MARIETTA, Ga. -- Scanning through the long 184-team list for the 2013 18u WWBA National Championship, one name seemed to stand out as very unique: the Pacific Union Financial Capitalists. Sounds more like a company softball team rather than a competitive baseball team loaded with future Division I stars. With the unique name comes a unique story.
Evan Stone, CEO of Pacific Union Financial, a full service mortgage banker, has a passion and a history with ‘America’s pastime.’ Playing one year at the University of California-Davis, Stone is familiar with the game and never really wanted to leave it behind. Instead, he thought a good way to stay involved would be to have his company sponsor an elite summer travel team.
“I sponsored a team last year, but this year what we wanted to do was recruit and attract the best talent in the country to our club and then create a schedule where those guys would compete against the best teams in the country,” explained Stone.
He has indeed accomplished what he set out to do up to this point. Every single player on the roster in going to be playing Division I baseball somewhere, if they don’t just go straight to professional baseball, like middle infielder Willie Calhoun will do when he signs with the Tampa Bay Rays organization later this summer.
From top to bottom the roster is loaded with D-I commits to schools like UCLA, Stanford, and New Mexico.
So how exactly does a program go from non-existent to tournament favorite in less than a year?
“I came up with the idea two years ago and really I just affiliated myself with a program in Northern California in our backyard called the Danville Hoots and then decided that this year we wanted to scrap and build something from scratch,” Stone said.
The first key step was finding the supporting cast, a strong coaching staff with the abilities to draw in the best players from different parts of the country. Stone knew immediately who had wanted to be the head coach of the program, his long time friend, Mike Zirelli.
Zirelli was a recruiting coordinator and head pitching coach for Santa Clara University for nine years.
“Mike was an easy call with his background and my trust level in him,” Stone said. “I trust Mike implicitly and even though I may have set the direction, Mike really executed.”
Once Stone was able to get Zirelli on board, Zirelli went out and found his two assistant coaches: Pete Fukuhara and Ryan Allgrove.
“(Fukuhara) is the assistant coach for St Francis High School, which is a national powerhouse year in and year out,” Stone said. “He played baseball at Cal State-Fullerton, signed with the Chicago Cubs organization, and played a few years in their organization.”
Allgrove is a head coach for a California high school close to the Bay Area. He’s a younger guy who wants to get into coaching.
“We like the fact that even though he doesn’t have a lot of coaching experience he has a good baseball mind and he wants to keep moving up the ladder,” mentioned Stone.
Next was to get the product that would be taking the field for the Pacific Union Financial Capitalists, the best players they could possibly find.
“The direction was, ‘Go out there. I don’t care where they live. We want the best 20 guys we can find in the country,’” Stone recalled saying to Zirelli.
Recruiting wouldn’t be too difficult for a coach with previous collegiate coaching experience. “I have a lot of college connections I made during my nine years at Santa Clara and (it was) just talking to those guys on the phone and finding out who they have coming in and will it be a good fit for what we’re trying to do,” said Zirelli.
“The first few guys were relatively difficult to get,” said Stone. “Once we got our roster to about ten, then those guys started doing some recruiting for me and that made it a lot easier.”
“We turned down a lot of players that are going to be playing college baseball next year at the Division I level, but we found what we believe to be the right 20 guys for us and we’re off to a hot start,” said Stone.
Pacific Union Financial Capitalists is a unique organization in the sense that they are an 18-year-old and under team that plays against collegiate summer teams, as well as travel to tournament like the 18u WWBA National Championship.
“We’re kind of an odd team,” said Zirelli. “It’s kind of an odd explanation to give someone because I don’t think there’s a lot of teams out there that do what we do.”
What they are doing is almost unheard of, but entirely beneficial to future stars of the game.
“These coaches want to send these players to us and so we had a lot of players to choose from and we were very fortunate,” Stone said.
Not only do these high school players get to experience baseball at the collegiate level early on, which is rare, they also get to enjoy the game without having to worry about any sort of financial burden. “Most everything is covered,” Stone said when talking about the player expenses.
After finalizing their staff and player roster, the Caps jumped off to a hot start and have kept it going so far here at the WWBA. The Caps have yet to lose in thirteen games so far this summer. In the tournament they are 4-0 in pool play, outscoring their opponents, 38-7.
“It’s really exciting for me to be able to see these kids at this point in their lives knowing full well that most all of them will play professional baseball and more than likely more than a handful of them may even see big league playing time,” said Stone.
Zirelli is having an enjoyable time coaching these kids this summer and respects them for how respectfully they treat the game. “The best thing about our team is these guys work really hard and are very coachable and we’re having a great time,” said Zirelli. “I think the guys are getting better as well.”
“It’s very fun,” said Calhoun, after hitting a towering two-run home run earlier in the day. “It’s definitely a good experience for the next level cause these are the type of guys I’ll be playing with the rest of my life.”
They will surely face competition on their level this week at the WWBA National Championship. “We know coming here that we are gonna get not only a well run tournament, but a high level of competition,” said Stone.
So far, they look to be on a whole other level than everyone else. That will change once playoffs start, but look for this group of guys to take Pacific Union Financial deep into the playoffs.
“What we’ve done is given our players the best possible chance to be successful for the next chapter in their careers,” Stone concluded.
It seems he is going about it the right way.