FORT MYERS, Fla. – Cape Coast Canes Baseball is one of those Florida travel ball programs that expects to one day find a seat alongside some of the nation’s best organizations. Its appearance at the 2011 Perfect Game 18U Memorial Day Classic is another step toward that seat.
The Cape Coast Canes, based in Merrit Island and Brevard county on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, are in their third year of operation. Coach Greg Plecki is slowly but surely building a national-level contender, as evidenced by Cape Coast’s ability to advance to the playoff round in five of the six tournaments it played at in 2010.
“We have a pretty good group coming back again this year,” Plecki said Friday while grounds crew members worked to get George Brett Field at Terry Park into playing shape following a mid-afternoon downpour. The Canes were preparing to play the Miami Suns 17U in their tournament opener.
“The talent was kind of down in the area, I would say, as far as in Brevard County,” he continued, “but I think we should still have a pretty competitive team.”
The highlight of the Canes’ 2010 summer season – only its second season of operation – was a trip to the PG 18U WWBA National Championship in Marietta, Ga.
They went 5-0 in pool play at that tournament before being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Cape Coast’s wins came against the Tampa Panthers 17U, Ohio Warhawks, LOBA Lynx, East Cobb Rays 18U and Mass Pride 18U.
Other wins at other tournaments came against some of the nation’s top programs.
“We want to be an elite program,” Plecki said emphatically. “We’ve played a lot of games against those teams and we’ve competed well, and we’ve beat a couple teams that were in that top-25 range. Where those teams are probably just a little bit better than us right now is just depth.”
Eight players on the 2011 Canes roster are 2011 high school graduates, seven of whom are yet to sign with a college. Plecki, a Melbourne, Fla., native who played collegiately on the barren northern plains at North Dakota State University – a world away from Melbourne – hopes he can help his young Canes players experience college baseball.
“My whole goal and why I do this is to try to get these kids to college. I got to play college ball and I knew how much fun I had, so it’s my goal to give these guys that opportunity,” he said. “I had about five or six kids last year that came into me with nothing and ended up either going to a junior college or a Division II. I even had a kid (Scott Garner) who pitches for Bethune-Cookman who had nothing coming in (to the program) and is now Bethune-Cookman’s Friday night starter.”
There are scores of prospects at this weekend’s PG 18U and 16U Memorial Day Classics – which are running concurrently and being played at a dozen venues in Fort Myers and Cape Coral – who have already solidified their college plans, either for this fall or the fall of 2012.
Almost the entire 17-man Cape Coast Canes’ roster hasn’t made a college commitment yet, but Plecki is confident many of them will play somewhere at the next level.
“It might not be an offer from the exact school they want to go to, but I’ve sat down with most of these kids and talked to them and they’ve told me, ‘Coach, I just want to play ball,’” Plecki said. “We want to give them the option of playing in these tournaments, and then we go to some showcases and things like that, and put them in front of some college coaches. Hopefully they’re prepared and ready to go.”
A case in point is Canes’ first baseman/third baseman Nick Gonzalez, a 2011 graduate of Merritt Island High School. On Thursday, Gonzalez signed a letter of intent with NCAA Division I Saint Peter’s College in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
“All of the other opportunities I was going to get were going to be smaller schools and that was the only Division I. That was pretty much it and I just took it,” Gonzalez said.
Cape Coast Canes Baseball’s website lists 16 former Canes who are now playing collegiately, including Garner, PJ Biocic, Montana Durupau and Pat Goetz at Bethune-Cookman. Sixteen is a considerable number for only two graduating classes.
So Plecki will keep bringing his players to Perfect Game events to get them in front of the eyes of college coaches and recruiters, as well as professional scouts.
“Perfect Game events are by far the best events in the country,” Plecki said. “We’ve been to a bunch of (other events) and there’s nothing coparable to this.”
Gonzalez is playing in his fifth Perfect Game WWBA or BCS tournament this weekend while beginning his third summer season with the Canes. He’ll keep attending these events even though he now has a scholarship in hand.
“These tournaments are probably the best ones we play in, I think,” Gonzalez said. “It’s good competition.
“You’ve got to stay in it. I’m not going to not play baseball,” he concluded. “It’s been a real good experience. Coach Plecki is a great coach.”