FORT MYERS, Fla. – There’s an inherent advantage to playing for the Southwest Florida Baseball organization, similar, perhaps, to playing for East Cobb Baseball.
It’s that old realtors rant – location, location, location.
Southwest Florida Baseball – referred to as SWFL and pronounced “Swiffle”– is based right here in Fort Myers. Most of the players who fill the rosters of the four SWFL teams (15u, 16u, 17u and 18u) are from Fort Myers and North Fort Myers, or come from the nearby communities of Cape Coral, Naples and Bonita Springs.
And that might help explain why three of the SWFL teams – the 16u, 17u and 18u squads – are playing in this weekend’s Perfect Game WWBA Florida Qualifier. All of the tournament’s venues are an easy drive from the player’s and coaches’ homes.
“We’re just right here, working right out of Terry Park, pretty much,” Ryan Horton, the head coach of the SWFL 18u team, said from the Boston Red Sox Player Development 5-Plex Saturday morning. “We try to get involved in as many Perfect Game events as we can every summer and fall.
“(SWFL has) a long history and we typically try to keep all the area kids here and try to get has many kids as we can to the next level.”
Perfect Game holds several of its most prestigious tournaments in Fort Myers every year, including all five BCS Finals championships. City of Palms Park hosted this year’s PG National Showcase in June. The players on SWFL rosters can literally walk out their front doors and stumble onto a PG event.
The same can be said for the young prospects that play for one of the dozens of East Cobb teams. Perfect Game also holds a lot of its tournaments at the East Cobb Complex.
The 2011 WWBA Florida Qualifier awards the tournament champion with a paid invitation to next month’s WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, so it’s a tournament every team here wants to win. SWFL Baseball already has an invitation, but Horton expects his team to challenge for the title.
“We always have the expectations coming in to win a tournament but I think more with this one, we’re still trying to jell as a team,” Horton said. “Our main goal was to come in here and put kids in different positions, jell as a team, get our pitchers some innings and get our hitters’ timing back.”
Brandon Sanger, a left-handed hitting SS/RHP/2B from Fort Myers, Luke Maglich, another left-handed hitting MIF/2B from Sarasota and Tyler Selesky, yet another left-handed hitting SS/3B from Estero are among the top prospects playing for SWFL 18u this weekend. Sanger has committed to Florida Atlantic, Maglich to South Florida and Selesky to Florida Gulf Coast, which is in Fort Myers.
The 18u also has a player on the roster named Jose Mesa Jr., a right-hander who has committed to Seminole State College.
Kamerin Gellinger, another in this long line of left-handed hitters and right-handed throwers, is on the SWFL 17u team and has committed to Central Florida. It’s probably a safe bet he will be on the SWFL World Championship roster.
SWFL Baseball counts a long line of standout players – most of them local – among its alumni. Its website lays claim to more than 50 former players who have signed professionally and 12 who have made it to the big leagues.
Six SWFL alums were selected in the 2011 MLB draft, including first round compensation pick Hudson Boyd, and second-rounders Daniel Vogelbach and Alex Santana. Boyd and Vogelbach are from North Fort Myers and Santana is from Cape Coral.
SWFL 18u won its Qualifier opener Friday night over South Florida Breakers 18u, 10-2, but lost Saturday morning to the Orlando Baseball Academy. It will play the Gatorball Baseball Academy in its final pool-play game Sunday morning at the Lee County Sports Complex. The SWFL 16u team 2-0 in pool-play heading into Sunday.
“This keeps them in shape and makes sure that they come together,” Horton said of the tournament. “It’s just a great way to get out and get some baseball experience for these kids, and especially to get them out in front of some scouts.
“If we win a tournament, we win a tournament, and that’s great but our goal is to get these kids seen and hopefully get them to play at the next level. If it’s D-I, D-II, junior college, it’s just to get them seen and hopefully have our whole team play baseball at the next level.”