FORT MYERS, Fla. – The Cupey Baseball Club coaches and players don’t feel like they have anything to prove at the ongoing 13u PG BCS Finals this week, simply because they already feel like that they belong. A pair of wins Saturday to wrap-up the first set of three pool-play games at the Perfect Game national tournament only hardened their resolve.
As one of two teams from Puerto Rico at the 40-team tournament, the Cupey Baseball Club is showing it can play on the same high level with many of the top 13u teams from the mainland. These young guys and their parental fan base are passionate about the game and a run into the 16-team playoff field would not be that surprising.
Cupey Baseball, based in the Puerto Rican capitol of San Juan, started play at the 13u PG BCS Finals on Friday with a 9-1 whipping at the hands of the Del Ray Beach, Fla.-based Florida Stealth. It bounced back impressively with a 15-2, five inning win over the Texas Spikes from Sugar Land, Texas, on Saturday morning, and a 5-3 victory over the East Cobb Nationals from Acworth, Ga., followed Saturday afternoon with both games played at the Player Development 5-Plex.
“We knew (Friday) that we faced a very tough team in the Florida Stealth,” CBC head coach Jose Torres told Perfect Game Saturday morning. “We are a team with some pretty good players but we need experience; that’s why we’re here. … We’re looking forward to having a nice tournament because from what I saw (Friday) I think our kids can play at this level.”
Torres said he wanted to get these youngsters to the mainland so they can not only experience a higher level of play but also start the process of getting their names out to the amateur baseball world. A profile in the Perfect Game player database is an excellent place to start that process.
“We have a very good team at (the) 13-and-under (level) in Puerto Rico and we are encouraged to come and participate over here and match (ourselves) with the best of the (teams) that come to Perfect Game,” Torres said. “That’s the main reason why we are here.”
The official 17-player Cupey Baseball Club roster for this event includes 14 native Puerto Ricans and three players from the States: Ryan Shaver, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound class of 2020 left-hander/first baseman from Daingerfield, Texas; Tommy Boyer, a 5-foot-4, 100-pound 2019 second baseman/right-hander from St. Cloud, Fla.; Ryan Batezel, a 5-foot-8, 142-pound 2018 third baseman from Loxahatchee, Fla.
The native kids come from all over the island, including the cities of San Juan and Toa Alta. The young prospects will almost all end up at different middle schools and high schools at some point, unlike the other team from Puerto Rico that is here for the 13u PG BCS.
That squad is the IBAHS Knights from Trujillo Alto, P.R., and every one of the roster spots is filled by a young player who will attend International Baseball Academy High School in Trujillo Alto.
“They have a good academy over there …,” Torres said. “None of my players belong to an academy; they just trust my knowledge and my coaching, and me being able to teach them the right way to play the game.”
The Friday debacle aside, the Cupey Baseball Club used outstanding pitching to improve to 2-1 by the end of the day Saturday, beginning when right-handers Jonathan G. Rivera (2018, Juana Diaz, P.R.) and Elvis Rumaldo (2019, Canovanas, P.R.) combined on a five-inning two-hitter in the ambush of the Texas Spikes.
Righty Yoshua Martinez (2019, Toa Alta, P.R.) pitched six innings of shutout, four-hit ball before allowing three runs on three hits and two walks in the seventh in the win over the EC Nationals. He finished with a complete game seven-hitter, striking out six and walking two.
At the plate, Carlos Y. Azpurrua (2018, San Juan) was 3-for-6 (.500) with a double and three RBI and Ricardo Feliciano went 3-for-7 (.429) with two RBI and two runs scored in the first three games.
When this team leaves Fort Myers in a few days, it has other tournament stops planned in Kissimmee, Fla., and Vero Beach, Fla.; they plan to return next year for 14u Perfect Game events both here and in Georgia. Torres knows his team will rise to the level of its competition.
“As a team, we know we are going to run into some ‘all-star’ teams but we play very good 14-year-old teams in Puerto Rico and we fair very well,” he said. “We had a year when we only lost six games all year long in Puerto Rico and all those games were against 14-year-old kids.”
There is a big difference here on the mainland, however. This is the first time this team is playing on regulation-size fields with 60-feet, 6-inch pitching distances and 90-feet base paths. His pitchers are used to throwing from 54-feet out, and this requires quite an adjustment.
“It’s a big difference for them but I try to get into their head that they can do it,” Torres said. “When there is a tournament the kids get a little scared just moving back those six-feet throwing pitches and adding those 10-feet on the bases, and they don’t feel comfortable. But they’ve shown they can do the job.”
Edwin Montanez is the owner and general manager of the Cupey Baseball Club and this is the only team in the organization. Torres explained that at the end of each travel season when the team returns home, he and Montanez sit down with each prospective player and talk about next year.
“We tell them that this is the program for next year and if you accept that, you know you’re going to have to work hard with us,” Torres said. “If you don’t accept that there is another team that can put you (on their roster) and you can stay over there. Most of them decide to come back and accept the challenge just like they did this year.”
It is Montanez’s view that this experience will only do wonders for these young prospects in the future. And the future for them simply means being 14 years old.
“Our kids are going to grow and this kind of tournament is excellent for them,” he said. “They’re still growing and we will see next year when we come back again. I know they can definitely be competitive here.”
Team Elite Black wraps up first set at 2-0-1
The opening set of three pool-play games at Perfect Game BCS Finals national championship tournaments are often described as “play-in games”, “exhibition games” and even, by a definite minority, “throw-away games”. Of those three references, “play-in games” is probably the closest to being the most defining, especially at the 40-team 13u PG BCS Finals.
It was a detail not lost on Winder, Ga.-based Team Elite Black head coach Matt Adams after the Black wrapped up their first set of games with 2-0-1 record.
“It tells me that these guys have great chemistry and they play very well; they compete. As a coach, that’s all you ask for is to compete and give us a chance to win,” Adams said after his team posted a 5-5 tie with the Florida Battalion in a game halted after five innings by the 2-hour time limit.
“We have a good chance to do some good things … and they came out and proved themselves,” he said. “All-in-all I just think they have really good chemistry – everybody’s friends on the team, they respect each other, they respect the coaches, the respect their parents – and I thank them for coming out here so far and playing well.”
Here is the way this thing works and whether or not it works for Team Elite Black remains to be seen:
By the end of the day on Saturday when all 40 teams had played their first set of three pool-play games, the pools were reseeded with each of the newly created 10 pools including first-place, second-place, third-place and fourth-place finishers from the first go-around; the 10 champions of the reseeded pools earn automatic entry into the 16-team playoff field.
The other six playoff berths are filled by “wildcard” entries and this is when the results of a team’s first three pool-play games are factored in. The six teams with the best overall records after six games that did not win a reseeded pool championship receive the wildcard berths.
Adams likes his team’s chances at a wild-card berth if a reseeded pool championship eludes it.
“It’s good when you have guys that want to win and don’t take the game lightly,” he said of Team Elite Black. “We have guys that are very mature for their age, being 13, and a lot of guys that understand the game and have a high baseball IQ.
“We have a lot of teaching stuff going on in practice, we have a lot of fundamental stuff going in practice and when we get into games … they seem to know what’s going on.”
Interestingly enough, Adams has plenty of Perfect Game experience himself. A 2009 graduate of Brookwood High School in Stockbridge, Ga., Adams played in six PG BCS and PG WWBA tournaments with various organizations from 2007 to 2009, including the 2008 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., with Team Elite.
“The competition (at PG tournaments) is like no other,” he said. “We face some good teams back home but it’s not like this. I’m very excited and very glad that these guys are out here and ready to compete and give it their all.”