By Allan Simpson
It traditionally conflicts with and is overshadowed by that other higher-profile, more-established late-October baseball showpiece, but the World Wood Bat Association World championship has, in its own right, become a staple on the October calendar. From a scouting perspective, it is the world’s largest and most eagerly-anticipated baseball attraction.
About 1,500 high-school players, including most of the top prospects in the 2010 draft class, will converge this week on Jupiter, Fla., for the 12th renewal of an event that is hard-core baseball at its best, and features upwards of 160 games shoe-horned into one long weekend. The 80-team WWBA tournament has become a must-attend showcase for players, as well as major-league scouts and college recruiters alike.
Some 700 scouts and recruiters, the largest-ever gathering of baseball talent evaluators, saw last year’s 80-team event, and about the same number will be on hand, starting Thursday, when play begins at the adjoining spring-training complexes of the Florida Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals.
As many as 13 games will be played at any one time, and it’s become such a challenge for big-league clubs to adequately see all the worthy players in attendance, that some sent as many as 20 scouts to cover the 2008 WWBA tournament. Just like in the past, there will be teams in Jupiter this week that will come from throughout the United States, as well as Canada and Puerto Rico.
While the World Series, which traditionally is played in late October and overlaps the WWBA event, is contested elsewhere and will continue to attract mass, wide-spread appeal and represents the pinnacle of what every player in Jupiter ultimately aspires to participate in, the WWBA tournament holds its own place of significance. It has become the signature event on Perfect Game’s annual calendar.
“There’s no event we do that creates more interest from players, scouts and recruiters alike,” says Jerry Ford, Perfect Game’s founder and president. “It continues to grow in significance and there’s no scouting event now that can rival the WWBA in terms of the volume of impact talent at one event, and the value it provides to the scouting industry.”
Though played in the relative solitude of a spring-training complex, with little or no national fanfare, the tournament provides the greatest exposure for a single event that most players at the high-school level will ever participate in. It’s the only one where upwards of 250 scouts and recruiters might see them play in any one game.
With the NCAA early-signing period just weeks away, and the 2010 draft little more than seven months hence, the WWBA represents the last best chance this fall for participating players to showcase their talent.
The benefit that scouts and recruiters gain from the tournament is equally valuable as it is very time- and cost-effective. It provides a rare opportunity to see a huge volume of prospects in one location and, equally important, to see them participate against high-quality competition.
The event has the added advantage over most baseball showcases because it is treated as a showcase event, yet played in a tournament format, and gives scouts the best of both worlds: a chance to see players showcase their tools in a competitive environment.
The World Wood Bat Association World championship began in 1998 in Fort Myers, Fla., and really took foothold two years later, when it was re-located cross-state to Jupiter. It quickly began attracting the cream of the crop among the nation’s high-school seniors—and even juniors—and scouts and recruiters began showing up in increasing numbers.
Perfect Game has never varied from its overriding goal to attract the best possible talent to the WWBA tournament, even if some of the participating teams have little tangible identity and are often randomly assembled just for the tournament. Some of the powerhouse teams have even largely been put together by scouts of big-league clubs.
Through the years, most championship teams have been stacked, all-star squads, where players are often introducing themselves to each other just before their first game and joyously hoisting a championship trophy with their new teammates four days (and eight games) later.
“Most players come here with the primary purpose of getting exposure,” Ford says, “but it’s amazing how their competitive instincts soon kick in. By the end of the tournament, their focus is almost solely on winning a trophy.”