JUPITER, Fla. – They come from outposts like Miles City, Mont.; Gig Harbor, Wash.; Tigard, Ore.; and Surrey, British Columbia. A handful have already made NCAA Division I commitments, most have not.
This isn’t a group to be overlooked at the Perfect Game WWBA World Championship, however. Not with Langley Blaze founder and Team BC overseer Doug Mathieson calling the shots.
Mathieson, Mike Brooks and a couple of other area scouts from around the Great Northwest used all of about three weeks to assemble the Northwest Scout Team for this weekend’s amateur baseball bash held annually at the Roger Dean Complex not far from Florida’s Atlantic Coast.
Mathieson and Brooks were able to bring together a 19-man roster which was willing to make the long trip from the northwest corner of this country to its southeast tip. Time was short, but they got the job done.
“Fortunately, we got some pretty decent kids here from the Northwest,” Brooks said Friday afternoon from just outside one of the batting cages on the Florida Marlins’ side of the complex. “We didn’t get everybody that we wanted but we did a pretty good job, anyway.”
Of the four prospects on the roster who have already made D-I commitments, three are from Montana, a state that doesn’t sanction a high school baseball season. All those guys have from April through July is Legion baseball.
The three Montana commitments are outfielder Justin Black from Billings (Nebraska), right-hander Andrew Sopko from Missoula (Gonzaga) and left-hander/outfielder Caleb Frare from Miles City (Utah). Right-hander Taylor Jones from Kent, Wash., has also committed to Gonzaga.
Black, Sopko, Frare and Jones are all ranked in PG’s top 445 nationally. Black, Sopko and Frare are ranked 1-2-3, respectively, in the state of Montana.
“We kind of know who’s out there; it’s just a matter of getting them,” Mathieson said. “All the (local) clubs have been great with us in helping us trying to get the best guys out here. All of us are scouts and we can all work together.”
Mathieson and his group didn’t have much time to assemble the team, but they knew it was important to get to right. The WWBA World Championship provides a great opportunity for the young prospects to get in front of major league personnel who might not otherwise make it out to the Northwest.
“The draft part of it is big. Every Canadian kid that is in the big leagues has played for Team BC,” Mathieson said. “I live right on the (U.S.-Canadian) border and I called these characters who are friends of mine and I said, ‘Let’s put a team together and bring a real team down here.’ We had about 40 guys that we really looked at and it kind of filtered it down to this.
“We probably missed about three or four of the real top guys because they’re already committed to the scout teams in California.”
Jones is a 6-foot-7, 188-pound senior at Kentwood High School in Kent who attended the 2011 PG Northwest Showcase, a pair of PG WWBA tournaments and participated in the 2011 Area Code Games before coming here this weekend.
He felt ready for the big stage before stepping out on the mound as the starter in the NWST’s tournament opener against the favored Midland Redskins/Royals Scout Team Friday afternoon.
“I’m excited and I’m kind of anxious to get out there and get going,” Jones said. “It’s definitely cool and it’s going to be interesting to see all the talent that’s out here and see all the players that you could be playing with in the future. Just lay yourself out and see where you’re at, and there aren’t many times you get to play against this many great players.”
Sopko, who will join Jones at Gonzaga in the fall of 2013, is a 6-2, 180-pound senior at Loyola Sacred Heart High School in Missoula. He was also eager to get out in front of the dozens of pro scouts who were sure to gather for NWST’s opener against the Redskins/Royals.
“I’m just down here to get seen more,” Sopko said, repeating a familiar refrain. “This is an opportunity for me to do my best and get seen by different people.”
Mathieson somewhat disputed the notion that this group of players was lost in the wilderness, their talents unseen an unnoticed until they arrived in coast Florida on Thursday.
“Coming here certainly helps them because they get cross-checked,” Mathieson said. “But the area scouts know who these guys are, and we have all the Canadian and Northwest area guys here (at the WWBA World Championship) right now.”
And playing baseball with and against the country’s best in front of the scouts and college coaches who know the game best is only enhanced when played under a cloudless Florida sky while the afternoon temperature struggled to reach the mid-70s.
“I’ve never been to Florida before and it’s always cool with baseball that you get to be in different spots and you get to travel a lot and experience new places,” Jones said. “This is definitely a cool place to be and I definitely like playing in nice weather – compared to Seattle, anyway.”