GOODYEAR, Ariz. – Over the past decade, it has never been wise to discount any Dallas Patriots’ team in contention at any Perfect Game national championship tournament. The Pats always seem to be lurking, like some nosey neighbor watching from behind the bushes eager to crash the backyard cook-out, and then walk humbly into the sunshine.
Don’t look now, but the Pats are here bigger than ever, not hiding behind any bushes but instead busting out onto the desert floor with the idea of being a big-time player at this week’s 17u Perfect Game World Series, being contested at the Goodyear Park Recreation Complex through Wednesday.
Despite a 9-1 loss to the defending 17u PG World Series national champion EvoShield Canes Sunday night, the Dallas Patriots finished pool-play at 3-1 (the same record as the Canes) and on Monday morning will play in the round-of-eight, double-elimination tournament that will decide the two finalists in the 20-team by the end of the day Tuesday.
“I enjoy the Perfect Game events; we’ve been doing it for awhile,” Dallas Patriots head coach Jerry Valdez said Sunday, adding that after sending the younger age-group teams to the PG World Series tournaments in Fort Myers, Fla., the last couple of years, this is the group’s first trip to the Valley of the Sun.
“Coming out here this year to Arizona is great – new scenery – and I’ve always looked forward to playing here; I like the baseball down here,” he continued. “It’s a change of pace for these guys – we go from Atlanta to Fort Myers, Fort Myers to Atlanta (playing in Perfect Game tournaments), so this is the first time this group has ever been to Arizona; it’s good for them.”
It has been good for them so far. The Pats beat a couple of prominent California-based toughies – the San Diego Show and the CCB Elite – by a combined 15-5 on Saturday, and then dumped the Georgia Roadrunners, 10-2, Sunday morning to clinch a spot in Monday’s playoffs.
The loss to the Canes was damaging only because they will have to face a pool champion Monday morning as opposed to a pool runner-up. This is a double-elimination, eight-team bracket, it is important to remember.
“This is great,” 2015 outfielder Darius Hill, a West Virginia recruit ranked No. 357 nationally who was at the PG National Showcase last month, told PG Sunday morning. “There is great competition, really good teams here, nice weather; we’re not worrying about anything rainout-wise and it’s just cool being out here seeing all these other great teams and knowing how we stack-up with them.”
Valdez shared that he has had the majority of this particular group since they were 11 years old and have experienced some success. They are, however, a year older than the Dallas Patriots teams that won last year’s 15u PG World Series, was co-champion at the 2012 14u BCS Finals and runner-up at the 2012 PG WWBA 14u National Championship.
“This is a special group,” Valdez said. “It’s a group that plays as a team; we’re not the biggest team – all these other teams have these big guys – we’re the smallest and our job is to just play as a team, and that comes from knowing each other and trusting each other.”
The Dallas Patriots played at the PG WWBA 17u National Championship at Perfect Game Park South in Emerson, Ga., north of Atlanta earlier this month and after winning their pool with a 6-1 mark lost in the first round of the playoffs to finish 6-2. Valdez blamed a lack of offensive production for the team coming up short in Atlanta and liked that the Pats scored 25 runs in its first three games here, 15 in two wins on Saturday.
“We play our game, and our game is a lot of different things,” Valdez said. “We play small-ball, we have some big hits but at the end of the day we play our game. It doesn’t matter who we play, we have to stick to our game-plan.”
Hill was even more to the point:
“That was great for our confidence because we were kind of struggling to hit the ball … and now we really hit the ball well (Saturday) and that’s really good for our confidence. (Saturday) was just a great confidence-builder for us,” he said referring to the offensive production in the first three games here.
“We really play as a great unit together and Jerry (Valdez) has been preaching it to us this entire summer. We have to play as a team to win here and (Saturday) we did a great job of that; we put together at-bats and we put together some runs against some pretty good pitchers that allowed us to get those wins.”
Another one of the Pats’ many standouts is 2015 outfielder Caleb Kyle, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound speedster from Frisco, Texas, who has committed to the University of Illinois. Kyle is a top-500 national prospect who is definitely enjoying his time with the Dallas Pats and was glad to see the team score some runs the last two days.
“We have our slow games (offensively) but when we get going we pretty much can take any team out here, not matter who you are; that’s what I feel like,” he said. “Once we play our game and stick to what we can do and play as a team, we can beat anybody out here.
“There is no pressure, really,” he said of the next two days. “We know who we are and we wouldn’t be here if we weren’t known as one of the best teams (in the country). We feel like we can compete as long as we play our game; if we get outside of that then it can be pretty difficult because there are a lot of good teams out here.”
Valdez has been with founder and head coach Logan Stout and the Dallas Patriots organization for the last 10 years and serves as president of the organization. He’s been watching this particular group grow, mature and improve since they were 11 years old and talks like a proud papa.
“That’s the main reason we do this,” he said of watching the young players’ development. “Wins and losses, that doesn’t define us – it’s how these kids become men at 17 years old, and that’s why we do it. We do it for the passion of, ‘Man, look at this kid and how he’s grown in six years.’ We do things the right way and as long as our kids are getting better and understanding why we’re doing this, it’s a fun thing to do.”
Hill is a Texan and may not have given West Virginia a second thought had it not moved into the Big 12 Conference two years ago. Because of that move, the Mountaineers are able to attract top Texas (and Oklahoma and Kansas) talent because these prospects know they will be returning home to play on a regular basis.
“They invited me up on a visit to go to a football game and I just really loved the scenery there,” Hill said. “They’re in the Big 12 which is obviously the conference of my home state, and it looked like a great place for me; I just figured why not continue my career there?”
Kyle doesn’t come across as the type of kid who would be anxious to leave his Texas roots and settle in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., but after a seven-minute conversation and a look at his 3.3 GPA it becomes obvious there are more things going with this young man than just baseball – although never underestimate the importance of the bat and the ball.
“School-wise (academically), it’s a real good school,” Kyle said of his decision to join the Fighting Illini. “The (baseball) team, they’re looking for more speed guys like myself and I really like the coach, Coach (Dan) Hartlieb; he’s really good. I’ve heard a lot about the players and I’ve heard they’re a great group of guys. It should be a great fit for me and it’s just a good school overall.”
The players are happy as clams playing for the Dallas Patriots organization and even more thrilled to be playing into the third and fourth days at the five-day 17u PG World Series.
“It’s been a great fit, just playing with great players from around my hometown,” Hill said. “Last year I played with some teams from out-of-state and that was just a little more difficult. This year it’s great to be with great players from my own home state and we’re winning some ballgames, so it feels great to be with this team right now.
“I really like this team,” added Kyle, who has been with the Pats for three years. “I enjoy the coaches, the players and the good team atmosphere; everybody plays well together.”
No one should ever be surprised to see the Dallas Patriots “lurking” at Perfect Game national championship tournaments. The biggest surprise will come the day the Pats aren’t in the mix to be fitted for rings.
“Sometimes people don’t count on us to be here but by the end of the day we’re always in the mix,” Valdez said. “The more people have big rosters with top players; that’s good for us; these kids need to learn that. I see the rosters where (programs) have 12 guys committed; that’s awesome. This about the kids and at the end of the day we all play the game the same way.”