FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Late Sunday morning, as veteran coach Leo McClure continued to throw batting practice to his young players on the Louisiana Tigers 14s squad that he brought to the PG WWBA 2017 Grads or 14u National Championship, he was also multi-tasking by taking questions posed by a nosy writer from Perfect Game.
McClure, throwing from inside one of the batting cages at the Boston Red Sox jetBlue Player Development Complex, would toss a pitch to one of his players, answer a question asked by the PG guy standing outside the cage, and then throw another pitch before yelling, "Next batter!"
It was one of the more interesting circumstances under which the writer had conducted an interview, but in the end nothing was lost in translation -- only a few mumbled words that couldn't be transcribed from the writer's recorder.
"We come with expectations but they're realistic expectations," McClure said about the Louisiana Tigers 14s' presence at the PG WWBA 14u National Championship. "I want to play well -- whether we win the tournament or not, I want to play well. I feel like here we have a 1-in-66 chance of winning and if we play well, then I'll be happy with the results."
The Tigers 14s are, indeed, one of the 66 teams vying for the PG WWBA 14u National Championship crown, a tournament being played in southwest Florida for the first time after six previous years in the Marietta, Ga., and East Cobb Baseball area.
The first two days of action treated the Tigers pretty well, both in terms of play on the field and in the fact they were able to get their first three games in without experiencing the rain problems that affected play Sunday afternoon.
They won both their games Saturday, beating Tri-State Arsenal (Flemington, N.J.), 8-0, and the Diamond Devils (Mount Pleasant, S.C.), 12-3; they bounced A-Team Baseball (Miami), 10-2, on Sunday. There worse spots to be in at this tournament other than sitting 3-0 with only two more pool games to play Monday and Tuesday.
"We started out pretty good but that was yesterday, of course," McClure said before his team took the field against A-Team Baseball. "The first day was great because we pitched well (and) we defended well but I'm smart enough to know that it can change at the drop of the hat. We're excited to be at Perfect Game; this is our first time here."
McClure said that most of the Baton Rouge-based Louisiana Tigers 14s have been playing together since they were 12-year-olds and others have been together since they were 10-year-olds. He called the team more athletic than others he's had previously, but like most 14-year-olds they're still learning the particulars of the game.
"They're a challenge; I've had groups that I like more but they weren't as talented," McClure said between BP pitches, throwing in a fatherly chuckle. "This group is talented but like a lot of 14-year-olds, they're a challenge for an adult to deal with.
"They're good kids and we're having a great week, but I think the biggest thing that they're having to learn is that a lot of this game is mental," he continued. "They've not learned how to control the mental aspect of their tempers, the ups and downs and the ebb and flow of a baseball season."
There does appear to be some talent on this team, although it can be difficult to discern when dealing with 14-year-olds, just as McClure so astutely pointed out. The Louisiana Tigers 14s certainly can hit -- they batted to the tune of .384 as team in their first three games.
Some of the top numbers were put up by:
Parker Evans (2017, Baton Rouge), 4-for-5 (.800), double, six RBI, 1.909 OPS; Trey Shaffer (2017, Biloxi, Miss.), 3-for-5 (.600), double, triple, six runs, 2.018 OPS; Noah Burns (Zachary, La.) 4-for-7 (.571), two doubles, 1.429 OPS; Cole Johnson (2017, Denham Springs, La.), 4-8 (.500), triple, four RBI, five runs, 1.295 OPS; Blake Way (2017, Slidel, La.), 3-for-8 (.375), triple, home run, four RBI, four runs, 1.500 OPS.
The Tigers used only four pitchers in their first three games and they combined to give up five earned runs in 17 innings (2.06 ERA) on 12 hits with 12 strikeouts and 10 walks.
McClure's athletic background is mostly in basketball and its extensive -- he was a star guard at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond in the mid- to late 1970s and eventually became his alma mater's head coach. He lasted only two years in that position after compiling a 7-36 record.
His oldest and youngest sons were the baseball players. Oldest son Trey McClure was an All-American at Louisiana State for legendary coach Skip Bertman and was a member of the Tigers' 1996 and 1997 College World Series and NCAA Division I National Championship teams. Youngest son Tanna McClure pitched a couple of seasons at Southeastern Louisiana.
"When Trey was at LSU I started absorbing information from him when would come home after spending time with Skip, and then we introduced him to these 13-year-olds," Lee McClure said. "And then we opened up a little bit of an academy of sorts."
He still maintains a relationship with Bertman: "When Skip was still coaching at LSU if I'd call him about a player, he'd take him," McClure said. "We've had 72 guys (come through the Louisiana Tigers program) that have gone on to play at some level of college baseball; I don't know the exact number that have gone on and played at some level in the (professional ranks) but I think it's right around 26."
One of the more noteworthy Louisiana Tigers alumni is Austin Nola, the former Perfect Game collegiate All-American at LSU that is now a Miami Marlins farmhand.
It is McClure's middle son who accumulated the most athletic accolades and it was in football, not baseball or basketball. Todd McClure, a center, was a consensus first-team All-Southeastern Conference performer at LSU in the late 1990s and enjoyed a terrific and impressive 13-year NFL career -- all with the Atlanta Falcons -- before retiring in 2012.
Back to baseball, McClure tells a colorful story about how he first became associated with the Louisiana Tigers Baseball program 15 years ago. Without specifically naming names, McClure related:
"Years ago a gentlemen walked up to me and asked me if I'd coach his (baseball) team -- that must have been about 15 years ago. He told me he'd pay me, and I told him he couldn't pay me enough to do it. He asked me how much I wanted, and so I told him; he said, 'You want it in one check or two?'
"So we started out with one team, the next year we still had one, the next year we had two, the next year we had five and the next year we had seven teams. We typically have five teams in the 11u, 12u, 13u and 14u divisions; that just allows us to find out who the real players are."
Scott Alexander from Prairieville, La., has a son, Payton, that plays for McClure and the Tigers. Scott is one of several dads that help out with the team on an unofficial basis and who enjoys having the opportunity to be around both his son and McClure.
"What he's done for these kids is just remarkable," Alexander said of McClure. "I'm not just saying that because my son plays for him; he treats every kid fairly and just does an outstanding job. They all don't realize it now but when they're older they will realize how lucky they were to have a guy like this to give them a little guidance in life and learn life's lessons."
McClure, for his part, thinks it was very important to get his young players over to southwest Florida for a six-day stay just to learn a couple of those life lessons and maybe a little something about themselves.
"I think this," he said. "If a guy wants to play baseball for a long time, he gets out here and he finds out he's just one of many, many (good) players, and it's sort of a motivating tool to make them continue to work, or they'll just be an average high school baseball player."
It's enough to make a nosy PG writer want to jump into the cage, take a few cuts and ask just a few more questions.