MARIETTA, Ga. -- Outfielder and right-handed pitcher Gustavo Escobar Jr., a recent graduate of Yukon (Okla.) High School who calls Yukon home, made the trip to north Georgia this week with his DBAT Mustangs Oklahoma 18u teammates just to get away for awhile.
The DBAT Mustangs Oklahoma 18u are here competing in the 17u/18u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational, and despite a loss Friday morning their 2-1 record was good enough to win the Pool D championship and advance to Saturday morning's playoffs where they play the Pool C champion East Cobb Blue Jays 18u at 2 p.m. at Southern Poly.
"We're just down here for a good time, playing baseball and enjoying the summer," Escobar Jr. said Friday morning before DBAT lost to the East Cobb Dodgers 17u, 4-3. "I grew up in Oklahoma playing with competitive teams there and we traveled to Texas here and there, but it's always nice seeing the competition somewhere else. We're pretty good, we've got a good ballclub and everybody is getting along real well."
But there are other reasons the DBAT Mustangs Oklahoma 18u team members are enjoying their time in the north Atlanta suburbs, and a the main one had to do with the fact that they weren't in Oklahoma anymore. They love their home state and will be eager to get home, but they were in need of real rest and relaxation.
The good folks who live in and around Oklahoma City in central Oklahoma were battered by at least five deadly tornadoes in the past two weeks, including an EF5 in the OKC suburb of Moore on May 20 that left 24 people -- including 10 school children -- dead. The devastation was wide-spread, and either directly or indirectly affected just about every member of the DBAT Mustangs Oklahoma 18u traveling party.
"Honestly, it's just good to get away from the tornadoes; they hammered us pretty good," head coach Brett Bagley said Friday. "A lot of our guys are from the Oklahoma City area and the Tulsa area and we've been getting bad weather a lot, so just to get out here and be able to play and just get away from all that has been the best part of it.
"We've got a good team and we know what we can do on the field so that's not really a concern for us. More than anything it's just getting out and getting the summer started."
This team has been playing under the DBAT name for two years but many of the guys have played with or against each other for at least four years. They're all from Oklahoma and they're all familiar with one another and six roster spots are filled by players who either just graduated from or still attend national baseball power Owasso (Okla.) High School.
"We don't have any 'hired' guns, I guess you could say; we like to think all of our (local) guys are quality players," Bagley said. "A lot of these guys are graduated seniors that are going to college (in the fall) and I think we have seven or eight juniors and four or five of them have committed already. We have a couple of guys that are using this tournament for exposure, guys that have done good things but maybe not in front of the people they need to do it in front of.
"We wanted to get them out here in this environment where there are lots of eyes and lots of people that can help them prolong their career, whatever direction it goes."
The DBAT Mustangs Oklahoma roster submitted for this tournament included 20 players who have already signed with or committed to colleges of their choice (not every player on the roster is in attendance). That includes 13 signings/commitments to NCAA Division I schools, most prominently Oklahoma State and Arkansas.
It's safe to say that strong pitching carried DBAT Oklahoma into the playoffs. Bagley used 11 arms over the 21 innings and they combined to allow five earned runs (1.67 ERA) on 11 hits with 25 strikeouts. Escobar Jr., a right-hander, worked three hitless, shutout innings with five strikeouts and righty Derek Justice (2014, Tulsa) also threw three hitless, scoreless innings with four K's and one walk. Escobar Jr. has signed with Seminole State College and Justice has committed to Eastern Oklahoma State College.
Offensively, the DBAT Mustangs were led through their first three games by 6-foot-2, 210-pound first baseman Austin O'Brien (2013, Owasso, Okla.), an Oklahoma signee who went 3-for-5 (.714) with two doubles and two runs scored, and posted a .778 on-base and 1.000 slugging percentage. Third baseman Derek Brumble (2013, Jenks, Okla.) was 2-for-6 (.333) with a double and four RBI.
"The high school season was fun but summer ball is a blast too," O'Brien said Friday. "You get to play with guys from all around the Tulsa area where most of us are from. We like coming down here; it's a lot of fun and we always play some of the best talent from around the country. It's kind of cool, too, to see some of the guys that are getting drafted, so cool to get to play against some of those guys."
DBAT Mustangs Oklahoma teams traveled this way last summer. Seven members of this team played in the 2012 PG WWBA 17u National Championship, six played in the PG WWBA 18u National Championship and two -- right-hander Carson Larue (2014, Dewey, Okla.) and shortstop Blake Battenfield (2013, Claremore, Okla.) played in both.
"We came here last year for the (PG WWBA) nationals and we liked the experience; we had a pretty good time here and some success," Bagley said. "We figured we'd get out here again this year early, and get some our newer guys used to the environment because we're going to be here for the nationals again. We just like the competition level and we think (PG does) a great job down here."
Getting through pool-play at tournament like these -- the 14u/15u PG-EC Invitational and 16u PG-EC Invitational are running simultaneously with the 17u/18u event -- is the main goal, and while that can be difficult it's the playoffs that present the stiffest competition. That's another reason Bagley felt it was important to get his guys out of Oklahoma for a week in early June.
"We hand-pick everybody on our team so we feel like we've got the best players from the Oklahoma area," Bagley said. "We've got good teams there, too, but as far as a five or six game tournament, you're not going to find teams that are going to give you the challenges that you're going to face down here."
The recent out-break of tornadoes back home in Oklahoma had an impact on these young ballplayers and their coaches: "They hit basically the area where all of us live," Bagley said. "That's been a rough experience for everybody, so more than anything we're just glad to get out here and play."
Everyone did what they could do to help: "Our baseball team (at Owasso HS), we actually got a bunch of (relief supplies) together and got a trailer and sent some stuff to Moore to help them out," O'Brien said.
Escobar Jr. even found something spiritual in the experience: "There was one heading right to our house in Yukon," he said. "There are two rivers that separate it and supposedly the land is sacred to the Indians, and the tornado passed right over it. We were really blessed to still have our home."
And all of the DBAT Mustangs Oklahoma 18u players are still blessed to have baseball. DBAT Mustangs Oklahoma will send teams to the 18u, 17u, 16u and 15u PG WWBA National Championships at the end June and into July as they continue to seek out the nation's top competition.
"Playing baseball, winning every tournament we play in, hanging out with friends and just getting better," Escobar replied when asked how he plans to spend his summer. "And seeing the family a lot before I go off to college."