FORT MYERS, Fla. – A year ago this weekend, the Palm Beach County PAL 17U and 16U teams came here for Perfect Game Memorial Day tournaments and promptly carted all the championship hardware back to the other side of the Florida peninsula.
Now they’re back, looking for repeats of the championships they won in 2010.
The PBC PAL 17U team is playing in the Perfect Game 18U WWBA Memorial Day Classic and the 16U team is playing in the Perfect Game 16U WWBA Memorial Day Classic. The tournaments, featuring more than 100 teams total, are played concurrently at 12 venues across the Fort Myers area.
As a relatively new program – the PBC PAL 17U team was in its first season last year – the double 2010 Memorial Day Classic titles made for an exciting four days.
“It was special because it was about the end of the sixth on (the 18U) field, and we were kind of peeking over our shoulder at our younger guys playing,” 17U Coach Chad Upson recalled. “The next thing you know, they’re celebrating and we go into the seventh and finish our game, and we’re celebrating.
“We got to kind of enjoy it together and it was special, but now we’ve probably got our work cut out for us because (the other teams) will be hunting for us a little bit.”
Upson was speaking on Friday before his team was scheduled to play the Florida Hardballers 17U squad on Roberto Clemente Field at Terry Park. The game was ultimately washed out after the day’s second downpour – this one at about 6:30 p.m. EDT – forced PG officials to suspend play. A revised weekend schedule was being hammered out late Friday night.
Palm Beach County PAL baseball has been in existence for nine years as one of many programs offered by the Palm Beach County Police Athletic League. The program only fielded a 16U team until last year, when a 17U team was assembled.
Upson said he and some associates decided to run a tryout about nine years ago to form a 16U team and had 21 players show up.
“That first year at the Junior Olympics we had a 13th-place finish, which was special for us because of our talent level,” Upson said. “It’s worked out really well – now we get 100 guys per tryout and it’s all Palm Beach County guys. They come out and tryout and we pick the best 20 and try to coach them up.”
Quite a few of the players on this year’s PBC PAL 17U team were on the 16U squad a year ago, including class of 2012 catcher Taylor Gushue and middle-infielder Tyler Kendall. Both of those prospects have already committed to the University of Florida.
“We decided to grandfather this group in, and they’re obviously a talented group so we’re lucky in that regard,” Upson said. “We added about four guys to this mix just to kind of fill some voids and fill some spots for guys who might have moved on to other opportunities.”
The PBC PAL 17U roster is loaded with top prospects, most notably Gushue, a Boca Raton (Calvary Christian HS) catcher who is ranked No. 59 nationally and No. 13 in the state of Florida (class of 2012) by Perfect Game.
Catcher/ first baseman/third baseman Robbie Coman (Virginia), right-hander Trevor Maloney (Florida Atlantic), left-hander Brandon Rhodes (Florida Atlantic), middle-infielder Trea Turner (North Carolina State) and utility man Ryan Church (Palm Beach state) join Gushue and Kendall as PBC PAL prospects who have already committed to colleges.
Those guys are known commodities. Upson seems even more excited about some hidden gems he has his roster.
“We’ve got some good arms that nobody really knows about, which is kind of fun because then we bop them out there and it’s like, ‘Who’s this guy,’ and then my cell phone bill goes up,” he said. “And we’ve got some position players – these guys are really swinging (the bat). We’ve got some uncommitted guys, so there’s some opportunities there with some arms that (colleges) don’t know about yet that are pretty special.”
A few of the pitchers Upson was referring to are 6-3, 175 pound left-hander Daniel Young (2012, Delray Beach); 6-4, 205-pound right-hander Michael Murray (2012, West Palm Beach) and 6-1, 210-pound lefty Dylan Silva (2012, Lake Worth, Fla.).
Upson knows his teams will be competitive this summer and he looks forward to what lies ahead, including the rest of this weekend.
“Every summer is a different challenge – we’re weak in one area, strong in another,” Upson said. “We’re looking to come out and battle every inning because that’s something we’re known for. Whenever we talk to college or pro guys, they know that our guys are going to come out and give 110 percent. That’s what we can guarantee; the Ws we can’t.”
Upson was with PBC PAL at its inception, left for a few years to pursue other opportunities, then returned. He has coached at Palm Beach Community College and also at the high school level after playing collegiately at Northwood University in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be coached by some real good guys, and I just try to do what they did and add a little bit of my own spirit.”
It’s impossible to predict if PBC PAL can pull off another double this weekend, of course. Its 16U team was holding a 1-0 fifth-inning lead over the Carrollwood Gators in their Memorial Day Classic opener at Florida Gulf Coast University late Friday night.
But winning last year’s double championships is something Upson will always remember.
“We’ve been lucky enough to do some winning throughout our history, but any Perfect Game event is a special event to win because we know that all the big clubs are going to show up for the Perfect Game events. Anytime we get to win a Perfect Game event, that’s terrific,” he said. “We’ve had the opportunity to win a BCS (final), which was good for our program, and winning (the double) along with the BCS would probably be our highlights.”
So far, anyway.