FORT MEYERS, Fla. -- There always seems to be a relaxed vibe surrounding the FTB Mizuno-Chandler dugout at the various Perfect Game national championship tournaments they invariably attend. When the hot, humid, southwest Florida summer air smothers the various playing fields like a goose-down comforter, the FTB dugout seems cooler than the other side of the proverbial pillow.
It starts with the managerial skills and "first, let's have some fun" temperament of head coach Jered Goodwin, who has the latest version of his FTB Mizuno-Chandler team here this week challenging for the championship at the 18u PG BCS Finals. The FTB roster screams "star power" with ample doses of humility, sportsmanship and "playing the game the right way" tossed in for good measure.
As this story unfolds, be prepared to read the word "fun" frequently.
"We're missing some pretty big arms and some other frontline guys that went to the (Tournament of Stars)," Goodwin said Tuesday morning after FTB Mizuno bounced Florida Barons Baseball, 10-4, in a first round playoff game at Terry Park. "As an organization, we've brought together people from three different (FTB) teams that just wanted to compete, wanted to come to a national tournament run by a great organization, and it's been fun so far."
FTB Mizuno-Chandler won all three of its first set of pool-play games by a combined 16-8 margin, not exactly a demolition. It then motored through the second set-of-three undefeated, this time outscoring its opponents by a combined 31-4; FTB earned the playoffs' No. 2 seed behind Florida Burn Upperclass, which also went a combined 6-0.
"It's been fun," Goodwin said after his team improved to 7-0 and advanced to Tuesday afternoon's quarterfinal round. "The first three games were tough with a new group trying to learn from each other and what each other has, and the dugout chemistry has been great. That's the thing: win, lose or draw at this tournament ... I'm excited about seeing this team continue to come together."
The undisputed team leader is shortstop/right-hander Nick Gordon (2014, Windermere, Fla.), the No. 2-ranked national prospect in the class of 2014 who is coming off a fabulous showing at the PG National Showcase earlier this month. Gordon, who has signed with Florida State, hit .471 (8-for-17) with a double, triple, home run, four RBI and nine runs scored with a 1.395 OPS in FTB's first seven games here.
Other highly ranked or highly regarded players here this week include:
Gunnar Lambert (2014, Oviedo, Fla.); Ryan Mountcastle (2015, Winter Springs, Fla.), a Central Florida commit; Tyrone Perry (2015, Avon Park, Fla.), a Florida State commit; left-hander Juan Hillman (2015, Haines City Florida; and Bo Bichette (2016, Orlando, Fla.). Bichette is the son of former big-leaguer Dante Bichette and the younger brother of current New York Yankees farmhand Dante Bichette Jr.
"The competitiveness of this group is pretty fun," Goodwin said. "It's a young group; we've got a 2016 and three or four 2015s that play and we only have one 2013, who is actually still 17 years old. We're a very, very young team compared to a lot of the other teams and I think the youth is kind of showing with the energy level and stuff like that. They're just kind of going out there and having fun."
That lone 2013 of which Goodwin spoke has been an effective spoke in FTB's wheel at this event. Nick Longhi, a Louisiana State signee who was drafted in the 30th round of the 2013 MLB amateur draft by the Boston Red Sox, decided to come back for an FTB and Perfect Game encore; he was 7-for-19 (.368) with three home runs, 11 RBI, six runs scored and a 1.206 OPS after seven games.
"I love coming and playing with Coach Goodwin (and the FTB organization)," Longhi said. "These guys really know the game and keep their players happy; it's just a lot of laughs playing out here with friends.
"I'm just happy to be out here getting some reps in and playing with a bunch of my buddies," he continued. "I should be a 2014 so there's no real age difference; I'm out here playing with a bunch of my friends and just getting some work in."
When asked if he's felt relaxed at the plate over the past five days, Longhi responded:
"I don't know if has anything to do with playing relaxed because I always play relaxed. I'm seeing the ball really well right now and I'm putting a lot of work in during the offseason and I've gotten stronger. I just feel really good right now."
It was obvious Goodwin enjoys having Longhi in the dugout and out on the field.
"Nick is just like a lot of other guys I've had in the past ... they become like little brothers to you," Goodwin said. "They piss you off sometimes and they make you happy sometimes, and at the end of the day you can set there and text them about their girl problems or their family problems or anything like that.
"And especially after they graduate, after that 17u year and they finish that summer, it's not a coach-player relationship; it's more that older brother-friendship type thing, and that's what I have with Nick," he continued. "He's a great, great kid and I'll be in his life forever, and it's a fun time to have one last hurrah with him and send him off."
Longhi is still talking with the Red Sox about possibly signing a professional contract, but if nothing can be worked out, he's perfectly content to head to Baton Rouge and LSU.
"We're still seeing what's going to play out with the Red Sox or LSU," he said. "Either way I go it's not going to be a bad decision; it's a win-win situation for me."
As far as the rest of this group, Goodwin said it has spent the late spring and early summer doing "core" workouts and agility training at 9 a.m. each day, followed by about an hour of baseball related drills.
"They've been really working hard up to this point, and after East Cobb we're going to gear it back and start doing that again to get all their strength back before the elite showcases and the (PG All-American Game)," he said. "(Right now), when they come out and I don't have to get under their skin at all -- they just come out with some energy at 9 a.m. and hit the ball around the ballpark -- win, lose or draw ... it's fun to be part of the dugout."
The team will be Marietta, Ga., July 5-12 for the PG WWBA 2014 Grads or 17u National Championship, and should be at full strength for that event, albeit without Longhi.
"That's everybody in the country's baby' that's the one everybody wants," Goodwin said. "We just want go and have a good showing; it's a great run event by a great organization and a lot of people come and scout it and stuff like that. We are a showcase that team that tries to win tournaments and we're going to go up there and try to put our kids in the best situation, win, lose or draw."
If FTB Mizuno-Chandler can duplicate its efforts here, there won't be much losing or drawing involved. Just a heck of a lot of fun.