FORT MYERS, Fla. – The Labor Day Weekend traditionally harkens the kickoff of the high school, college and professional football seasons. For the third straight year it also welcomes the start of another series of events no less anticipated in the ever-expanding world of elite high school-age baseball: the Perfect Game fall tournament season.
The third annual PG WWBA 16u Labor Day Classic and PG WWBA 18u Labor Day Classic run concurrently Friday through Monday (Aug. 30-Sept. 2) at Terry Park; the jetBlue Player Development Complex; the Player Development 5-Plex and City of Palms Park. Pool-play begins Friday night and the two tournaments conclude with championship games at 9 a.m. (16u) and 11:30 a.m. (18u) on Monday at the Boston Red Sox’s spring training home, jetBlue Park.
Twenty-eight teams – 25 from Florida along with the Coastal Georgia Monsters (Ga.), the NOLA Monsters (La.) and the PR Indians (Puerto Rico) – make up the PG WWBA 18u Labor Day Classic field.
There is no defending champion in the 18u tournament as 2012 champion FTB Pride did not enter a team. FTB Pride was the only team out of 20 to emerge from pool-play without a loss or a tie a year ago, and upsets occurred in two of the four quarterfinal games, indicative a balanced field.
“The challenges were very good out here,” Pride head coach George Gonzales said at the conclusion of the 2012 championship game. “… There’s nothing like the Perfect Game events; the challenges are there, the coaching staffs you meet on the opposing side know what they’re doing … and the level of ball is still very good, more than you see in any other sanctioning body.”
While there is no defending champion, it isn’t’ necessary to waste a lot of time looking for a favorite at the 18u event. The Orlando Scorpions -- an organization that fielded 2013 PG national championship teams at the PG WWBA 17u National Championship and the 16u Perfect Game World Series, with a runner-up at the 18u PG WWBA East Memorial Day Classic – boasts a roster with 12 prospects from the classes of 2014 and 2015 that have made NCAA Division I commitments.
Among the top pitchers are right-hander Logan Crouse (2015, Valrico, Fla.), a Florida State commit, and fellow righty Patrick Stephens (2014, Orlando), a Central Florida commit.
The New Orleans-based NOLA Monsters are back after a runner-up finish a year ago and the Florida Express out of Fort Myers also looks to have a solid roster. The Express are led by right-hander Kyle Kemp (2014, Port Charlotte, Fla.) and left-hander Luis Ferrer (2014, Cape Coral, Fla.), named the Most Valuable Pitcher at last year’s 16u Labor Day Classic when pitching for the Fort Myers-based Iron Pigs.
“This was a good baseball experience with good competition,” Ferrer said after last year’s 16u championship game.
The hometown Iron Pigs won the 2012 PG WWBA 16u Labor Day Classic championship but are not among the 24 teams in this year’s field. Four Southwest Florida (SWFL) Baseball teams – three based in Naples and one in Fort Myers – comprise one-sixth of the field.
Twenty of the 24 squads are based in Florida, with one each from Georgia (Fat Cat Thunder), Louisiana (NOLA Blue Jays), Puerto Rico (SBO Storm Baseball) and California (Team Avenue Aces). The Aces are based in Fresno, Calif., but the 11-man roster submitted to PG for the event consists of six players from Florida; two from Massachusetts; and one each from Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas.
The two PG WWBA Labor Day Classic tournaments are the first of nine prominent Perfect Game events leading up to the 2013 PG WWBA World Championship Oct. 24-28 in Jupiter, Fla.
Following the PG/EvoShield National Championship Underclass (Sept. 13-16) and Upperclass (Sept 20-23) events in Goodyear, Ariz., three PG WWBA World Championship qualifiers will be held: the Kernels Foundation Championship (Sept. 27-30, Cedar Rapids, Iowa); the South Qualifier (Sept. 27-30, Tomball, Texas) and the Florida Qualifier (Oct. 4-7, Fort Myers, Fla.).
The 2013 PG WWBA Underclass World Championship (Oct. 10-14, Fort Myers) and the inaugural PG WWBA Freshman World Championship (Oct. 18-21, Fort Myers) close out the fall tournament schedule just in front of the World Championship.