FORT MYERS, Fla. – There may not have been another team in attendance on opening day at the Perfect Game WWBA Underclass World Championship on Friday that was enjoying the warm Florida sunshine more than the guys from Tri-State Arsenal Blue.
Tri-State Arsenal is based in Vorhees, N.J., and the fall season hasn’t been a good one weather-wise for baseball teams in the Northeast. There have been more raindrops than rays of sun this fall in that part of the country, and getting a baseball game in has been difficult.
“We’ve got a lot of pitching and we’ve got some talented players but we’re dealing with the disadvantage of being up north. We’ve only played three games in the last three weeks because of rain and stuff,” Tri-State Arsenal head coach Bob Barth said before his team’s tournament-opener Friday morning at Terry Park.
“The big thing with this team will be can they hit early in the tournament,” he continued. “If they hit early in the tournament and we can get through (pool-play), we’ve got a shot to make some noise. But we’ve got to hit early and we just don’t have the reps under our belt to hit early.”
Barth wasn’t feeling sorry for himself or his ballclub. He was quick to note that there are a lot of other teams down here from the Northeast that have had to navigate the lousy fall weather that has been prevalent there. He called any whining “crying over spilt milk” and said it was simply a matter of the good out-weighing the bad.
“I’d be a lot more confident that we’d make a decent run if we’d been playing more,” he said, “but I do think we’ve got some talent.”
There are no real expectations for a team like Tri-State Arsenal Blue, which is being joined at the WWBA Underclass World Championship by compatriot Tri-State Arsenal Gray – and 142 other teams from 19 states and Puerto Rico. Barth expects his teams to be competitive, of course, but winning a championship isn’t the reason for going through the expense and the long days of travel to be at an event like this.
“I come down here because, in my opinion, Fort Myers and Jupiter (site of the PG WWBA World Championship) are the greatest experiences my kids can have and the greatest opportunity for them to progress their careers. And that’s what we’re down here for,” Barth said. “We’ll play the first round as if it’s a showcase. If we get through the first round, then we’ll play straight-up.”
Hold on to your hats. Barth was just getting started:
“If you told me I only get three games, I’d still come,” he said. “In my opinion, this is too cheap – they should charge more – and you can’t duplicate the experience. That’s why you come to the Underclass, that’s why you come to Jupiter, that’s why you come to (Perfect Game events in) Marietta (Ga.). It’s for my kids to get the opportunity that you can’t get anywhere else.
“I know a lot of people are cuckoo for Coco Puffs and they do come with a lot of high expectations, but when you come down here and you’re going to face scout teams and Marucci Elite and East Cobb – you need the stars to align just right if you’re going to beat those teams and you’re the Tri-State Arsenal.”
Barth believes the main motivation to keep winning at a tournament like this shouldn’t be to take home a trophy but to give your players optimum exposure. The more a team wins, the more games it will play, and its players will have additional opportunities to get in front of the college coaches and recruiters.
Even on this first day of the tournament there were at least a couple of dozen colleges represented at Terry Park alone, and since most of Barth’s players are uncommitted, that exposure is essential.
“That’s what you’re here for and if you’re not, you’re here for the wrong reason,” Barth said. “I want to win this thing like everybody else because I’m competitive. We’re going to do the best we can, and we’re still going to get out of this what we need to get out of it win, lose or draw – as long as your kids can relax, have fun and play as well as they can play.”
None of this is to say that the Tri-State Arsenal Blue roster is completely bereft of talent. Quite the opposite is true, in fact. The 17-man roster consists of 16 members of the class of 2013 with one 2014, and all of them can play a little bit. Several are ranked among the nation’s top prospects.
Jackson, N.J., C/OF Matthew Thaiss is the only prospect on the roster who has already made a college commitment, and it’s no small one. Thaiss has verbally committed to Atlantic Coast Conference power Virginia and expects to enroll in the fall of 2013.
The top-ranked prospect on Arsenal Blue’s roster is left-hander Robert Kaminsky from Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Perfect Game ranks Kaminsky as the nation’s No. 28 overall prospect and its No. 6 left-handed pitcher. Kaminsky’s fastball has reached the low 90s in previous PG events.
Other top pitching prospects on the club include New Jersey right-handers Zachary Gallen, Karl Blum and Sean Kelly, and righty Bobby Moretti from West Haven, Conn. Gallen and Blum combined to pitch six innings of one-hit ball with nine strikeouts in Tri-State’s 9-2 tournament-opening win over Chet Lemon’s Juice Red Friday afternoon.
“These are big-name, high level pitchers who will play Division I baseball and get a chance to pitch,” Barth said. “A lot of our pitchers are 15 years old who are going to be 16 and they’re young for their grade, but they’ve got the arms and they’ve got the bodies and I think they’re going to be pretty good.”
Some of the top prospects from the class of 2013 who are primarily position players, in addition to Thaiss, include shortstop Pedro Perez from Burlington City, N.J. and middle-infielder Nicholas Sciortino from Barrington, N.J.
Willie Burger, a 2014 3B/1B from New Canaan, Conn., is also highly regarded. He was 3-for-3 with a double, a sacrifice fly and four RBI in Friday’s win over Chet Lemon’s Juice Red.
Tri-State Arsenal Blue plays its final two pool-play games Saturday with hopes of reaching the 32-team team playoffs, which begin with four games Saturday night.