FORT MYERS, Fla. – The first thing the casual observer will notice about Dirtbags Baseball travel teams are their distinctive uniforms. They certainly stand out in a crowd, even when that crowd consists of 144 of the nation’s best underclass baseball teams.
“We’ve got the best uniforms here, without a doubt,” Dirtbags head coach Andy Partin said Saturday morning, his tongue planted firmly in cheek. “That’s the most important thing.”
Partin was speaking from Field 2 at the Lee County Sports Complex in southwest Fort Myers, one of five practice fields used by the Minnesota Twins the year around. While Partin spoke, a group of Twins minor-leaguers were working out on an adjacent field.
Partin has his Dirtbags underclass team here for the Perfect Game WWBA Underclass World Championship, an event that kicked off Friday and runs through early Monday afternoon. Let it be said that if the hundreds of college coaches/recruiters and professional scouts are looking for a Dirtbags prospect, they will have no problem finding them.
The ‘Bags’ ensemble Saturday morning featured jerseys with an orange, yellow and brown camouflage pattern, black belt and gray pants. It was a show-stopper.
“We think this is one of our favorite combos, the one we have on today,” Partin said. “It’s October, and this our Halloween look. Yesterday, we went pink-digital for breast cancer awareness. We try to keep it fun for the guys.”
The Dirtbags first broke out the cammo uniforms at the WWBA World Championship in 2006 to rave reviews. It was also the first time the organization adopted the skull-and-crossbones logo that now adorns their shirts and caps.
“We just wanted to do something fun,” said Partin, who on Saturday was wearing a black T-shirt with the skull-and-crossbones on the front and the slogan “Survival of the Dirtiest” on the back. “We like to think of ourselves as trend-setters. Not a lot of guys do what we do, especially in our area.
“I don’t think anybody else was wearing camouflage back then, other than the San Diego Padres, and that’s kind of where we got it from.”
Dirtbags catcher Logan Koch, a junior at South Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte, N.C., is ranked the No. 115 national overall prospect in the 2013 class and the No. 13 catcher and has committed to two-time defending NCAA national champion South Carolina. He is obviously serious about his baseball, but he also loves the fun atmosphere that comes with being a team member on the Dirtbags.
“Andy’s a great guy and he always puts good teams together and we always contend,” Koch said. “And its real fun, not only playing with these guys but the way Andy does things, he makes it really fun to be a part of this team. He does some pretty whacky things, but I like it.”
If the first thing the casual observer notices about the Dirtbags is the uniforms, the more informed observer will notice a long history of winning within the organization. The Dirtbags upper class squad shared last year’s prestigious WWBA World Championship title with Chet Lemon’s Juice and a new roster of players will head to Jupiter, Fla., in two weeks to defend that title.
The group Partin has here this weekend features 14 top prospects from the class of 2013 and two from 2014. Six of the players, including Koch, have already made NCAA Division I commitments and they entered the tournament Friday as one of the favorites.
The Dirtbags won all three of their pool-play games Friday and Saturday and qualified for the 36-team playoffs.
“This is a good group, a fun group. We’re a complete team,” Partin said. “We’re a little thin on the mound; we’ve got some injuries right now. But we’ve got a real good group down here and we like our chances. We’re not as talented as that team we had in Jupiter – (that team) didn’t have to play so well and we still won. This team has to play well to win.”
Koch is joined on the roster by five other prospects that have made verbal commitments to D-I schools, including four who have committed to the University of North Carolina. The four future Tar Heels are IF Tanner Bigham from Kannapolis, N.C.; MIF/OF Wood Myers from Chapel Hill, N.C.; OF/RHP/2B Adam Pate from Pikeville, N.C.; and RHP Trent Wynn from New Bern, N.C.
Middle-infielder/right-hander Cameron Snow from Durham, N.C., has committed to East Carolina. Catcher Dominick Cammarata from Asheville, N.C., and OF Braxton Davidson from Arden, N.C., are the team’s two top prospects from the class of 2014.
They’ve been brought together to win the WWBA Underclass World Championship title.
“I don’t think anybody pegged us to win the thing in Jupiter last year … and we definitely have high expectations. We wouldn’t be down here if we didn’t think we could win it all. That’s the only reason we come down here in the first place,” Partin said.
“This is a really good event and I’m looking forward to winning some games,” Koch said. “If you don’t come into this looking to win the whole thing, I don’t know why you come down here at all.”
The growth of the WWBA Underclass World Championship through its 10-year history is what most impresses Partin.
“This thing has gotten bigger and bigger,” he said. “When we first started coming down here there was like 40 teams. Now it’s 140 teams. Perfect Game is doing a real good job of getting a lot of good teams, and obviously they have some wonderful facilities to play at down here.
“It’s a good draw for the college coaches, too, because with these complexes a coach can just sit at one complex all day and see 16, 18, 20 teams play.”
And then you have kids like Koch, the ones who have already made their college decisions but keep coming out to PG events for the pure love of competition.
“I just like making impressions,” Koch said. “I’m the kind guy that I don’t care who’s in the stands, I’m going to play as hard as I can every game. I still have the opportunity to potentially get drafted, but I know that whether there are coaches in the stands or not, I’m here for Andy and I’m here for this team, and I’m going to try to help us win no matter what.”
And look pretty fashionable in the process.