GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The upper 90-degree temperature is certainly expected in this part of the country the last week of July; the high humidity, not so much. But even with a thunderstorm seemingly moving in over the craggy mountains just to the south of the Goodyear Ballpark and the Recreation Complex, the guys from the Northeast were feeling pretty good about where they had landed.
"It's very nice down here, actually; I've never been down here before," Tri-State Arsenal shortstop Dominic DeSabatino said Monday afternoon. "The (playing) fields are nice; nice backdrops (with the mountains). There's better competition and the teams just look better -- new faces, new teams, new scouts. It's a nice place to play."
Tri-State Arsenal, based in Flemington, N.J., and with a roster filled with players primarily from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, is back representing the Northeast for the second straight year at the prestigious 16-team 17u Perfect Game World Series. The prospects from burgs with names like Monmouth Junction, N.J., and Pottstown, Pa., are appreciative of the opportunity they've been given to visit the desert Southwest, many of them for the first time.
"I've never been out here before and it's nice; there's not all the humidity like back home in Jersey," standout 2013 catcher Matthew Thais said, apparently oblivious to what really was uncomfortable humidity levels Monday morning.
"It's just a different kind of baseball and it's a real good time out here," he continued. "The only way you're going to get better is if you surround yourself with better talent and it's the best way to get out there and really show yourself; it makes for fun baseball."
The 17u PG World Series showcases 16 of the most talented and highly regarded 17u teams in the country. But parity exists -- each team had played two games by mid-afternoon on Monday with a third scheduled for Monday evening -- as evidenced by fact only one of the 16 teams, Marucci Elite, won its first two games. Two others were 1-0-1, seven were 1-1-0, two 0-1-1 and four 0-2-0.
Such parity gives a squad like the Tri-State Arsenal -- which went 1-1 in their first two games and might be considered an underdog compared to many of the teams from southern and western states -- a sense they can compete. They too, after all, have rosters filled with NCAA Division-I commits and signees.
Tri-State Arsenal has three 17u showcase teams and the one that is here this week includes players from all three. Head coach and former big-league pitcher Todd Rizzo called the team "very solid" and said he would be surprised if every one of them didn't end up playing college baseball on the Division I level after they graduate from high school.
"We're good all the way around," Rizzo said Monday. We play good solid defense, we have some decent arms and we can hit a little bit. And the one thing I like about this team, too, is that we have some pretty decent team speed. It seems like a real good bunch of kids and it seems like a smart bunch of kids, as well."
Players like Thais, a 2013 from Jackson, N.J, and DeSabatino, a 2014 from Middletown, Del., are two cases in point. Had they desired to do so, they probably could have hooked up with a travel ball program from the south but they decided to stay with the Arsenal. This is a program, after all, that can proudly count 2012 American League Rookie of the Year Mike Trout among its alumni.
Thais was ranked No. 105 nationally in the class of 2013 when he graduated from Jackson (N.J.) Memorial High School in the spring and was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 32nd round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft the first week of June. He had signed with the University of Virginia and decided to honor his signature.
"The whole way through the process I knew that I wanted to go to Virginia and it was going to take something crazy for me not to," he said. "It didn't work out (in the draft) but things worked out better, I think; I'm going to go have a good career at Virginia and see what happens after that."
An unexpected benefit from that decision is that he's had the opportunity to play another couple of months with his pals at Tri-State Arsenal.
"After last year in Jupiter (Fla., at the PG WWBA World Championship) I kind of thought that was going to be it and I wasn't going to be able to play with these guys anymore," Thais said. "I love playing with this program and it's a great program to get into; it helped me out so much in my career. Just to be back out here playing in these last few tournaments is great.
"I've definitely had a good run with Tri-State," he continued. "It's been a great five or six years that I've had with Arsenal and this is a great way to finish it."
DiSabatino is not quite as heralded as Thais but is ranked as a "high follow" nationally and as the No. 4 overall prospect and No. 1 shortstop in the state of Delaware in the class of 2014. He has committed to the University of Maryland and may get a chance to face Thais in an Atlantic Coast Conference game before Maryland departs for the Big Ten in a year or two.
This is DeSabatino's first year with the Tri-State Arsenal organization: "It's been a very good fit," he said. "I love the coaching and I like the way they play; the players all hustle and it's a great team."
Another highly regarded member of this Tri-State Arsenal team is right-hander Zachary Gallen, a 2013 out of Gibbsboro, N.J., who is ranked 341st nationally and No. 10 in New Jersey. Gallen, who threw seven innings of four-hit ball without allowing an earned run and striking out 10 in Tri-State's tournament opening win Sunday night, has signed with ACC and national power North Carolina.
Rizzo, a left-hander, pitched all or parts of 14 seasons in the minor leagues and sipped the proverbial cup of coffee in the big leagues when he appeared in 12 games with the Chicago White Sox in the 1998-99 seasons. He has been coaching and instructing at Tri-State since he left professional baseball in 2005 and is eager to pass on the knowledge he accumulated through his long professional career.
"I tell the kids I played professionally because it gets their attention," he said. "That doesn't necessarily make me the greatest instructor or anything like that but I have a lot of experience and I love what I do. I have a lot of passion about what I do and the kids seem to respond to that. They ask a lot of questions and, obviously, I have a lot of stories for them, but this age-group is really enjoyable for me because I can be more myself. Coaching the 17s in a blast."
Everyone agrees the Tri-State Arsenal belongs at the 17u Perfect Game World Series. It one of most established organizations in the Northeast and has won its share of championships through the years. And, most importantly, the players welcome the opportunity to see how they stack up against the country's even more established programs.
"It's nice getting to see other teams," DeSabatino said. "Good competition -- you can never get enough of it and it's just nice to see. It's nice seeing other players and competing against other players at all the positions and try to play better than them."
"It's a great event," Thais added. "You've got the top 16 (17u) programs in the country all here and you don't have any letups in any of the games. We're playing great teams today we played a great team yesterday, and we're going to play great teams every day that we're down here -- it's a dogfight every day (and) you've got to come out and play your best baseball or you'll lose."
Rizzo, the seasoned veteran of 14 professional seasons, also enjoys the change of scenery.
"I played pro ball so any time I get a chance to let these see what it's like to play on a professional baseball field at a complex like this I try to take advantage of it," Rizzo said. "And, obviously, the talent is out of this world -- every kid that walks on the mound it seems like he's throwing 90 miles-per-hour -- and it's a great experience for my guys because while we're very well-respected up in the Northeast but to get a chance to play against some of the better organizations in the nation is always a great thing.
"It opens up their eyes a little bit. They get a little bit more an understanding of what it's going to take to play at the next level."
But can they bring home a PG national championship? Can they really butt heads with the Marucci Elites, SGV Arsenals, East Cobb Braves and San Diego Shows of the world and come out on top?
"We're not really built to win it," Rizzo said. "... This year's team is way better than last year's team just as far as experience and athleticism and all that stuff. Our goal is to try to get better each year and when we show that we can compete that's going to bring in the better players to us as well.
"But do I have delusions about actually winning it? I just want the kids to go out and compete ... and I'm more concerned about getting them out in front of the college coaches, playing experienced baseball and playing smart."