SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – They gathered under the relentless Arizona sun just after 1 p.m. on Friday, this good-looking group of prospects from the Atlantic Seaboard, and listened intently to what their veteran head coach had to say.
Coach Larry Williams couldn’t be directly overheard while he addressed Team Maryland, the squad that traveled the farthest from its home base in Perry Hall, Md., to be here this weekend at the Perfect Game/EvoShield National Championship (Upperclass).
Team Maryland was about to play its tournament-opener at blistering hot Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, where the temperature had already reached into triple-digits. It ultimately lost that opener, 4-0, to a talented CCB team out of San Jose, Calif., but Williams had already spoken optimistically to Perfect Game about an hour before the first pitch.
He talked about the reasons for traveling roughly 2,000 miles to play a handful of baseball games in the Arizona desert. His team looked ready, suited up in professional style in black jerseys and white pants with a red “MARYLAND” emblazoned across the chest. Their black caps with a distinctive logo added to the look of confidence.
“We came out here for the experience for the guys and let them see how they stack-up against West Coast teams,” the easy-going, baseball savvy Williams said while finding some much sought-after shade. “There’s a mystique when you think about baseball and recruiting players, and nobody ever thinks of Maryland. But we have some guys who can play and it’s a pretty well-kept secret, unfortunately.
“Exposing the game, exposing our guys, exposing our state to the rest of the world, so to speak, was paramount in the decision to be here.”
Williams said he has taken numerous teams under the Team Maryland banner to the Sunbelt Classic in Norman, Okla., over the years, where his players were exposed to standout teams from California, Arizona, Oklahoma and other high school baseball hot-beds.
It was those experiences that made him decide a trip to the desert Southwest in late September would be beneficial. And other factors were involved in making the decision.
“Usually speaking, we don’t win these tournaments but people know we were there,” Williams said. “It’s a way to get (the players) in front of the college coaches and to a certain degree and it’s also a cultural thing. I think we had one or two who had never been on an airplane before yesterday, and to the best of my knowledge, other than one, there was no one who had ever been to Arizona before.”
Team Maryland is sponsored by the Maryland State Association of Baseball Coaches (MSTABC) and the group that is the Valley this weekend is essentially a state all-star team made up of many – but not all – the top high school seniors in the state.
Every player on the roster is from the state of Maryland and only right-hander Joey Strain – a top-500 national prospect – has made a college commitment to date, choosing Winthrop. They are mostly in the class of 2012, although there is one 2013 (OF Bradley Keith) and one 2014 (SS Evan Mendoza).
“This is our inaugural year for this,” Williams said. “We want to promote the state of Maryland baseball-wise and let college coaches know we exist. We’ve got a lot of guys over the years who have gone on to major (college) institutions all over the country and we’ve got 22 Maryland residents who are playing pro ball right now.”
He mentioned specifically Mark Teixeira and Gavin Floyd, citing two pretty good ones.
Williams has been a part of the MSABC for about 20 years, and he is also a Mid-Atlantic scout for the Chicago Cubs. He worked with several other pro scouts and a lot of his staff to select the team he brought to the Valley.
He took his team to the first of two WWBA Northeast Qualifier tournaments in Winslow, N.J., in August in an attempt to qualify for the WWBA World Championship in late October, but it came up short.
“Perfect Game was something we were interest in and in our research we found that it was probably the best organization that holds (tournaments) with some of the best talent pools and some of the best challenges for the players and the coaches,” Williams said. “Finding out where how you stack-up is a pretty good idea.”
Williams’ expectations for Team Maryland coming into the PG/EvoShield National Championship (Upperclass couldn’t be simpler:
“Play well. Compete. At the end of the day the scoreboard is what it is, but I want to make sure our guys compete both mentally and physically, and we do. If you beat us, you’re going to know you were in a game. That’s all I ask for.”