Tournaments | Story | 7/10/2020

Longshots open up at 17u MW Elite

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Jacob Scharm (Perfect Game)

MARION, Iowa – The players, parents and coaches that made up the contingency representing the Longshots Baseball Teal team arrived at the Prospect Meadows Complex Friday morning knowing that their long, deep winter of despair might finally be lifting. And it had nothing to do with the stunningly beautiful summer day that greeted them.

The Downers Grove, Ill.-based Longshots Teal had finally been released from their months-long quarantine by traveling to Eastern Iowa to take part in the Perfect Game 17U Midwest Elite Championship.

Due to restrictions put in place by the rampaging coronavirus pandemic, their tournament-opener late Friday morning against Hit Dawg out of Plymouth, Minn., was the Longshots’ first real game of the summer season.

Along with the Longshots Baseball Navy team that is also here at the PG 17u Midwest Elite Championship this weekend-they’ve spent the spring and early summer adhering to Phase 3 and 4 coronavirus protocol back home.

It’s worth noting that the Longshots Baseball program is associated with the Chicago Scouts Association organization and has been in existence since 1993.

“For the last three weeks we’ve been scrimmaging against each other, so we’re hoping to get the chance to compete against somebody different and see how we do,” Longshots head coach Jerry Stanton told PG on Friday. “The practices the last couple of days have been really sharp and we’ll see where it goes on the field.”

It was obvious from the outset that the players were chomping at the bit to get their summer started after an excruciatingly long delay. Their enthusiasm was both evident and contagious even as they went through their pre-game warmups.

“We’ve all had this circled on the calendar since the whole quarantine started just because we’ve known this was going to be our first tournament,” top 2021 righthander Jack Rodi said. “We all got our work in even when we couldn’t practice together by going out to fields that wouldn’t kick us off. We’ve all really been looking forward to this tournament.”

Rodi’s teammate Keenan Burgos was also excited to get things going: “I’ve been waiting for this all (spring) after not playing (a) high school (season) and then being stuck inside,” he said. “”I’ve just been waiting to get out and play.”

The players on the Longshots Teal roster are all in the class of 2021 and feature four prospects who are ranked as top 500s nationally, including the 6-5, 200 pound righthander Rodi, a Creighton commit. The others are corner-infielder Jack Angus, first baseman/outfielder Keenan Burgos and infielder Christopher Worcester.

On paper, it might start with those highly regarded prospects but it certainly doesn’t end there. Taken as a  whole, Stanton just really likes this outfit.

“I was fortunate enough to coach them as freshmen and where they’ve come from freshmen to now is amazing,” he said.

He went on to mention the righthander Jacob Scharm-who got the start Friday morning-outfielder Matt Scolan, third baseman Cole Warehime and middle-infielder Austin Murray.

“I think our most important thing is playing together as a group,” Rodi said. “We had a lot of new guys in the fall and we’ve had some guys come and go throughout the year, but the important thing to our group is not the (prospect) rankings, not the individuals, it’s the team.”

Burgos, like Rodi, is proud of the way this group is able to work together with a team-first mentality, which leads to a certain amount of fluidity once they take the field. He also pointed out that it’s a physically imposing collection of young prospects with seven rosters spots occupied by guys who stand 6-3 or taller and top 200 pounds.

“We want to compete,” Burgos said. “We know this is our first tournament and a lot can happen but of course we want to go as far as we can. If someone outplays us then they outplay us, but we’re going to compete.”

The Longshots Teal didn’t exhibit a lot of rust in dusting off Hit Dawg 10-3 in six innings (time limit) on Friday. Colin Blazek contributed a pair of singles and three RBI; Matt Scolan singled and drove in three runs; Burgos singled twice and scored a run and Austin Murray doubled and scored a run.

Righthanders Jacob Scharm, Ethan Kulpinski and Ty Klayum combined on a 10-strikeout, four-hitter with just two walks to keep Hit Dawg at bay.

“Our mindset is that we need to focus on us and not worry about all the outside noise and the other teams,” Rodi said. “We know that if we control what we can control we’re going to go out there and play our game. If we happen to lose, as long as we left it all out there on the field, then we did our job.”

Angus, the top 500 corner-infielder, told PG that the kind of attitude of which Rodi spoke is instilled in the Longshots’ players at an early age through a developmental program he described as nothing short of “great.”

“I’ve been playing with the Longshots since I was 11 and I’ve just seen myself progress and progress. It’s just amazing what they do,” he said. “We’ve got great coaches and lot of returning players come back and give us feedback on colleges and pro guys. It’s just a great experience with all the progression and the developmental program.”

The spring and early summer of 2020 have presented unique challenges to all of humankind as COVID-19 has stubbornly refused to relax its deadly grip. Stanton works in the healthcare field and has been impressed with the way his high school-aged players have faced down the barriers that continue to pop up in front of them.

“This is probably the first time that many of them have had adversity like this in their lives, and they’re getting better,” Stanton said. “I’m constantly on them about social distancing … and they’re starting to understand it more and more.

“Like I tell them it’s not going away rather soon; it’s going to be here so get used to it. With the maturity factor they’re starting to become young adults which is kind of cool  to see from where they were as freshmen to now.”

While wrapping up his conversation with PG Friday morning, Stanton once again spoke of the tremendous chemistry that both of the Longshots teams competing here this weekend enjoy. And that’s not just within their separate dugouts, either, considering the teams practice as just one big unit.

He knows the chances of it ever happening are slim, but Stanton said he would love to one day have both of his teams face-off against each other in a PG tournament championship game. In the meantime, he’s content to watch his players develop and have fun playing the game they love while forming friendships they will hold onto for a lifetime.

And on this brilliantly sunny and comfortable day in the second week of July, just being back out on the field was more than enough.

“My expectations are to let them play and see what we need to work on,” Stanton said. “I thought this would be a great test to come out here and play against teams from Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin and some (other) teams from Chicago and get a couple of games under our belt.”

It’s a baseball feast, and that belt has been loosened.

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