FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Gainesville, Fla.-based Gatorball Baseball Academy organization has one foot planted firmly in the here and now, and another taking a step toward the future.
Gatorball Baseball, founded in 2006 by former University of Florida player Steve Barton, has what is essentially its 18u team here this weekend playing in the PG WWBA Florida Qualifier. It competes with the hope of winning the championship and earning a paid invitation to the PG WWBA World Championship over in Jupiter, Fla., Oct. 25-29.
"Steve is pretty dedicated to Perfect Game and their tournaments, and lately we've been representing Gatorball pretty well," GBA head coach Brady Bogart said Saturday morning before his team was to play two games at the Player Development Complex 5-Plex.
"Steve has talked to the parents and the kids involved saying 'We want to start winning championships,'" Bogart related. "He started this a few years back and now he's finally getting enough kids dedicated and committed to where we want to start winning championships when we go to all these tournaments."
Bogart was speaking in the present when he made those comments. A couple hours later, the four runs is team pushed across in the bottom of the seventh weren't enough to overcome a five-run deficit, and Gatorball Baseball Academy (GBA) dropped its tournament opener, 8-7, to the South Florida Stingers. GBA bounced back to beat NB Baseball, 5-3, its second pool-play game later Saturday.
In other words, the Gatorballers still had a chance at that paid invite to the WWBA World.
"I think that's what every team is here for, for the most part," Bogart said. "Obviously, there are other reasons why these kids are here and why they need to be here, but everyone wants to get that (paid) invite because that indicates that you've proven something, and that you've won a pretty good tournament."
This Gatorball Baseball roster includes three nationally regarded 2013 pitchers and one of the top-ranked 2014 middle-infielders.
Left-hander Kirby Snead (2013, Alachua, Fla.) is a top-375 national prospect and a Florida commit who has also played some with Marucci Elite. This summer, he was named to the all-tournament team at the 17u PG BCS Finals while playing for Marucci and at the PG WWBA 18u National Championship while playing for Gatorball Baseball Academy.
Right-handers Cody Sapp (2013, Palatka, Fla.) and Alec Jewell (2013, Ocala, Fla.) are top-500 national prospects and middle-infielder Nick Agosto (2014, Port Charlotte, Fla.) is ranked No. 157 in his class. First baseman Clif Bryant (2013, Trenton, Fla.) is a Winthrop commit.
While the Gatorball Baseball Academy team that is here this weekend is comprised primarily of 2013s and a handful of 2014s, there are also four 2016s (current freshmen) on the roster, and that's where the foot in the future comes in.
Those freshmen include left-hander Austin Langworthy (Williston, Fla.), left-hander/outfielder Andrew MacNeil (Gainesville), outfielder/left-hander Austin Bogart (Iverness, Fla.) and right-hander/outfielder Josh Harper (Ocala, Fla.).
"We feel good about this class (2013s) and then we definitely feel good about our 2016s," Bogart said. "Those '16s might be that next special group that comes through Gatorball, and Steve is really excited about those kids."
Langworthy, just 14-years-old, pitches well beyond his age. He struck out 17 batters in a game at least week's PG WWBA Underclass World Championship and was even more highly decorated than Snead this summer. Langworthy (5-9, 160) was named to All-Tournament teams at the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship, PG WWBA 16u National Championship, 16u PG BCS Finals and the PG WWBA 14u National Championship.
Snead, Sapp, Jewell and Langworthy give Bogart four pretty reliable arms to go with at least two or three more.
"Good pitching will beat good hitting, usually, and we think we have a pretty good staff here," Bogart said.
Ironically, it was the pitching that let GBA down in its opener. Left-hander Mike Howe (2013, Jacksonville) and Harper combined on a six-hitter with eight strikeouts and allowed only one earned run. They also combined to walk 12, hit two batters and throw three wild pitches.
Sapp came through big for GBA in its second game. He scattered eight hits over seven innings while striking out 11, and gave up three earned runs.
The Gatorball Baseball Academy organization has continued to grow, and it now fields five teams from 10u through 18u. The task at hand is to make sure that growth continues in the future, including in terms of how the organization enhances its reputation on a national level. Winning the PG WWBA Florida Qualifier would be great place to start.
"We hope to; that's the plan," Bogart said. "Now, whether you can get a 17- or 18-year-old kid to show up and feel that way, too, that's a whole different story. This is a good group to be around ... and they usually show up to play and be competitive. That's all you want them to do is compete."
And maybe have a little fun along way. Participating in a PG tournament is usually nothing but fun, according to Bogart.
"You don't enjoy driving down after a high school football game and getting in at 3 in the morning, but you enjoy being at the ballpark. Where else would you rather be?" he said with a smile. "I've got lawns to cut at home and a lawnmower to fix, but that can be on the back-burner. So we'll play some baseball (this morning) and then go watch some college football after this."
One foot in the present, one stepping into the future.