FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The second annual Perfect Game WWBA 16u Labor Day Classic at Terry Park and the JetBlue Player Development Complex with 12 teams -- all from Florida -- looking to advance to Monday morning's championship game.
Among those "delightful dozen" were the Iron Pigs, a second-year organization that made a name for itself on the 14-and-under level this summer and has now jumped up to the 16u level. While the number of teams participating in the tournament is fewer than expected, Iron Pigs head coach D.J. Wood feels it's important for his young players to be out here, on these fields, at this time and at this event in order for them to receive the exposure they require.
"We're out here to showcase the kids and try to get them on a nationally recognized (prospect rankings) board," Wood said Saturday morning from the Boston Red Sox's JetBlue Player Development Complex. "We want to get them in front of the people they need to be in front of and get their data entered" in their Perfect Game player profile.
The Iron Pigs, based in Port Charlotte, Fla., and sporting a roster teaming with players from Port Charlotte, Fort Myers and Cape Coral, jumped into their first 16u action by beating the Rave, 4-2, in their pool-play opener. The Pigs had one more pool-play game scheduled Saturday afternoon and one more Sunday morning before the playoffs begin Sunday afternoon.
The PG WWBA 16u Labor Day Classic is running in unison with the 20-team PG WWBA 18u Labor Day Classic, which played games Saturday at Terry Park, JetBlue and the Player Development 5-Plex. The 18u Classic playoffs also start Sunday and its championship game is also scheduled for Monday morning.
The roster Wood assembled for the 16u Labor Day Classic is very similar to the one used by the successful 14u Iron Pig team this summer. The Iron Pigs won the 14u/15u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational in early June and advanced to the quarterfinal round of the playoffs at the 14u PG BCS Finals in July. There are some newcomers, however.
"When we bumped up to 16u I had to go ahead and try to find a little extra beef for it," Wood said. "They haven't played together much and they're learning my system; I'm a little bit more old-school -- structure, discipline and keeping things in line.
"I told them, 'I'm not your high school coach and I'm not you're little league coach' and I'm objective without a non-biased opinion and I'll tell you what I think you need to work on.'"
Outfielder/infielder Anthony Churlin (2016, Cape Coral), catcher Benjamin Podgorski (2015, Fort Myers), outfielder/right-hander Sean Shearman (2016, Fort Myers) and shortstop Shane Shifflett (2017, Edgewood, Fla.) are among the players here this weekend that played for the Iron Pigs 14u during the summer. Churlin, Shearman and Shifflett all singled in Saturday's opener and Churlin, Shifflett and Podgorski all scored runs.
Right-handed starter Brendan Cutting (2014, Englewood, Fla.) scattered a couple of hits and struck out three in three innings and was also 2-for-2 with a run scored at the plate.
The Iron Pigs were put together last fall by combining the Florida Curve out of Port Charlotte and the Bandits out of Fort Myers. Those two teams came together to form the Iron Pigs and they're looking forward to staying together into next summer.
"There are so many (highly regarded) programs out there and everybody's promising a kid something," Wood said. "That's the tough part of it and that's really the challenge of keeping them together. This year is different; the high school coaches demand different things and feel like kids should be playing here, there and everywhere else, so you kind of start to lose a few and get some attrition."
Wood worked with Wayne Harrell to form the Iron Pigs. Harrell spoke with Perfect Game at the 14u BCS Finals about the young players really coming together.
"We were both quality 14u teams the year before, and we had talked about doing it for a couple of seasons. It just came to fruition this year," Harrell said in July. "The kids really like it a lot."
Despite moving up an age group, the Pigs certainly look they're going to be contenders here this weekend.
Wood said he wasn't the least bit disappointed that the field at the 16u Labor Day Classic dwindled to just 12 teams in the days leading up to the event. He called Perfect Game a "great program" noting that "the website is great, the data presentation for each kid is great, and I think it's pretty solid, I really do."
And then he looked out over Field 6 at the sprawling JetBlue Complex, and smiled once again.
"The facilities Perfect Game uses are always the best," he said. "Lee County, they have it all down here."