The Perfect Game/EvoShield National Championships at
Goodyear, Ariz. (upperclass) and Peoria, Ariz. (underclass) slated for this
weekend (Sept. 24-27) are two big-time tournaments that are drawing travel team
programs big and small.
The wood-bat event for players in the class of 2011 and
younger (upperclass), and 2012 and younger (underclass) attracted 80 teams from
13 states and Canada to the two Arizona cities and is billed as the west’s version
of the PG WWBA World Championship held annually in Jupiter, Fla.
San Gabriel Valley Arsenal, a travel team organization based
in West Covina, Calif., has two teams in the Phoenix- area this weekend, one in
the upperclass tournament and one in the underclass event.
It’s a short and worthwhile trip for the program’s two
oldest teams – its class of 2011 and ’12 squads – to make, according to SGV
Arsenal founder Mike Viera.
“The Arizona tournament we are definitely looking forward
to,” Viera said. “We are taking some relatively strong teams there.”
SGV Arsenal has become known for taking strong teams everywhere
it goes, teams built on the skills of intelligent and talented players.
By some measures, it is a small program with just one team
in four grade levels put together based on the year the players will graduate
from high school. None of the teams are
built according to players’ ages, only by their grade in school. This fall’s
teams, for example, are the ‘11s (seniors), ’12s (juniors), ‘13s (sophomores)
and ‘14s (freshmen).
Viera started the program 10 years ago with just one
14-and-under team and after three years those players were still together as a
17U team. The following year the organization held open tryouts, and Viera said
he expected 40 or 50 kids to show up. To his surprise, 120 kids came out
looking for an opportunity to make the team.
His program was experiencing growth but Viera didn’t change
its intent or method of operation.
“The basis of our program is to kind of be a support system
for the parents and the players,” he said. “We try to guide them toward their
goals of playing collegiate or professional baseball, which most programs do. We’re
honest with them and give them an evaluation as far as what level we think they
should be at collegiately.”
Viera continued: “There’s so much more that goes on than just
on the field. That’s only part of the whole process. We have a recruiting guide
… and we make sure every parent and player has it. We’re available to all the
parents and players to call us or email us for any advice.”
SGV Arsenal has more than 100 players on its four teams but
still manages to make each one feel like a member of a small, family-sized
group. Older players work closely with the younger ones and parents of the
older plays talk with parents of the younger players about dealing with the
college recruitment process.
“It becomes an almost self-educating program where the older
group (is) kind of helping with the younger group,” Viera said. “The parents
and the players are sharing their experiences with each other.
“All of our players generally are friends and get along with
each other, their families get along with each other (and) they spend time with
each other away from the field.”
SGV Arsenal has a solid relationship with Perfect Game and
the organizations have worked together at West Coast tournaments and showcases.
Viera appreciates that his players – and players from other organizations – get
the exposure they desire at PG events.
“It’s been so beneficial to have the experience with Perfect
Game,” he said. “For us on a personal level, (we like) seeing what kind of
talent there is out there to compare our guys to what they’re doing. It’s been
a great relationship. It’s allowed some of our guys to kind of come to the surface.”
SGV Arsenal enjoyed a good deal of success at each of its
grade levels this summer.
The SGV Arsenal ’12 team won the AABC 16U Mickey Mantle
World Series in McKinney, Texas, in early August and finished No. 7 in Perfect
Game’s final 2010 16U national rankings.
SGV Arsenal beat DBAT Mustangs, 12-2, in the championship
game and won the tournament without two of its top players – Rio Ruiz and Lucas
Giolito – who didn’t make the trip because they were playing in the Area Code
Games in Long Beach, Calif., at the same time.
Giolito (2012, Santa Monica, Calif.) is a 6-6, 220-pound
right-hander who has had his fastball clocked as high as 96 mph and has
committed to UCLA. He is ranked fourth nationally and second in the state of
California in Perfect Game’s most recent Class of 2012 national rankings.
Ruiz (2012, Covina, Calif.) is a versatile 6-2, 190-pound
third baseman and right-handed pitcher described as an “excellent” hitter whose
fastball has reached 93 mph, and who a Perfect Game scout characterized as “the
highest-level two-way prospect.” He has committed to Southern California and is
ranked the No. 5 top prospect nationally and No. 3 in California by Perfect
At least three other current SGV Arsenal players have
verbally committed to D-I schools: Right-hander Scott Heineman (2011, Pacific
Palisades, Calif.) to Oregon; middle infielder Eliot Lowell (2012, San Diego)
to San Diego State; and catcher and right-handed pitcher C.J. Saylor (2012,
West Covina, Calif.) to San Diego State.
Not only are SGV Arsenal players successful on the field,
but they excel in the classroom, as well. Viera said almost all of his players
at every level have a GPA of 3.0 or higher.
“That’s something we’re very proud of,” he said.
SGV Arsenal has had seven players selected to play in the
Aflac All-American Classic high school all-star game since 2007: Aaron Hicks
(’07), Gerrit Cole (’07), Ricky Oropesa
(’07), Chris Amezquita (’07), Jonathan Singleton (’08), Dylan Covey (’09) and
Aaron Sanchez (’09).
San Gabriel Valley Arsenal shares the common goal of
reaching and performing well at the WWBA World Championship in Jupiter next
month with every other elite travel team organization in the country. It’s the
biggest stage of all and every team longs for the spotlight.
But SGV Arsenal also likes to think it is unique in the way
it goes about its business.
“We’re a completely,
totally all-volunteer coaching staff, we are probably one of the least
expensive programs to play in (in) the country and we have personal
relationships with all our players and their families,” Viera said.