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2011 Tournament Travel Blog

 



Bags are packed and I'm ready to go >>
FORT MYERS, Fla. - So this is what it's come down to.



It's a little after 10 a.m. on Tuesday here in southwest Florida and I've just typed my last Fort Myers dateline for awhile. There probably won't be another until PG returns to Lee County after Christmas and into the new year for four national showcase events.



I'm on my way home to Cedar Rapids, a city I haven't visited for almost a month now. It will be a quick visit as I will jump on a plane early next week for a much anticipated trip to Jupiter, Fla., and the WWBA World Championship, the most prestigious tournament for high school-aged baseball prospects in, well, the world.



The last month traveling across the southern part of the U.S. has been one excellent adventure. It started on Sept. 14 with a weeklong stay here in Fort Myers for the WWBA Florida Qualifer and continued with another week spent in Phoenix at the Perfect Game/EvoShield Underclass and Upperclass National Championships.



That was followed in quick fashion by a week in the Austin/Round Rock (Texas) area for the WWBA South Qualifier, then another week back here for the just-completed WWBA Underclass World Championship.



During those travels I had the opportunity to see a lot of talented young baseball players, visit some outstanding venues and facilities, eat some terrific food with as much local flair as I could find (no national chain restaraunts) and wash it all down with a fair amount of cold beer.



I have spent quite a bit of time here in Fort Myers over the last six or seven months, so a lot of "favorites" are right here. I like the ice cold (and cheap) 22-ounce mugs of LandShark at Cheeseburger in Paradise and the fried shrimp po-boy at the Smokin' Oyster Brewery over in Fort Myers Beach. I also like Hammond Stadium, City of Palms Park and venerable old Terry Park as far as venues for watching baseball games.



I really liked Austin and Round Rock, and enjoyed terrific Texas barbeque and some of the Tex-Mex fare I sampled there. I remember especially the outstanding chicken-fried steak and bacon sandwich I mowed down at a place called Cain and Abel's a block from the University of Texas campus in Austin. It was also a real treat to have the South Qualifier semifinal and championship games played at UT's Disch-Falk Field and taking in all the history that place holds.



Salt River Fields at Talking Stick provided an excellent venue at which to hold the PG/EvoShield Upperclass National Championship, although I would like to offer one piece of advice to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockiesorganizations that make SRF their spring training home:



Create shade! Do whatever it takes! That place needs shade! Plant trees and water them the year around if you have to! Put roofs or tarps or tents on your observation towers!



The  temperature reached triple digits and the sun was relentless all four days of the tournament and it was almost impossible to find any shade. It might not be that big of deal when the D-backs and Rockies are training there in February and March but in late September it was down-right brutal.



So now the Travelblog goes into hibernation. I've put on the last clean articles of clothing I still have - the last laundry day was 10 days ago - threw the rest of my dirty laundry into my suitcase and now only have to pack away the laptop. My flight doesn't leave until 4:30 p.m. so I have plenty of time to find one last place for lunch before I leave town.



Maybe the Travelblog can be resurrected again in the future. I am reminded, as I often am, of an old Jimmy Buffett verse:



"I ate the last mango in Paris, I caught the last plane out of Saigon. I took the first fast boat to China, but there's still so much to be done."



Thanks for reading, and we'll see you in Jupiter.



























































































'Big boys' make up Underclass Final 4 >>
FORT MYERS, Fla. - It's a beautiful morning here at Terry Park, with the blue Florida sky offering a few clouds of the white, wispy variety instead of the dark, menacing variety the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship saw way too many of on Saturday.

The four quarterfiinal games are in the books, and the tournament's final 4 couldn't be more stacked. One semifinal has the top-seeded East Cobb Braves (6-0) playing No. 4-seed Chet Lemon's Juice (6-0), and the other semi features No. 2 FTB Mizuno Royal (6-0) and No. 6-seed and defending champion Marucci Elite (6-0).

"It's all 'Big Boys' left with Marucci, us, the Braves and Chet - it's all Big Boys now," FTB Mizuno Purple coach Jered Goodwin commented when I sat down next to him on a bleacher seat after his team had whipped No. 23 East Cobb Astros White, 9-1, in the most one-sided of the four quarters.

The East Cobb Braves beat the No. 8 South Charlotte Panthers, 3-0; Marucci Elite topped No. 19 Hitters Baseball, 6-1; and Chet Lemon's Juice got past Palm Beach County PAL, 5-3, in the other quarterfinals.

I spent the morning watching the Juice-PAL game, and it was a dandy. The Juice jumped to a 3-0 lead, PAL came back and tied it up at 3, and then the Juice pushed across two in the bottom of the sixth to pull out the win.

At one point during the game, I was watching former big-league standout Chet Lemon coaching at third base, when a lanky, left-handed hitting top middle-infield prospect stepped in to hit. The young man was Nicholas Gordon from Windemere, Fla., the son of former big-league closer Tom "Flash" Gordon. Nicholas grounded out to second in this particular at-bat, but he's already a good one. PG has him ranked as the nation's No. 48 top overall prospect in the class of 2014.

While chatting with Goodwin, he felt compelled share with me the main reason why he brought his group of underclassmen here to this tournament.

"We take all the young ones to this to get them their college looks," he said. "We've got five or six kids who are going to get offers, big offers, from this. Guys are like, 'We need you on campus in the next month so we can offer you.' That's big and that's what it's all about."

That's what it's all about. Now it's time to go check-out the semis.


 
Sunday morning and we're playing ball >>
FORT MYERS, Fla. - I have made the Sunday commute from my hotel south of the city to City of Palms Park, where I have set up shop on a rail seat in a fan section in the right-field corner of the ballpark. The pressbox was locked up and this was the only place I could find an electrical outlet, a bar stool and a narrow tabletop on which to work.

My spot isn't covered, and right now a hot morning sun is beating down on the back of my neck, which, of course, is the best news of the day. It means it's not raining and young men are actually playing baseball on the field in front of me.

The PG folks who are running this tournament have done a yeoman's job rescheduling all the games that were washed out yesterday and games are under way. Some fields are still unplayable and most of this morning's games got started late, but as I type these words at mid-morning we are playing baseball - here at COP, anyway.

The playoff games have been shortened to 5 innings with a 1 1/2 hour time limit out of necessity, and if everything continues to move along, tomorrow morning's quarterfiinal pairings should be set later on tonight.

I know the Travelblog hasn't dealt a whole lot with seeing the local sights here lately, but after an afternoon spent in Fort Myers Beach on Wednesday, I really haven't been anyplace other than ball fields and my hotel. Not that I'm complaining. The ballyards and my hotel are both really nice and comfortable.
Rain, rain, please stay away ... >>
FORT MYERS, Fla. - Unfortunately, the forecast for Sunday and Monday predicts the rain probably won't stay away. The best laid plans ...

As you can see elsewhere here on PG's home page, the schedule for the remainder of the WWBA Underclass World Championship has been meticuously put in place by the PG pros running the event, all under the assumption there won't be a repeat of the heavy rainfall that inundated the area Saturday afternoon into the evening. It's a mess, to be sure, but PG will do everything it can to make sure the games are played.

Perhaps the biggest change in the revised schedule effects Monday. Only the two semifinal games and the championship were originally scheduled for Monday, with all three games at City of Palms Park. Now the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship are slated for Monday with all seven games scheduled to be played at Terry Park. We can only hope for no further delays or postponements.

Stay tuned to this site for updates and developments. This remains PG's biggest underclass event of the year and every effort will be made to crown a champion on Monday afternoon. Now all we need is for the Sunshine State to give us a little sunshine.
A terrific night in SW Florida >>
FORT MYERS, Fla. - There is a part of me that is somewhat disppointed that I've missed some excellent fall weather at my home in Eastern Iowa. The reports I've received are that this has been a terrific fall back home, with moderate temperatures, clear blue skies and the fall colors coming in without a flaw.

My travels to Florida, Arizona, Texas and back to Florida again have exposed me to nothing but an extended summer. And as much I love a Midwestern autumn, I couldn't have asked for anything better.

Sure, it was very hot in mid-September here in SW Florida and Phoenix - with six straight days in triple-digits - was tough to take. But Austin was beautiful and the return trip here to Fort Myers has been nothing short of lovely.

I just finished up some prep work for my day's game-plan on Saturday, and wandered down to the main floor of my hotel. I walked out to the pool area, where a decidedly angry wind had seemed to have picked up, but it couldn't have been any more pleasant. A middle-aged couple walked by me and the fellow said something along the lines of "It reallly doesn't get any better than this." I couldn't disagree.

Sure, I sensed a storm was moving in, and the last thing we need at the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship are storms and rain showers on Saturday and Sunday, but it sure made for a terrific evening, at 10 p.m., anyhow. The potted palms swayed somewhat violently in the wind and a black snake of some unknown species (at least to me) slithered across the pool deck, but the whole scene was nothing to complain about.

The weekend is just starting. I'm looking forward to returning home for the first time in a month next Tuesday, but right now there is nowhere else I'd rather be.

I should add that I didn't get to see any of the D-Backs-Brewers game but am watching the Cards-Phillies with great interest. Are both the Yanks and Phillies about to be history? I hate it when the great ones fall.
Day 1 at Underclass nearing an end >>
FORT MYERS, Fla. -Weird things are going on when I call up the Travelblog to make a new submission, something to do with gamechanger or something, so I'm not sure if this even going to get posted. I'll give it a shot.

The first day of the 2011 WWBA Underclass World Championship has reached its final hours, but there are still games scheduled to start about an hour from now at 8:30 p.m. EDT here at Terry Park. It's the first of three very long days for the PG crew, the players, families, coaches, scouts, umpires and everyone else involved, but it's why we do what we do.

It was an interesting first day, one in which I never left Terry Park. A very brief but intense downpour halted action for a couple minutes mid-afternoon when one giant cloud decided to drop its load, but other than that it was a beautiful day.

The main central concourse area here at Terry Park has been turned into a mini-carnival midway, absent the Ferris wheel or the Tilt-a-Whirl. All kind of venders have set up their tents and opened their trailer doors, selling every piece of baseball equipment imaginable. This is truly an event that every young baseball prospect needs to experience, if for no other reason than for the number of college coaches that are present.

At just one game on one field here at Terry Park this afternoon, I spotted coaches and recruiters wearing shirts from Miami, Air Force, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Florida State, Auburn, Ole Miss, Florida Atlantic, Clemson, Central Florida, the U of Florida and Florida Gulf Coast. That was at one diamond. There were probably 30 other games going on across the area at the same time, with dozens of other coaches and recruiters at those sites.

I am going to start my morning Saturday at the Lee County Sports Complex, make my way over here to Terry Park, mosey over to the Red Sox 5-Plex and finally wind up back here.

Unfortunately, not much time for local restaraunts reviews or cold beers. But there's more to life, you know. Not much, but a little.
Sweet home, Fort Myers >>
FORT MYERS, Fla. - It seems almost impossible that it's been three weeks since I've been home here in Fort Myers, the city of great ball fields, real fine restaurants and bars and 3-minute left-turn traffic arrows. I've read the entire sports section of the local News-Press newspaper waiting at just one traffic light. The creases in my forehead got deeper. I could feel my rapidly thinning hair grow, then fall out.

Yes, the PG contingent that had spent the previous two weeks in Phoenix then in Austin arrived back here early Tuesday afternoon. It was a long travel day, losing an hour and all. I woke up in Austin at 4 a.m (CDT) and was in Fort Myers at about 1:30 p.m. (EDT). That's a lot of day left, but a body just doesn't feel like doing a whole lot of anything at that point. Not this body, anyhow.

I'm staying at an Embassy Suites that is very nice - excellent in fact - but it's off the beaten path. In fact, it's 11 miles south of my favorite bar/dinner joint "Cheeseburger in Paradise" and the two or three hotels I normally stay at. I'm probably looking at close to an hour commute Friday morning to the ballfields at Terry Park and the Red Sox Player Development 5-Plex in north Fort Myers, just two of the many venues at which the 10th annual PG WWBA Underclass World Championship is being played. I'm not complaining. These are excellent digs and I'm really looking forward to this tournament. There are 144 teams here this weekend and the tournament promises to be a dandy.

I took today off (although I just got finished writing an advance of the tournament that should get posted Thursday morning) and headed over to Fort Myers Beach to see all my pals. I should begin, however, by talking about a late-night (10:30 p.m.) phone call I received Tuesday from young PG co-worker Ben Collman, informing me that an unsavory group of PG guys were enjoying frosty beverages at a joint called Potts Sports Bar over on Daniels Parkway. Now, in past trips, that wouldn't be a problem. Only about a mile or two from my hotel. But this trip we're talking close to 10 miles. I went ahead and made the trip, only got lost once, and finally met up with the boys for a couple of ice cold LandSharks. It was a great evening.

Today at Fort Myers Beach was wonderful. The weather was perfect (85, sunny) and the beach was beautiful. I visited a couple of my favorite haunts and finally settled on a fried grouper sandwich at the Smokin' Oyster Brewery. The bar-keep told me that son-of-a-gun (the grouper) was swimming in the sea just a couple of hours before I made him my lunch. I don't know what his last meal was like, but mine was awesome.
One last Texas toast >>
ROUND ROCK, Texas - The place has been staring me in the face for the last six days, just begging me to walk through the door. But for some mysterious reason I didn't make the move until Monday night, when my stay here in Central Texas is rapidly coming to an end.

I finished up my writing from championship day at the WWBA South Qualifier at about 6:30 p.m. (CDT) Monday and decided it was time to start packing. The flight to Fort Myers leaves at 6:50 a.m. Tuesday so there will be no time to dilly-dally in the morning. I popped a cold Bud Light fresh out of my hotel room fridge and got down to business. It didn't take nearly as long as I thought it would - I'm getting pretty proficient at this packing thing - so at 7 p.m. I decided to go out and gas-up the rental and grab a bite to eat to bring back to the hotel.

I finally stopped at Rudy's Country Store & BBQ, which, like the Blue Oak Grill, is within walking distance of my hotel. Rudy's motto, as written on the sign on the front of the building, is "Worst BBQ in Texas." I beg to differ.

Rudy's features a somewhat limited BBQ menu with beef brisket, pork loin and racks of pork ribs the featured items. There are side dishes - cold and hot - like cole slaw, potato salad, baked beans and creamed corn. About a half a dozen slices of white bread are included with every order. I waited in line, ordered a half-pound of "extra moist" beef brisket with creamed corn to go, filled up a little cup with "Rudy's Special BBQ Sauce" and headed back to my room.

What an absolute delight. It was the best beef brisket I've ever eaten and I walked out of the joint having spent just about $10. I wish I would have walked into Rudy's earlier in my stay.

I am, BTW, just getting around to reading this morning's USA Today. There is a great article in there about Perfect Game alumni and brothers Justin and B.J. Upton and how their parents try to balance the travel required to see each one of them play during the playoffs. With Justin playing for the D-Backs and B.J. with the Rays, there's a chance they could meet in the World Series. It's a great story.

The alarm is set for 4 a.m. Better sign off. Next stop: Fort Myers!
Texas two-stepping out of town >>
AUSTIN, Texas - One semifinal is in the books and the other is reaching its halfway point as the WWBA South Qualifier comes rolling to a close here today. The semis and championship game are being played at UT's historic Disch-Falk Field, where the Longhorns drew an average of about 6,500 fans to every one of their home games this spring. The playing field is FieldTurf with UT's orange Longhorn logo prominent in center field. The scoreboard boasts of the Longhorn's NCAA National Championships in 1949, 1950, 1975, 1983, 2002 and 2005 and the hallway leading into the Longhorn's clubhouse is lined with bulging trophy cases.

I got a chance to walk around down on the field a good hour before the first semifinal got under way, and was able to do an interview with former Longhorn All-American and big-league right-hander Calvin Schiraldi. Schiraldi is now a high school coach in Austin and was also coaching the Action Baseball Club 17u White squad. You can find my story elsewhere on pg.org's home page.

Disch-Falk truly is an amazing college baseball stadium, and the FieldTurf shined a startling bright green under the equally bright Texas sunshine. The weather here in Austin the past two days has been absolutely awesome, without a cloud in the sky and a light breeze. As I type this at 11:30 a.m. (CDT) the scoreboard reads 78 degrees.

The Travelblog is getting ready to live up to its name by heading out on the last leg of its journey at about 6:30 tomorrow morning. The PG crew's next destination is where it all began three weeks ago - Fort Myers, Fla. The next event is the WWBA Underclass World Championship that will run Friday through the following Monday. It should be a great capper to what has been an excellent adventure so far.

After the WWBA Underclass World championship is in the books, I will return to my home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for a week before taking off to Jupiter, Fla., and the "Big Show", the WWBA World Championship. Before that happens, try to check back to this space from time-to-time as I hope to have frequent updates from my upcoming week in Fort Myers.

Happy trails!
The hour is late, the update is short >>
ROUND ROCK, Texas - I just got back to my hotel room after what is rapidly becoming a 14-hour work day and will offer a final update from the first day of action at the WWBA South Qualifier.

All of the 38 teams in the field got in their first two pool-play games today and 14 emerged unbeaten at 2-0. Obviously, all of that will change when pool-play concludes Sunday morning and early afternoon. Head-to-head pool championship games will be played in Pool B between unbeatens Brazos Valley Renegades and Action Baseball Club 18u Green; in Pool D between South Texas Sliders-Pierce and HC Reds; Pool F between Houston Banditos Black and Killeen Rebels; Pool H between Action Baseball Club and Pro Source Athletics Abbott; and Pool I between Frozen Ropes Texas and Action Baseball Club 17u White.

My inkling right now is to cruise down to Austin's Reagan High School first thing in the morning to watch the game between Action Baseball Club and Pro Source Athletics Abbott. Action is loaded, with nine D-I commits and another committed to juco powerhouse San Jacinto CC. Fifteen of Action's roster spots are filled by prospects from Texas. The other seven are imports from Florida.

The 12-team playoffs are scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. Sunday with the quarterfinals slated for 7 p.m. These late nights are going to keep me out of the local eateries. I stopped at a 7-11 on my way back to the hotel tonight and picked up a smoked turkey wrap with southwest mayonnaise, lettuce and cheddar cheese, along with a bag of wheat chips. No fine dining for the next couple of days.
Final day to chart out routes >>
ROUND ROCK, Texas - The Travelblog has spent an inordinant amount of time and expended almost a full tank of gas tooling up and down I-35 the past two days while scouting out many of the high school fields at which games will be played at this weekend's PG WWBA South Qualifier. The fields are spread throughout Austin and Round Rock on both sides of the north-south running I-35, so there's been a lot of hopping on and hopping off.

The farthest south on I-35 I've had to travel is down to the U of Texas campus hear dowtown Austin, where Monday's semifinals and championship game will be played at the Longhorns' venerable old Disch-Falk Field. It's really a majestic sort of stadium and has served the prominent Longhorn program well for many years.

The South Qualifier finally gets started Saturday morning with full slates of games on Saturday and Sunday leading into Monday's championship. There are a lot of outstanding prospects dotting the teams' rosters, particularly on the Houston Banditos Black, Action Baseball Club and Texas Sun Devils. It promises to be an interesting weekend.

Speaking of interesting, when I went down to the UT campus yesterday, I made a point to stop at the LBJ Presidential Library & Museum, which sits on campus. The place is chock-full of historical information and relics that detail Lyndon Baines Johnson's life and times all the way through his presidency in the turbulant 1960s. It was well worth the stop and I could have spent more time there than the hour I allowed.

Heading back to Round Rock, I noticed dark clouds building in the west. As most of you probably know, the entire state of Texas is in the throes of a severe, devastating drought that some climatologists are predicting could last until 2020. Water supplies are disappearing. Crops and grazing land lie in ruins. Entire cattle herds are being sent to slaughter early because there is no water or feed.

I parked my older Ford Escape at my hotel, noticed it was 4:30 p.m. and walked across the street to the Blue Oak Grill for happy hour. The talk around the bar was about the possibility of rain, and almost on request it began to sprinkle lightly. Several of the patrons left their barstools and walked outside just to stand in the sprinkles. Someone said it was the first time it had rained there in seven months. Unfortunately, it didn't last long and wasn't even measurable. I want these people to get some rain and get it soon, but selfishly I hope it holds off another three days so we can get this tournament in without too many delays.

As a baseball fan, this is a nice time to be in Texas, with the Rangers getting ready to open the defense of their American League pennant this afternoon over in Dallas against the charging Tampa Bay Rays. In line with that, every morning since I've been here I've been able to drive down to a conveince store and pick up two of the country's great regional newspapers, at least in terms of their sports sections: The Dallas Morning News and the Austin American-Statesman.

Both papers are highly regarded and their sports coverage is second to none, especially when it comes to college and high school football. The Dallas Cowboys have a heavy presence in the Morning News, as you'd expect, but both papers have done an excellent job in their coverage of the Rangers in particular and Major League Baseball in general. The lead story on page 1A of the Morning News this morning was a Rangers preview piece with the headline "Here we go again."

After I do a little more scout work, I'm going to find a place to sit down and pore through those bad boys. Then it will be time to walk over to the Blue Oak, say about 4 p.m., just a few minutes before Rangers left-hander C.J. Wilson throws the first pitch presumably to Rays left-fielder Desmond Jennings while notable Perfect Game alum B.J. Upton waits on deck. It's time for playoff baseball and it's also time for the WWBA South Qualifier. That's a pretty good combo.
One terrific night of baseball >>
ROUND ROCK, Texas - While me and 10 other Perfect Game misfits were enjoying fantastic Mexican food at a Round Rock restaraunt called Chuy's Wednesday night, the Major League Baseball postseason pairings got worked out in a quiet, orderly fashion.

Yeah, right. It was about as quiet and orderly as the annual Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain.

If you haven't heard what transpired last night, you can go to about 100 different websites and catch up on all the drama that unfolded. I won't go into detail in this space. Just let it be known that in one 3 minute span, the Tampa Bay Rays rallied to beat the Yankees in the bottom of the 12th in St. Petersburg, while the Orioles rallied to eliminate the hapless Red Sox by scoring two runs in the bottom of the ninth at Camden Yards.

Over in the National League, at just about the same time, the Atlanta Braves completed their historic choke job by losing yet again, which allowed the Cardinals to grab the NL Wild Card berth thanks to an outstanding month of September.

One commentator on ESPN called it "The greatest night of regular season baseball in the game's long, glorious history." Who am I to argue?
Austin City Limits >>
ROUND ROCK, Texas - This post is way overdue but the hours have been shooting past like wild-fire since we (a sizable PG contingent) landed at the Austin airport at about 7:30 Tuesday night. I didn't finally check-in to my hotel here in Round Rock until almost 9 p.m. and it left little time for exploring.

This PG contingent that I referred to is here, of course, for the WWBA South Qualifier, a tournament that guarantees a paid invitation to the WWBA World Championship Oct. 20-24. It is a grand prize, and after spending the morning looking over the South Qualifer field, the tournament promises to be a dandy with many of the top prospects from the Texas region on hand.

For almost the entire two-hour flight from Phoenix to Austin, I couldn't get a particular tune out of my head. It is called "London Homesick Blues," a song written by Texan Gary P. Nunn that was used as the introductory song to the old television music show, "Austin City Limits."

The song dealt with the trevails of a young Texan who was stranded in London and couldn't get back to Texas soon enough. To be more specific, he couldn't wait to "be home in a Texas bar."

The chorus, if memory serves, goes like this:

"I want to go home with the armadillo.
Good country music from Amarillo to Abilene.
The friendliest people and prettiest women you've ever seen."

What he said.

Despite arriving so late Tuesday night, I was able to make it next door to my hotel to a place called the Blue Oak Grill, which was just getting ready to close right before 10 p.m. The bartender was excellent, and allowed me to order a glass of beer and also an order to go from the kitchen, wich was technically already closed. I order a BLT which the Blue Oak Grill added a little spike to by putting a fried egg on top of the bacon, lettuce and tomato. It was excellent, and with a rice pilaf on the side, I walked out the place with a  excellent meal for under $10. It will be a regular stop during my six days here.

As stated, I spent most of the morning doing background work on the WWBA South Qualifer. Most of the work involved finding directions to the eight or nine fields where the South Qualifier games are being held and, to be honest, the entire Austin-Round Rock area is a bit of a cluster ... oh, you know what I mean. In reality, everything is right off I-35, either north or south, but it still gets dicey. At least for me.

After finding McNeil High School in north Austin/Round Rock, where I plan to spend most of Saturday, I got back on I-35 South and headed to downtown Austin. I took the second of three exits that promised to get me to the University of Texas, which was fine except I ran smack-dab into UT's football stadium. I very carefully circumvented the gargatuan stadium - dodging hundreds of young people either walking, riding bicycles or riding motor bikes - and finally made it to the main drag, called Guadalupe. I spotted several places where I would have loved to stop, but parking was a problem. A real big problem.

As a veteran of close to 10 trips to New Orleans' French Quarter, I've learned that you need to get off the main drag, which in the French Quarter's case is Bourbon Street. If you go two, three or even four blocks either side of Bourbon, you'll find the Quarter's real gems. I decided to try that reasoning with Guadalupe, and just a couple of blocks to the west I found a parking spot and a great lunch place called "Cain and Abel's."

At the top on this seriously fantastic lunch menu, the management pointed out the place was established in 1991 on the same property that had housed eating establisments since the turn of the 20th century. "We take pride in what we are," the mission statement said. "We are a Texas establishment and that means we do things the Texas way."

All-righty then.

I ordered a beer and an absolutely ass-kicking sandwich called the "Famous Fumbler." It was a chicken-fried steak with bacon and cheddar jack cheese smothered in jalalpenos. As a light-weight Midwesterner, I brushed the jalapenos to the side when the bartender, a very agreeable 30-something young man named Omar, wasn't looking. Omar was excellent company and knew his environmnent well. He told me he was born and raised in Corpus Christi and had just recently moved to Austin. He also seemed to know where all the great Austin music venues were located when I asked, giving me addresses and the like.

I returned to my hotel in Round Rock and quickly met up with 11-man PG contigent for Tex-Mex at a nearby Round Rock restaraunt. I'll update that debauchery on my first post Thursday a.m.

God bless.
Championship day at PG/EvoShield >>
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - I've settled in at Salt River Fields for the final day of the Perfect Game/EvoShield National Championship (Upperclass). It's really a beautiful morning, as all the mornings have been here the Valley. Things only start to get dicey when the clock sneaks past noon and the temperature climbs into triple-digits.

The semifinal games for the Upperclass tournament just got started here at SRF and the semifinal games at the PG/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) should be getting started on the other side of the Phoenix metropolitan area at the Peoria (Ariz.) Sports Complex. The two championship games will follow the semifinals.

The Travelblog took the day off yesterday because, quite frankly, by the time I posted my final story last night I just simply couldn't look at a computer screen for another minute. I signed off and went out to grab a bite to eat, and then got back to my room and opened a book for the first time in days.

Speaking of a bite to eat, I walked across the street from my hotel to this real upper-crust mall - the Biltmore something-or-other - that is filled with high-end stores, shops and restaraunts. It is an open-air mall, but the sidewalks are all covered and feature "misters" that keep patrons cool and make it seem like the entire mall is enshrouded in fog. It's really a pretty cool effect.

Earlier in my stay, I went to a Mexican restaraunt at the mall called "Black Chile" that was a little pricey but also very good. Last night, I got tripped up.

I went to place called "Vinburger" which bills itself as a "burger and wine" restaraunt. I had no intention of drinking any wine, but I figured a cheeseburger and a couple of beers would hit the spot. I looked at the menu, and cheapest item on it was the house specialy, The Vinburger, which was really just a souped-up half-pound cheeseburger. It was $10. Just for the burger. If I wanted fries, that would be an extra $4. I swallowed hard and ordered the burger. No fries. I then ordered a 14-ounce glass of Bud Light, followed by one more when my sandwich came. My total bill for a cheeseburger and two beers? 21 bucks. Ah well, when in Rome ...

The Travelblog leaves the Valley for Austin, Texas, tomorrow afternoon ahead of this weekend's PG WWBA South Qualifier. Updates to follow.
The Travelblog does a lot of, well, traveling >>
PHOENIX - It seems like I spent a lot more time behind the wheel of my rental car today than I did at ball fields, even though at I was at two complexes in the greater Phoenix area (re: the Valley). It's just that those complexes lie quite a few miles from one another, and the more time I spend here it seems as if the whole metropolitan area is nothing but ribbons of freeways and highways.

I started the day at Salt River Fields, where the Perfect Game/EvoShield National Championship (Upperclass) is being held. Salt River Fields takes up land on an Indian Reservation on the Valley's east side, near the city of Scottsdale. Depending on traffic, it's close to a 25 minute drive from my centrally located hotel here in Phoenix proper.

Leaving Salt River at about 10:30 a.m., I decided to travel (that's what travelblogs do) over to the city of Peoria and the Peoria Sports Complex where the PG/Evoshield National Championship (Underclass) is being held. Peoria is in the Valley's northwest burbs, just north and little west of Glendale. It was a full hour's drive from Salt River Fields to the Peoria Sports Complex - the spring training home of the Padres and Mariners - although I have no idea if I took the most direct route. I just drove where MapQuest told me to drive.

Anyway, I'm really just getting started writing even though it is already 4:50 p.m. here and I've been "working" since 7 a.m. These late work days are keeping me from reporting on the Phoenix restaurant scene (at least the scene close to my hotel) but I did get over to a real classy, high-end Mexican joint across the street from my hotel that I still plan on "reviewing" in a later post. I'm also going to walk over to another place that caught my eye in this high-end mall (it has both a Macy's and a Sacs Fifth Avenue) across from my hotel for something to eat right now, before I come back and finish up my day's writing. It caught my eye because it is billed as a "burger and wine" restaurant. Hey, I'm up for anything.

Enjoy the rest of your college football Saturday
D-backs clinch NL West; didn't see it >>
PHOENIX - The Arizona Diamondbacks clinched the National League West Division Championship here Friday night with a 3-1 victory over the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants. The game was played at Chase Field, roughly a 20-minute drive from my hotel. I was late getting back from Salt River Fields in Scottsdale and didn't have time to even try to get to the stadium, although I wasn't really planning on it anyway. I was content to sit down and write my final story of the day and watch the division-clincher on TV.

As it turned out, the hotel at which I'm staying - a very nice Embassy Suites - doesn't provide Fox Sports AZ, the channel that carries the D-backs' games. I could only think of going to Chicago and staying at a very nice hotel and finding out it doesn't offer WGN or Comcast Chicago. It just shouldn't happen that way.

Ah well, what do you do. I could have gone across the street to one of the many fine establishments within walking distance of my hotel and certainly would have been able to catch the game, but I was finishing up a story from the PG/EvoShield National Championship. And as you all can tell from my earlier posts on this trip, I'm all work and no play.

Former Perfect Game standout and D-back rookie Paul Goldschmidt had a two-run triple to lead the Snakes. Wish I could have seen it.
Diamonds in the desert >>
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - This place is absolutely awesome.

I'm speaking, of course, of the 13-field baseball complex located on Native American land known as Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. It is the spring training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies and this weekend is playing host to the Perfect Game/EvoShield National Championship (Upperclass).

The stadium complex opened just last spring, and the D-Backs and Rockies packed fans into the 11,000-seat main stadium all spring. The PG/Evoshield event isn't utilizing the main stadium, but is taking full advantage of the 12 other immaculately prepared fields symetrically distributed over the complex's 140 acres.

The D-Backs and Rockies both use the main stadium for their home spring training games, and then each club has six regulation practice fields to call their own. Each side of the complex - the Desert Fields (D-Backs) and Mountain Fields (Rockies) - also contain batting cages, bunting fields, infield fields, agility fields and pitching mounds. While the PG/EvoShield games were getting started at 8 a.m. Friday, there were already a couple of dozen D-Back minor-leaguers going through drills on one of the fields. Both organizations have their own offices, weight rooms and cafeterias.

I spent most of Friday morning tried to find a place from which to work. I originally set up shop in a tower that sits in the middle of four of the D-Backs' practice fields, but it was uncovered and as the sun beat down and the temperature began to rise, I started to become a little concerned about how my laptop would fare in the heat. Not to mention how my rapidly balding, hatless head would fare.

I finally got situated at a desk inside the D-Backs offices, but it isn't very convenient trying to walk back and forth to the playing fields. It actually requires walking over a small plot of desert, landscaped with cactus, other desert shrubs and lots and lots of rocks. I half expected to trip over a rattlesnake.

So after I get some work done in here, I may finish the day back outside, even in the heat of the day. Then I'll make the nearly half-hour drive back toward my hotel, find some place to eat and settle in and watch the big club D-Backs clinch the NL West championship - if they can beat the San Francisco Giants tonight at Chase Field. That stadium, by the way, is only about 20 minutes from my hotel. Depending on what time I can get my work done, that's a drive I just might consider making.
The heat is on >>
PHOENIX - Having lived my entire 54 years in several cities in the state of Iowa, I am very familiar with the weather-related term, "It's not the heat, it's the humidity." It's a reference just about anyone living the Midwest or on the southern Atlantic Seaboard or in the Southeast or along the Gulf Coast can relate to.

After spending only about 1 1/2 days here in the "Valley of the Sun" I can assure you, it's all about the heat.

I arrived here at about 10 a.m. (PT) on Wednesday and after finding my hotel, I walked across the street and talked briefly to a waitress who was serving me lunch. She commented on what a "beautiful day" it was, since the temperature was a mere 101 degrees. She said the temp most of the summer had been in excess of 110. I nodded, and said something like, "Yeah, it's absolutely gorgeous."

I spent Thursday morning pounding out a couple of stories for PG's website, then climbed into my rental with the intent of finding Salt River Fields at Talking Stick near Scottsdale, the beautiful new facility that serves as the spring training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies and at which the PG/EvoShield National Championship (Upperclass) will be held. It is located adjacent to the Talking Stick Indian Reservation and is part of a larger resort that includes a casino and golf course.

I found Salt River Fields easy enough - a good half-hour drive from my hotel - and couldn't have been more impressed. There is this matter of the heat, however. When I hopped out of the rental at Salt River Fields at about 1 p.m. Thursday, the dashboard thermometer already read 103. When I hopped back in a half-hour later, it was 105.

I traveled back down the AZ 101 Loop and AZ 102 Loop on my way back to my hotel, and as I rolled through Tempe I spotted a sign directing me to Arizona State Unversity. I took the exit, thinking a quick tour of the ASU campus might be rewarding. Little did I know that I was about to run into one of the worst traffic jams I ever encountered. It took me a half-hour to move four blocks up the main drag to University Avenue and I was genuinely concerned about the vehicle over-heating. I don't know what the deal was, but I got off on University and spotted a college joint called "Devil's Advocate" and went in for an iced tea. No beer on this trip, young people. There was too way much driving in heavy traffic involved.

Devil's Advocate was really cool. It featured dozens of TVs but also hundreds of books on a rear bookshelf, and an impressive photographic history of ASU athletics. I was disappointed that most of the photos were football oriented - although there were dozens of the tragic Afghan war hero and former ASU and Arizona Cardinals star Pat Tillman I found pretty cool - and almost none from ASU's rich baseball history. If we have learned anything from all the conference shuffling that has been going on the past couple of weeks, it's that football rules.

When I jumped back in my rental at 3 p.m. the car thermometer read 110.

I was reminded of an experience I had in July of 1985 when I volunteered to drive a recently married friend of mine from Mount Vernon, Iowa - where she had just graduated from Cornell College and married a very good friend of mine - to Tucson so she could begin graduate school at the University of Arizona. Her new husband was stuck in Iowa for a few more weeks, I wasn't doing much and decided to drive their 1982 Ford Escort down to Tucson.

Me and my traveling companion took our time, stopping to see my folks in Denver and spending time in Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico. When we arrived in Tucson it was about 120 degrees. I flew back to Iowa the next day, and quickly wrote the young lady a letter. This was before the internet, before email, before cell phones, before texting. Back in those days, young people, we wrote letters. I made the comment to her that although it was hot in Tucson during my stay there, I found it tolerable because it was a "dry heat." Two weeks later she wrote back with a comment I'll never forget: "Dry heat may ass! It's 114! My (effing) steering wheel is melting!"

My steering wheel was starting to melt Thursday afternoon. I hope all the young prospects playing this weekend at the PG/Evoshield National Championship can avoid melting. I do know, however, they will be well taken care of and their safety will come first. It's not the heat, after all, it's the humidity.










Fort Myers in the rearview - for now >>
FORT MYERS, Fla. -With the Perfect Game WWBA Florida Qualifier still fresh in my mind it's time to re-pack the suitcase and get ready for a week in the desert. The Perfect Game/EvoShield Underclass and Upperclass National Championships will be played at breath-taking venues in the Phoenix area Sept. 23-26, and I'm supposed to be on plane at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday heading that direction.

I almost got a 12-hour head start. After a busy morning spent in the hotel's business office printing out travel itineraries and driving directions, and an afternoon spent soaking up the sights in the greater Fort Myers area one last time before I return in two weeks, I got back to my hotel room and unintentionally took a short nap. I woke up and the clock said 6:10. I thought I had overslept and was sure to miss my flight, but I hurriedly got dressed, finished packing and shot out of my room, hoping to make it to the airport in, what, two seconds?

I was halfway down the hall before it hit me that it was 6:15 p.m. Tuesday and not 6:15 a.m. Wednesday. Even as I write this several hours later I feel as if I dodged a bullet.

The Florida Qualifer was great and I expect the Arizona events to be even better. I sort of got a handle on things when I met up last night with PG veterans Ben Ford, Matt Bliven and Ben Collman at an outdoors venue right across a large mall parking lot from my hotel called "World of Beer." That's right. It's no typo. The place is called "World of Beer." Before the night was over, I felt like I had been around the world several times. The last beer I had was from Taiwan. Or maybe it was Trinidad. Tampico perhaps? Toronto? Nevermind.

I decided to spend my last afternoon in southwest Florida away from a computer screen and drove back out to Fort Myers Beach. I stopped for lunch at place just off the main drag called the "Smokin' Oyster Brewery" or the SOB, as the sign says. Another sign inside the open-air piece of heaven informs customers that "SOB" also stands for "Shrimp-Oysters-Beer." Other small signs behind the bar proclaim such words of wisdon as "Save the Earth. It's the only planet with beer," and "Notice: If you're in here drinking to forget, please pay in advance."

The bartender/cook was an old hippie (I know, that's kind of redundant these days) who wore a faded T-shirt emblazoned with the words "Peace, Love and Oysters." I didn't catch his name - he didn't offer and I didn't ask - but I'm guessing it was probably "Rick" or "Sandy" or something along those lines. The music being played covered everything from Mountain's "Mississippi Queen" to America's "Sister Golden Hair." I had Rick bring me a bottle of LandShark and a fried shrimp po-boy. I have eaten po-boy sandwiches in New Orleans, where I believe they originated, but this one was the best ever.

I left SOB and walked two blocks to the beach, where I embarked on a half-hour walk along the seaside while ominous clouds built out over Gulf of Mexico. Living in the Midwest, I have seen thousands of thunderstorms build over corn and soybean fields, but this one - gaining strength over the emerald-green Gulf - was truely a thing of beauty. The wind kicked up creating white-caps out on the usually placid sea, and I barely made it back to my car before the rain drops began to fall.

I have enjoyed my six days here in the Fort, and will look forward to returning on Oct. 4. But just ahead there are stops in Phoenix and Austin, Texas - the latter for the WWBA South Qualifier - which promise more great baseball and restaurants and hospitality. I only wonder if I can find a decent po-boy in Scottsdale.


Looking for a ballpark? You're in the right place >>
FORT MYERS, Fla. - As I stare out the pressbox window down onto the immaculate playing field at Hammond Stadium, I am reminded once again how blessed this city is in terms of the baseball facilities it can boast.

And that boast is about to get much louder.

I am at Hammond Stadium this morning for the semifinal round and championship games at the Perfect Game WWBA Florida Qualifier. It's an absolutely beautiful morning, and the semifinal game between No. 12 seed SWFL 18u and top-seed FTB Pride is just under way at the main stadium while Bucky Dent Academy and FTB Mizuno 17u play at an adjacent field.

Hammond Stadium, built in 1991, is the spring training home of the Minnesota Twins and the summertime home of the Fort Myers Miracle of the Class A Florida State League. Its outer facade was designed to resemble Churchill Downs and the stadium has seating for about 7,500 fans. There are five more regulation-size baseball practice fields - and four softball fields - at the Lee County Sports Complex in south Fort Myers where Hammond Stadium sits.

The Lee County Sports Compex is one of four venues in town that Perfect Game utilizes for tournaments and showcase events (PG also uses local high school fields). The others are City of Palms Park, the spring training home of the Boston Red Sox; the Boston Red Sox Player Development 5-plex, where the Red Sox have five practice fields; and venerable old Terry Park, which features four regulation fields and spouts a history the other venues can only dream about.

Terry Park, located just a long fly ball from this city's Historical Downtown District, has been around since early last century. Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack brought his Philadelphia Athletics to Terry Park for spring training in 1925, and the Cleveland Indians, Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals all called the quaint facility with its steel and wood grandstand their spring training home in years past. Three of its fields are named after Mack, Roberto Clemente and George Brett.

City of Palms Park sits just down the road from Terry Park in another residential area near downtown. The city planted 250 palm trees around the stadium, which opened in 1993, two years after Hammond Stadium. City of Palms, while still fairly new, won't be the Red Sox spring training home much longer, however.

The Red Sox are building a new training complex just across Daniels Parkway from Hammond Stadium. The state-of-the-art complex will feature a main stadium that seats 11,0000 and is essentially a mini-Fenway Park. It will feature the same playing field dimensions as Fenway and will have its own Green Monster in left field. Five practice fields will also sit on the site, which will eliminate the Red  Sox's need for the 5-Plex. The new complex will likely open in 2013.

Lee County and the city are hoping to attract another major league club to City of Palms, and it will be interesting to see what transpires. In the meantime, I'll continue to enjoy all of the outstanding baseball facilities in town, ball parks and playing fields that Perfect Game has used to showcase the talents of thousands of top prospects for well more than a decade.

Florida Qualifier playoffs are under way >>
FORT MYERS, Fla. - First round games in the 16-team playoffs at the WWBA Florida Qualifier have gotten started on fields at Terry Park and the Boston Red Sox Player Development 5-Plex.

FTB Pride (3-0-0) outscored its three pool-play opponents by a combined 16-1 and earned the No. 1 seed in bracket-play. It is playing No. 16 SWFL 17u (2-1-0) in a first-rounder at Terry Park. Orlando Scorpions 2012 Black (3-0-0) earned the No. 2 seed, South Florida Elite Squad Upper Class (3-0-0) came in with the No. 3 seed and No. 4 went to SWFL 16u (3-0-0).

Each of the top seven seeds made it through pool-play 3-0-0.

The complete tournament and playoff schedule can be found at:

http://www.perfectgame.org/events/TournamentSchedule.aspx?event=1114
Sunday, Funday! >>
FORT MYERS, Fla. - The first round of the playoffs (eight games) at the 2011 WWBA Florida Qualifier are scheduled to start at 2 p.m. Sunday at Terry Park and the Boston Red Sox Player Development 5-Plex. The final pool-play games are slated for Sunday morning, after which the seedings will be determined. The four quarterfinal games - all at Terry Park - are to follow at 4:30 p.m.

My plan going into the day is to provide one featurish type of story after the completion of pool-play to set up the playoff field, and another story setting up the semifinals after the completion of the quarters. Sunday should offer plenty of drama, and if anything unexpected comes up, I'll try to be on top of it. If any readers are aware of an "outside the lines" story that needs to be pursued, please contact me at jdahn@perfectgame.org.

The semifinal and championships games are scheduled for Monday (9 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. respectively) at Hammond Stadium at the Lee County Sports Complex.
And this is the college football center of the world? >>
FORT MYERS, Fla. - No morning post today because I was busy running back and forth between Terry Park and the Red Sox 5-Plex. No afternoon post because I was busy writing the stories I was after at Terry Park and the 5-Plex. No early evening post because ... I was looking for an angle and I thought I had found one.

It was a great day of baseball at the WWBA Florida Qualifer on Saturday. The weather was beautiful - sure it was hot, but there was never a threat of rain and quite tolerable all things considered. I put together stories about Palm Beach Select and SWFL 18u and, of course, both teams lost their games a couple of hours after I interviewed the head coaches. It's no "Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx" by any means, and both of the men I talked to were confident of their teams' chances at this tournament. A 1-1 record heading into the final day of pool-play on Sunday isn't a death knell.

There was one last game being played at Terry Park that started at 7 p.m. when I left just before 8 p.m. My mission was simple. I was in Florida with the biggest early season college football game of the year to be played between No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 5 Florida State scheduled to kickoff at 8 p.m. I raced back to my hotel and dumped my bags, and then made my way downstairs to Shoeless Joe's Sports Cafe, which is linked by the hip to the hotel lobby and is the hotel's official restaurant. I've spent many hours in Shoeless, and was quite aware they have a large, covered, open-air outdoor seating area with no less than eight outdoor television sets. The inside of the restaurant has dozens more TVs, and I was sure I would be sitting in a field of college football clover.

I arrived at the outdoor area, and much to my horror I discovered they had kareoke going on. One of the biggest football games in the country was on TV, I was in Florida where one of the teams involved in that game was located, and this "sports cafe" was offering kareoke. To be honest, I don't even know if I'm spelling that correctly, that's how far out of the loop I am. There wasn't a seat inside, so I jumped in my car and headed over to the old standby "Cheeseburger", just a couple of blocks on the other side of a huge mall.

You should know that it was not at all important for me to watch this game; I just thought it would be cool to be in Florida with rabid fans going nuts while I waited for the Navy Seals to show up and rescue the likes of the innocent bystanders, like myself. I once watched a college basketball game between Maryland and North Carolina in a Baltimore sports bar back in the early 90s and that's about what it came down to.

Anyway, Cheeseburger was cool for awhile, even though I was somewhat taken aback when all the help on both sides of the bar greeted me by my first name when I first walked in. It was all so casual: "How you doing, Jeff." "Where you've been keeping yourself, Jeff." All the usual stuff you would expect to hear from employees of an estalishment in the city in which you live. Never mind that I live 1,400 miles away from this particular place. I like to think the familiarity comes not from the frequency with which I have walked through the front door over the last 10 months, but with the fact that I'm an incredibly huge tipper. Perhaps not.

Anyway - and the rest of this I have written down on two bev-naps - about 6 minutes into the OU-FSU game, two guys with guitars started playing on a stage inside the joint that I had never noticed before. About the same time, a 20-something couple came in and sat down next to me, and when the guitar duo took a short break between "Horse With No Name" and "Sweet Home Alabama" - don't ask me how they made that musical transition so seamlessly - I asked the young man (who was wearing a Florida Gators jersey) where the folks in southwest Florida invest their loyalty.

"This is a place where college football isn't that big of deal," he said, obviously annoyed that I had distracted him from his very attractive date. "Here in Fort Myers, when it comes to football, it's all the (Tampa Bay) Bucs. Maybe a little bit of the (Miami) Dolphins."

I left him alone. On one of the nine TVs that circled the bar at Cheeseburger, the tender had on the Brewers-Reds baseball game. I was captivated.


Florida Qualifier openers in the books >>
FORT MYERS, Fla. - First off, let me say this. The first day of the PG WWBA Florida Qualifier certainly went much more smoothly than did the first quarter for my beloved Iowa State Cyclones in their Friday night ESPN2 football game against UConn. From what I can derive from the first half stats, ISU is extremely lucky to be trailing only 10-7 at halftime. And now Cyclone QB Steele Jantz is limping into the locker room with some sort of leg injury. It's hard to accept that the highlight of the season came in Week 2, when Jantz and the Clones beat rival Iowa. Good thing I don't live and die with college football.

I realized as I was leaving Terry Park tonight that this blog might be kind of boring the next three nights, at least as far as offering tidbits about the Fort Myers social scene. I'm back at the hotel already tonight, will eat a sub sandwich for dinner and probably in be in bed around 11 p.m. Maybe one of the younger PG guys should have tackled this blog. If I can get through Saturday and Sunday's long work days, I should be able to make it out for dinner and a couple of beers on Monday and Tuesday. We fly out to Phoenix early Wednesday morning.

I did get an opportunity to cruise through historic downtown Fort Myers with its red-brick streets while killing time this morning. It looked like there were some pretty cool eateries and pubs downtown and I'll try to visit a couple of them on either Monday or Tuesday.

There were five games played to kickoff the Florida Qualifer Friday, and the winners were SWFL 18u, IMG Baseball Academy, Gatorball Baseball Academy, Cyclone Baseball and SWFL 16u. Those latter three teams all won by shutout and blogs, game wraps and boxscores for all five games can be found at http://www.perfectgame.org/events/TournamentSchedule.aspx?event=1114.

I'll try to pick up the pace over the next couple of nights but tonight it's a roast beef hoagie and Bud Light here in my room at the Crowne Plaza. The only certainty I have about Saturday is I need to be at Terry Park at 8 a.m. and at the Red Sox 5-Plex at 10:30 a.m. for planned stories on SWFL 18u and Palm Beach Select.

Good night everybody!
Up and at 'em - just a little bit early >>
FORT MYERS, Fla. - I guess when a person arrives at an event a full five hours before its scheduled starting time, said person shouldn't be surprised to discover he's the first one there. That happened to me today when I pulled into the parking lot at Terry Park at 11:30 a.m. (EDT), well ahead  of the 4:30 p.m. starting time for the first games at this year's Perfect Game WWBA Florida Qualifier.

I thought someone else would be here getting a jump on things, and, acutally, there was: one solitary Lee County employee mowing some grass inside a small grove of palm trees. I have set up a temporary office behind home plate at Park T. Pigott Memorial Field, the main stadium field at Terry Park. It's the only place I could find a table, chair and an electrical outlet. It's already another hot, steamy day here in southwest Florida and, predictably, clouds are starting to build to the west. I'll make a move inside as soon as someone gets here to unlock a door or two.

There are only five games involving 10 teams being played today, all on the four fields at Terry Park. Everyone gets in the act Saturday when the 42 teams that don't play today will play the first two of their three scheduled pool-play games at venues all across Fort Myers. You can follow this link http://www.perfectgame.org/events/TournamentSchedule.aspx?event=1114 to access the complete tournament schedule.

Check back here periodically, and also check out "Scout Blog Central" on our home page after the games begin at 4:30 p.m.






Day 1 in the books >>

It was a great day in southwest Florida on Thursday. A little on the warm side (93 degrees, high humidity) but it rained only briefly late in the afternoon. If this weather pattern persists over the weekend for the PG WWBA Florida Qualifier, complaints will be far and few between.

I took the opportunity to use the morning to check out the three main venues the Qualifier will use - Terry Park, the Boston Red Sox Player Development 5-Plex and City of Palms Park - just to make sure nothing had changed since I was last here in late July. Not that I have any control over anything, I just like to have a certain state of mind, if you know what I mean.

I then jumped in my rental - a very fine 2011 Nissan Altima, I must say - and headed west 20 minutes for Fort Myers Beach, a small city and tourist destination just across a freakishly high bridge from Fort Myers proper that sits on an island with one or two other communities. The main drag of Fort Myers Beach features some beach-side hotels, beach access areas ($6 parking) and other attractions like a Hooters restaurant and tattoo parlors.

I settled in at a beach-front restaurant/bar called Junkanoo which featured a beautiful open-air vista of the gulf, while also providing shade from a relentless sun that already had pushed the temperature into the 90s shortly after noon. I enjoyed an appetizer of "grouper bites" a tasty fresh seafood lunch that only cost $10. Heck, a guy can't get a cheesburger and fries for less than $10 anymore. I also took time out to call my mom in Denver, Colo., and congratulate her on her 83rd birthday. I love you Mom!

From there I went back to the mainland, where I setteled in for a couple more cold ones at "Cheeseburger." Even here in southwest Florida, which is devoid of a Division I football university - Florida Gulf Coast University here in Fort Myers has developed a very fine D-I baseball program -most of the local radio and newspaper conversation centers around the Florida Gators, the Miami 'Canes and the Florida State 'Noles. College football rules in Florida (college baseball as well, at the same three universities).

Somewhat to my surprise, there were many folks at Cheesburger talking about the night's Rays-Red Sox game in Boston. I was wearing a "Rays Baseball" T-shirt that I bought on a previous trip to the Fort, and that prompted some of the conversation. I love talking baseball, even on a steamy southwest Florida night when most of the folks want to talk about college football. For a few moments, anyway, I think I distracted them. Alas, when I returned to my hotel room, the channel the Rays and Red Sox were playing on wasn't available. Damn the bad luck.

Check back here Friday for more pertinent highlights and stories from the WWBA Florida Qualifer.

Thanks again

The travels begin >>
FORT MYERS, Fla. - There were five of us proudly wearing the Perfect Game colors (or a reasonable facsimile) who left the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids early Wednesday morning and eventually climbed out of a Boeing 757 at the Southwest Florida Regional Airport here early Wednesday afternoon. There were the young PG pros - Ben Ford, Matt Bliven, Ben Collman and Todd Gold - and one middle-aged but enthusiastic typist who will attempt to chronicle some of the goings on at a total of five Perfect Game tournaments over the next four weeks. The latter would be me, Jeff Dahn.

This is the first stop on the month-long adventure. We are here for the 2011 Perfect Game WWBA Florida Qualifier, a 52-team tournament that runs Friday through Monday at eight Fort Myers venues, including Terry Park, the Boston Red Sox Player Development 5-Plex and City of Palms Park. The middle of next week, we'll jet out west to the Greater Phoenix area for the 2011 Perfect Game/EvoShield Upperclass and Underclass National Championships, which run concurrently Sept. 23-26 at ballparks in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Peoria.

From Arizona, we'll make a stop in Austin, Texas, for the PG WWBA South Qualifer Sept. 30-Oct. 3, and then its back to balmy Fort Myers for the WWBA Underclass World Championship Oct. 7-10.

The qualifier tournaments are significant because the champions are awarded an expense-paid invitation to the granddaddy of them all, the 2011 PG WWBA World Championship Oct. 20-24 over in Jupiter, Fla., just up Highway A1A from trendy West Palm Beach.

Over the duration of these travels, I will use this space for not only quick updates about the tournaments themselves, but will also try to offer some perspective in terms of the communities in which these important Perfect Game events are held. That could mean observations about the venues - all of which promise to be spectacular - the local cuisine (the least expensive local cusine, anyhow) and which establishment in each city has the coldest beer. My front-runner in Fort Myers currently is a Jimmy Buffett-themed establishment called "Cheeseburger in Paradise" where the friendly bar-keep will pour you a frosty 22-ounce mug of Landshark beer for just under $4.

Check back here periodically for updates, and also be sure to visit www.perfectgame.org daily for scouting blogs and feature stories originating from these tournaments.