The Tri-State Arsenal Baseball organization is based in Voorhees, N.J., which sits in southwest New Jersey just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia.
Bob Barth is the owner and operator of the Tri-City Arsenal, and partners with his father Joe Barth in a company called Hit Doctor Baseball which offers instructional and developmental programs. TCA fielded 28 teams in 2011 in the 8u to 17u age groups with 450 players taking part.
“It’s a very mom-and-pop type thing,” Bob Barth said while describing the organization in a telephone interview with Perfect Game this week. “It’s pretty big now, but it’s a mom-and-pop (non-profit) business that has just grown.”
So far, there is nothing remarkable about this story. There are dozens, possibly hundreds, of travel ball organizations spread across the country that are structured like Tri-State Arsenal. They all have the stated purpose of getting their young players the exposure they need so they can continue their baseball careers at a level beyond high school, be it in college or in the professional ranks.
What does make the Tri-State Arsenal program remarkable is what Barth has been able to accomplish working from a northern base of operation in an area of the country not necessarily associated with producing the best baseball players in the nation. Barth said that way of thinking is misguided.
“It’s actually a very good baseball area,” Barth said. “Most people consider the Northeast a bad area, but the mid-Atlantic region that I sit in – I’m right in the middle of the Delaware, eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey area – is very talent-rich. And if you want to hit all the pockets of talent, you have to be all things to all people.”
Barth said he finds a lot of his most talented players in cities and towns that are economically depressed, which presents even more challenges.
“We’re made up of two different types of kids,” he explained. “We have kids who come from the area who can afford to do their training and can afford to play and do their travel; we also have a lot of kids in our area that can’t do that. We have to be able to raise money and do things to help those kids be able to get the chance to play baseball too.”
That’s another thing that makes the Arsenal remarkable. Barth goes to great lengths to enter as many TSA teams in as many Perfect Game national tournaments as he possibly can.
Tri-State Arsenal Baseball sent 15 teams to seven Perfect Game tournaments during the 2011 season, including three tournaments – the WWBA 2013 Grads or 16u National Championship, WWBA 2014 Grads or 15u National Championship and the WWBA 2015 Grads or 14u National Championship – where the Arsenal sent three teams to each one.
TSA entered two teams – Tri-State Arsenal 2013 National and Tri-State Arsenal Showcase 2 – in the WWBA 2012 Grads or 17u National Championship in Marietta, Ga., in July, and two others – Tri-State Arsenal Blue and Tri-State Arsenal Gray – in the WWBA Underclass World Championship in Fort Myers, Fla., in October. Tri-State Arsenal 2013 National also played at the PG 16u BCS Finals in Fort Myers in early July.
TSA was represented at the WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., by a team that played under the banner Tri-State Arsenal/NJ Super 17. The team, which featured top prospects from New Jersey, New York, Virginia, Connecticut and Maryland, lost its first two pool-play games before rallying to win its last three, and fell short of making the playoff field.
The top guys on that team included 2012 SS/C/3B Kevin Bradley from Pennington, N.J., and 2013 C/OF Matthew Thaiss from Jackson, N.J. Bradley has inked a national letter of intent with Clemson and Thaiss has verbally committed to Virginia.
Other Division I recruits on the TSA/NJ Super 17 roster at the time the WWBA World Championship was played included RHP Mitchell Aker from Vienna, Va. (William & Mary); C/3B Daniel (DJ) Link, Clifton, N.J. (Harvard); LHP Andrew Schorr, Voorhees, N.J. (East Carolina); RHP/MIF Joey Strain, Prince Frederick, Md. (Winthrop), and SS/RHP Matt Tietz, Oak Ridge, N.J. (Rutgers). All of those prospects are 2012s.
Top 2013 pitching prospects that frequently show up on TSA rosters include New Jersey right-handers Sean Kelly from Marlton and Karl Blum from Toms River, and Jersey left-hander Robert Kaminsky from Englewood Cliff. Kaminsky is ranked No. 28 overall nationally and No. 6 among 2013 left-handers.
No Tri-State Arsenal team has ever won a Perfect Game national championship, although there have been a few top-four finishes from time to time. It’s the simple thrill of competition that makes the PG tournament experiences special for Barth.
“I tell my kids the same thing every time we go (to a national tournament) that we’re the type of team that has to catch lightning in a bottle to win the whole thing but I fully expect to compete against anybody they put across from me,” he said. “When we look across the field we should be able to say we’ve worked harder and we’ve put in the time and the effort to be competitive; we deserve to win the game as much as anybody, whether we have the same amount of talent or not.
“We always say that hopefully when you leave the field and you’ve played the Arsenal, you’re going to know you were in a war,” he continued. “It’s not always that way; sometimes we get beat and sometimes we get beat bad, but for the most part we’ll hold our own against just about anybody.”
Barth characterizes TSA’s relationship with Perfect Game as “fantastic,” adding that “If you go to Perfect Game and you follow the template that they’ve laid out for your kids, then your kids are going to have the best opportunity to move on in baseball.”
The Tri-State Arsenal program has access to Diamond Nation, a five-field complex located in Flemington, N.J., when it isn’t playing in Perfect Game tournaments in Georgia and Florida. The local tournaments are all well and good but it is those trips to Georgia and Florida that reap the highest rewards.
“It’s hard to get college coaches to come out and watch a single baseball game in the New York area,” Barth said. “Kids want to be seen by southern coaches, northern coaches, everybody – those events we go to for Perfect Game, they give our kids the opportunity to show their talent in front of all the college coaches.”
Tri-State Arsenal holds open tryouts throughout November and December in an effort to stock their teams for the following season. Barth said the organization is interested in expanding its reach as long as that can be done without sacrificing quality for quantity.
“The big thing for us is to take a little step back right now and get back to the understanding that this is about practice and development,” he said. “We’ve got to work harder and have a more defined program and as long as that happens we’re definitely looking to expand.”
The Tri-State Arsenal program will continue to be well-represented at PG events in the coming years, secure in the knowledge that even if its teams don’t take championship gold back home to New Jersey, its players will have received maximum exposure while playing in front of dozens of college coaches and professional scouts.
“You want to win so you can play more games and get more games in front of the college coaches, but when we leave home we’re not leaving to go out and try to win a national championship, although God knows we’d like to win them,” Barth said. “We go and we play in our bracket to showcase our kids, and then make the playoffs and play it straight it up and see how far we can make it. Sometimes we get hot and go on a good run and sometimes we don’t.”