FORT MYERS, Fla. – The squad from Louisiana arrived in Southwest Florida late last week, having made the long trip over the road and through the air just to take part in the 17u Perfect Game BCS Finals, an event played on Major League Baseball spring training fields spread throughout the large Fort Myers-Cape Coral metropolitan area.
With a team name that just screams action and aggressiveness – the Team Louisiana Ammo – the ballplayers from the high school graduating class of 2015 (with a couple of 2016s sprinkled in) came to the PG national championship tournament to maybe pick up a thing or two from some of their most talented peers from across the country.
“I’ve learned from watching other kids and seeing their style and picking up the positive things they do,” Team Louisiana Ammo catcher Camron Lanclos told PG Thursday morning. “I watch their talent and see what routines they do; watch them do their own thing.”
This is a two-way mirror, however. After seeing the Ammo win all six of their pool-play games in impressive fashion over the first four days of this rain-soaked event, it would behest the prospects from the other 87 teams in the field to take a look at the way Team Louisiana goes about its business.
“Our way of playing is very hard,” Lanclos said. “We run on and off the field, we play hard and run everything out. On walks, we sprint down the line, ground balls – we play the game hard.” And, they play it very well.
As a relative newcomer to the elite 17u summer tournament circuit, it’s unlikely anyone foresaw the Ammo coming into the 17u PG BCS Finals and whipping all six of their pool-play foes. They outscored those teams by a combined score of 42-13 with wins over more established programs like SCORE International 17u.
“Most of our guys traveled anywhere between 14 and 17 hours to get over here so I expected maybe a little bit of a delay from the long travel, but our kids got here on Friday ready to play,” Team Louisiana Ammo program director and head coach Jeremy Picard said Thursday. “Our kids have swung the bat well, played defense well; I couldn’t ask for more than what we’ve gotten so far.
“Just watching these kids play and having them excel on a stage like this, it shows that these kids belong here, they deserve to be here and they’ve done everything they can to put themselves in a good position to make a run in the bracket.”
It’s a bracket – the 16-team playoffs were set to begin Thursday afternoon – that includes national powers like the Scorpions 2015 Prime, East Cobb Astros 16u, Texas Sun Devils, Marlins Scout Team and Scorpions Orlando 2015 Purple, teams that, like the Team Louisiana Ammo, finished two rounds of pool-play with 6-0 marks.
“We show up and we definitely believe we can play with the best of them,” Ammo 2015 infielder Dustin Mitchell said. “We’re not doing anything special we’re just playing the game; going out there and playing our game.”
Added 2016 middle-infielder Jake Slaughter: “It’s been a great experience out here playing baseball with some of my best friends. We just love playing, and we came out here ready to win.”
Led by Mitchell, Lanclos and Slaughter, the Ammo averaged seven runs a game while hitting .336 (51-for-152, 15 extra base hits) as a team in six games. Mitchell went 7-for-11 (.636), with a double, two triples four RBI and four runs scored; Lanclos was 9-for-19 (.474) with seven doubles, seven RBI and four runs; Slaughter went 8-for-19 (.421) with a double, seven RBI and seven runs. 2015 second baseman Kane Bass was 6-for-12 (.500) with seven runs scored and five stolen bases.
Picard used 15 pitchers in the first six game and they combined to post a 1.32 ERA over 37 innings. 2015 right-hander James Carney threw six scoreless innings in two appearances, allowing two hits while striking out four and walking none.
This is the first year this particular group has played together although there are a handful that attend the same high schools. In fact, the 20 players on the official roster identify 15 different Louisiana cities and towns as their hometown.
“It’s been amazing, these kids came in after the high school season in May and they jelled and played like they’ve been playing for a long time together but in all actuality for the majority of the guys this has been their first year together,” Picard said.
The Ammo spent the first part of the summer playing in regional events in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, including the Perfect Game Super25 Deep South Regional at Texas A&M in Lubbock, Texas, where they finished third. The 17u PG BCS Finals is their first Perfect Game national tournament experience of the summer.
“We have stressed since the end of May that we feel our guys, if they come out and play against themselves and the game and not concern themselves about who is in the other dugout, we had a chance to play with and beat anybody,” Picard said. “If they do what’s expected of them and what we ask, we have a chance to be pretty successful.”
Like most travel ball organizations, Team Louisiana’s main purpose is to help push the young prospects on to careers at the collegiate level; Ammo left-hander/outfielder Jesse Fruge has committed to Northwestern State University, an NCAA Division I school in Natchitoches, La.
“It’s been a great experience; I’ve developed so much as a player,” Slaughter said of his association with Team Louisiana. “The coaches are all great and they’ve helped us get our names out there to colleges, they’ve developed us as players and we’ve all gotten better.”
This marks the third year the organization has fielded a high school-age “showcase” team and now has teams spanning the spectrum from 8u to 18u.
“You have the East Cobb’s and the Marucci’s and those other guys that have been around for a long time and we’re just slowly trying to do things the right way and get our name up there,” said Picard, who previously coached at the junior college and high school level and now coaches this 17u group, which he has come to admire.
“They’re a bunch of blue-collar kids,” he said. “They work hard, they come from families that got here because they worked hard and they do whatever they need to do. We have kids that got (to City of Palms Park) at 6:45 this morning and they went straight to the cage and they didn’t get out until we started playing. It’s a bunch of kids that enjoy the game, play hard, love it and they do what you ask them to do. It’s fun to coach a group like this.”
The players love the “blue-collar” label and feel it fits them as comfortably as a pair of well-worn jeans. The players also like getting out of Louisiana and experiencing the world, even if they are viewing it mostly from the confines of a baseball field. That doesn’t mean the view can’t be spectacular, however.
“It’s been awesome to be able to come down here … and it’s really fun to come out here to Fort Myers and play on these beautiful fields,” Mitchell said. “I look forward to the experience and we’re playing a lot of guys that don’t speak English, which is pretty cool – that doesn’t happen much back home. It’s fun to compare your talents to others and see how you measure-up with them.”
As a catcher, Lanclos said he has even enjoyed chatting with the umpires and learning how the game may or may not be called differently in another part of the country. But, like Mitchell, he has most enjoyed observing his fellow prospects. “It’s a great experience playing against new talent and seeing some amazing arms and hitters; it’s just been a great all-around experience,” he said.
The state of Louisiana has a rich baseball history that is sometimes overshadowed by the residents’ love of football, and Picard said about half of his roster plays both sports and the other half is baseball-only; the half that play football put baseball first, however. The major universities in the state like Louisiana State and Louisiana-Lafayette have elite national programs and both made deep runs into NCAA Division I postseason play this spring.
“It’s been a very successful year for Louisiana baseball,” Picard said. “It’s exciting to see Louisiana excel on the national stage with more than just LSU; everybody knows LSU but this past year seeing some of the other in-state schools excel is exciting for me and exciting for these kids because it provides more opportunities for these kids to play at good universities.”
“Baseball has been growing a lot in Louisiana,” Lanclos noted. “I know a lot of my friends that have actually quit football for baseball because they started to enjoy it and realized how much fun it is and how challenging it is; it builds character, too.”
It took only four days for the boys from Louisiana to show their peers from many of the most prestigious travel ball programs in the country that they can’t be discounted. And while they’re willing to listen to and learn from those elite players with those elite programs, these guys with the nickname “Ammo” believe they’re worth taking a look at, too.
“We’re a real active team,” Slaughter said with a smile. “We play the game hard, we play it up and we try to play the game the right way. We like to hustle on and off the field, we like to hustle around and make things happen out there. We want to win every game we play; we’re out here to win, we didn’t come to just play. We want to get a high seed and win the whole tournament.”