GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Welcome to a spot where South Beach meets the Valley of the Sun; where heavy, moist, hot Florida air intermingles with light, dry, extremely hot desert air; and where the quality baseball that is played among the palm trees of Miami also gets played among the desert palms that populate the suburbs of west Phoenix.
The South Florida Elite Squad made the 2,000-mile one-way trip out here last year from their home base in Miami and worked tirelessly to win the inaugural 17u Perfect Game World Series national championship. The South Florida Elite Squad-Louisville Slugger returned to the 2nd annual 17u Perfect Game World Series this week a distinct Miami flavor as they look for a second straight title at the elite 16-team event.
As mid-summer approaches, the Elite Squad-Louisville Slugger can already boast five highly regarded prospects that have committed to the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. Their feet might be planted in the ball fields at the Goodyear Ballpark Recreation Complex this week, but their hearts and minds are back in Miami-Dade County -- well, sort of.
"I like it out here," 2014 right-hander/third baseman Devin Meyer conceded on Tuesday. "It's not so humid and it's nice and hot, and I like the heat -- I think we all like the heat so it's pretty nice."
Meyer, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior at Coral Springs (Fla.) Christian High School who is from Coral Springs, is one of the five Elite Squad prospects that has committed to head coach Jim Morris and the Miami Hurricanes program.
"That's been my dream school the whole time I've been growing up," Meyer said. "My parents like that school, I like that school, we go to baseball games there, football games there. I just like Miami in general, so when the Miami scholarship (offer) came along I definitely committed.
Another Canes commit is 2014 6-foot-4, 225-pound left-hander/first baseman Michael Mediavilla, a senior at Mater Academy from Hialeah, Fla. Mediavilla was at the Perfect Game National Showcase in Minneapolis in mid-June and is ranked the No. 264 overall national prospect in his class.
"If you grow up in Miami you pretty much just see Miami games -- that's the biggest school around there," Mediavilla said. "You grow up around that atmosphere, and then the campus is beautiful and the coaches want to win. They're a growing program right now and I want to be a part of it; they have a long tradition and everybody wants to be a part of it."
The other SF Elite Squad-Louisville team members that have committed to the Hurricanes are: first baseman/left-hander Brian Gonzalez (2014, Miramar, Fla.), ranked 144th nationally; infielder Kirvin Moesquit (2014, Deerfield Beach, Fla.), ranked 202nd and another PG National Showcase alum; and infielder Roman Gonzalez (2015, Hialeah, Fla.), ranked 230th in his class. Brian Gonzalez was unable to be here this week due to other obligations.
"We're from the Miami area and, let's face it, a lot of the kids that play for me grew up watching Hurricanes baseball," SF Elite Squad founder and head coach Richie Palmer said Tuesday. "We do have some kids that say, 'Hey Coach, I'd like to get away' and we don't tell them to go to Miami; we kind of leave that up them. But we do get a bunch of kids that say, 'Hey, you know what? I'd like to stay at home. I grew up watching the Canes and I want to be a Cane.'"
Before they will ever wear the jersey of the Miami Hurricanes, the future Canes and all of their Elite Squad-Louisville Slugger teammates -- many of whom have committed to other high octane NCAA Division I programs -- are looking to repeat as 17u PGWS national champions.
The Elite Squad started the defense of that title with an inauspicious 3-0 loss to Marucci Elite Sunday night. They came back from an 8-1 third-inning deficit to beat the San Diego Show, 10-9, on Monday; beat the East Cobb Braves, 9-3, also on Monday; and topped the DBacks Elite Select Team, 6-2, in their first game Tuesday.
The Squad were getting no-hit by DBacks Elite left-hander Garvin Alston Jr. (2015, Phoenix) through four innings Tuesday and trailed 2-0 before collecting six hits in their last two half-innings and rallying for the win. Meyer threw six innings and gave up one earned run on six hits while striking out nine and walking none.
"I felt pretty good; I was probably at about 90 percent," he said of his outing. "I could have been better and I could have throwing harder but I was just trying to hit spots and go deep in the game. (Palmer) just told me to come out, give it my best and just grind out there -- don't give up and give it your all for the team."
Palmer badly needed those six innings from his reliable right-hander and future Hurricane.
"We had a couple of guys that couldn't make the trip for different reasons and we're not heavy in our pitching staff like we usually are for most tournaments, so each guy that goes out deep for us is huge," Palmer said. "It allows us to go out there and save a guy for another game and that's kind of how we're playing it. ... We're not going to save anybody and if guys can go a deep distance for us it's obviously going to help everybody out."
The South Florida Elite Squad went 5-1-1 in pool-play at last year's 17u PGWS, which was good enough to win their pool championship. They then beat surprising Team Northwest, 8-0, in one semifinal before topping the East Cobb Braves, 7-5, in the championship game. Palmer is the first to admit winning the 17u PGWS after playing nine games in five days (and in some cases this year, four days) against the country's best requires some extra effort.
"I told these guys, 'It's not supposed to be easy,'" Palmer said. "When you've got 16 of the best teams in the country, it's not going to be easy in any game here. ... I keep telling them, 'Do your job; if you do your job you're going to make this team better. Don't worry about all the other things, don't worry about the errors and strikeouts; just focus on you and doing the little things to help your team out and we're going to be where we want to be at the end of the day,'"
This is a veteran team, although Palmer is hoping for some offensive help from a couple of very talented 2015s. Outfielder Daniel Reyes (Miami Springs, Fla.), the No. 13-ranked national prospect in the 2015 class, and infielder Roman Gonzalez (Hialeah, Fla.), ranked 230th, have proved to be valuable additions.
Palmer also refuses to talk about "back-to-back" PG national championships simply because this an entirely different team. He just keeps reminding them that advancing to Thursday's final four will not be easy and told them, "... if you're expecting an easy victory you're at the wrong tournament."
"That's why I love this tournament and I think that's why (the players) do to," he said. "They enjoy that every game is intense and you can go out and beat every opponent or they can beat you, and that's what we really enjoy."
Palmer has told this team he feels like this team has "underachieved" this summer and have not performed at the level at which they're capable of; the players are getting the message.
"We've been playing tough right now and our bats have come around," Mediavilla said. "We're playing the best teams in the country right now and it's just a great tournament; you can't underestimate anybody because if you do you're going to go home. You've got to go out here and just give it your all.
"We come in expecting win; we have a team that can win," he continued. "We have the defense, the offense, the pitching ... and I think we have a chance and if we keep on hitting the way we are and stay humble, we have a chance of coming through."
In addition to the "Coral Gables 5", this Elite Squad-Louisville Slugger roster also boasts three players that have committed to Florida International and two to the University of Florida. The two Florida commits really stand out in the previously mentioned Reyes and middle-infielder Johnathan India (2015, Coral Springs, Fla.), ranked 45th nationally in his class. The top FIU recruit is catcher/outfielder Spencer Levine (2014, Miami), who is ranked 58th the 2014 class.
But there is no denying the attraction to "The U" for these young players; not only did they grow up in the area but they've been closely watched. Palmer gives a lot of credit to Miami assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Gino DiMare and assistant coach/pitching coach J.D. Arteaga from head coach Jim Morris' staff for keeping track of his prospects.
"It seems like they're everywhere we go, they see our guys, they're on them and they're good at the recruiting process," Palmer said. "They make our players feel like, 'Hey, this is where I want to be' so I give credit to that staff. They've been very good to us and ,hey, it's the Canes.
"The kids grew up watching them ... and there's a lot of history and tradition at that ballpark down there, and I think a lot of those kids want to go down there and experience that again and hopefully get them back to Omaha (at the College World Series). That's what their goal is."