offer over on the eastern side of the country, which led to No Fear Baseball fielding a team at the 15u Perfect Game BCS Finals in Southwest Florida.
“It’s really cool to come here and be able to play teams from all over,” said Reid Norberg, a 2017 corner-infielder and right-handed pitcher from San Diego. “It’s especially cool to come out to fields like these at these complexes and be able to play. Usually at home we just play the same teams over and over and this way we get to play different teams in different locations, which is just really cool.”
Reid Norberg made his comments Saturday morning from the Player Development Complex where No Fear was preparing to play its second pool game of the tournament against the FTB Game Day Bats 15u out of Kissimmee, Fla. No Fear opened the tournament Friday with an 8-0 win over the East Cobb Pride from Marietta, Ga.
Chuck Norberg is the general manager of No Fear Baseball, although he said he defers to veteran head coach Butch Smith on all things baseball (Smith, in turn, deferred to Norberg when it came to speaking about the program.)
Chuck Norberg, who also happens to be Reid Norberg’s dad, explained that they were familiar with Perfect Game’s reputation for running well-run national tournament events and wanted to expose their kids from Southern California to teams from the Southeast and other eastern states.
“(Friday) we met up with East Cobb – great bunch of people, great players – and it was a good time,” Chuck Norberg said. “It’s a different culture and a lot of the boys need to kind of expand their wings, so to speak.
“This is beautiful, I mean, look around,” he said while standing right off one of the fields in the quad area at the 5-Plex. “This is an amazing facility, and even if this is the Red Sox’s old (spring training complex), this is certainly good enough for us; it’s so beautiful. The organization of Perfect Game has been wonderful, the website, the hosting – everything’s been great.”
The 11 class of 2016 and 2017 prospects that fill the No Fear roster put together for the 15u PG BCS Finals come from San Diego and other San Diego County cities like Carlsbad, Temecula and Oceanside; 2017 catcher Ryan Dempsey calls McKinney, Texas home.
The roster’s small size is simply a function of economics. As Chuck Norberg pointed out, it is not an inexpensive endeavor to make the trip from Southern California to Southwest Florida, and it requires parental commitment and parental financial backing to get the kids from Point A to Point B.
No Fear, the organization, fields teams from 8-and-under up through 16u and the program is run out of a facility called Big Fly in Escondido, Calif. Butch Smith, the head coach, is a former big league scout and former high school coach who seems right at home with this group of 15-year-olds.
“The emphasis of the No Fear program is on player development through the stages of the baseball life cycle, starting with the little guys,” Chuck Norberg said. “We’re trying to get the older guys placed in some colleges commensurate with their educational and baseball abilities and their desires, and so far it’s been a great setup.
“My boy, Reid, has been with Butch since he was 8 years old and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The guy is really pretty good at bringing out the best in the person, not just the baseball player.”
No Fear’s 16u team will be playing at the 16u PG WWBA National Championship in Emerson, Ga., and surrounding cities and towns in Atlanta’s north suburbs next week. This team will most likely attend the 16u PG WWBA event next year.
Caide Waite is a 2016 second baseman/right-hander from Carlsbad who, like Reid Norberg, has been with No Fear since he was 8 years old, was already taking everything in Saturday morning, very early into what is guaranteed to be at least a four-day stay with the potential of it being a six-day run.
“This is the biggest tournament that I’ve ever been in so this means a lot to me; we want to come out here and win,” Waite said. “We’re from Southern California and not everyone gets to play as much as us, so I really want to see how good these other teams are. I want to see if they have the same level of game as us.”
After the 8-0 win over the East Cobb Pride, Waite walked away impressed.
“They had a different style of playing that I noticed when I was pitching,” he said. “They were hitting the fastballs really good but I was able to get them with my off-speed stuff.” Waite’s off-speed stuff includes a baffling knuckleball that he used effectively to throw a six inning, four-hit shutout at the unsuspecting Pride.
“It works pretty good,” he said. “After throwing a real slow knuckleball I would come back with a fastball and it would just look so much faster.”
No Fear won its second pool-play game of the tournament Saturday morning, stopping the FTB Game Day Bats 15u, 2-1. Reid Norberg, a 6-foot-1, 175-pounder, twirled a seven inning, complete game three-hitter, striking out four and walking one. In the first two games, Waite and Norberg combined to allow one earned run in 13 innings (0.54 ERA) on seven hits, with seven strikeouts and three walks.
“We wouldn’t come this far if we didn’t think we had an equal chance as anyone else to win it,” Chuck Norberg said. “I’m sure everybody here is in it to win it but, again, it’s more about the player development side of things. If we win it, great, but if we have some life experiences on the baseball fields and off the baseball fields, so much the better.”
The players, coaches and their families enjoyed one of those life experiences on Friday, the Fourth of July, when they visited Bonita Beach. Chuck Norberg noted that no one in the group is foreign to spending time on the beach but had they been back home they would have avoided the beach at all costs on the Fourth of July. This was a different place, a different time.
“We don’t do fireworks back home,” he said. “They got to light fireworks on the beach and run around with the locals; it was good stuff.”
The action on the field has been “good stuff” too, pretty much what Reid Norberg expected even before the wheels of the plane touched down in Southwest Florida earlier this week. No Fears knows no fear when it comes to playing top-notch teams from San Diego County, but sometimes it can be worthwhile getting out of the neighborhood.
“The East Cobb team was great yesterday; we just got a little head start on them,” Reid he said. “I really expect all the teams to have the same high level of play. Since this is Perfect Game and everything, I expect all the teams should be really good and it will be good completion, but I think we should do pretty good.”