Tournaments : : Story
Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Little big leaguers

Matt Rodriguez        
Photo: Mike Sagaro
EMERSON, Ga. – “Future Leaguers”

No, that’s not the name of any of the teams participating in this week’s 13u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational. It’s actually the name of the television show that Miami, Fla.- based MVP Elite Squad will be starring in sometime in the near future. How many 12 and 13-year-olds can say to their friends that they starred in a television show that chronicled their baseball lives because they are just that good? The answer: not a whole lot.

When owner Mike Sagaro started the MVP baseball organization, named after his apartment business, six years ago, it was in an effort to give the ultra-talented but poor Miami-area kids a chance to play travel baseball. It started with donating facilities to the areas of Miami that were well below the financial median and recruiting area kids to play baseball competitively; something most of them may never have had the chance to do if it wasn’t for the philanthropic efforts of Sagaro. This was the makeup of the organization in its first two years of existence.

“It’s great to give these special kids the opportunity,” said Sagaro, “kids that probably never would have gotten the chance to play travel baseball.”

From there, they won just about every state and national championship in every single age group from 13-years-old down. It was turning out to be as successful as Sagaro had hoped, but it would be hard to imagine Sagaro had visions of national spotlight and a television production on and CBS Sports.

What started six years ago as an effort to expose the talent of poor Miami-area ballplayers has become an organization which can only appropriately be described as a national powerhouse for the elite one-percent of youth ballplayers who already have imaginable expectations of a big league future.

The team has expanded past the Miami area. Its reputation has preceded itself and families have up and left their entire lives to move to Miami and focus on the lives of their children. Most kids who love the game like to say ‘baseball is life’, but few live it like the members of MVP Elite Squad.

“Most of the kids have been home schooled because of their excessive schedules,” Sagaro said. “The families have given their lives because these kids have a legit shot. Jake Holland’s whole family moved from Pensacola, Fla. just for the program.”

Sagaro is also sponsoring catcher Chase Adkison, who is from California. Adkison is staying with Sagaro’s family during the long season while his dad works at an onshore oil rig in Utah. His brother, Tyler, attends San Diego State University as a member of the baseball team. Chase is a three-time MVP by the AABC (American Amateur Baseball Congress) since he was nine-years-old.

Then there’s Yordani Carmona, a rising eighth grader who has already been clocked at 84 mph (miles per hour) at this week’s Perfect Game tournament. He’s already earned the reputation across the country as having the hardest fastball (velocity-wise) among kids his age.

You have a standout shortstop with professional expectations in Yohandy Morales, who’s already been named First Team All-American shortstop at multiple age groups for two straight years. His father, Andy Morales, escaped Cuba in 2000 and signed a contract with the New York Yankees as a third baseman.

Morales, along with teammates Colton Olasin and Kevin Martin, played for last year’s inaugural 12u USA National Team, where they won the IBAF (International Baseball Federation) World Cup with an 8-1 win over host Chinese Taipei.

The current team is made up of players who come from various financial backgrounds and the organization is run similar to a Major League franchise, with paid coaches, routine strength and conditioning, daily private instruction, and efforts to receive better educations.

“They’ve been on ESPN and CBS Sports,” said Sagaro. “They’ve played in every national championship that exists in the youth baseball world. They’ve been on that limelight stage. It’s no pressure for them. That’s what they do. It’s what they’re built for.”

This is a very unique baseball team, especially for how young the kids are. They already experience big league attention with the daily grind of a big league schedule.

“We’re in a different city or different state probably every other week,” Sagaro estimated. “We’ve been to seven different states in the last six months, trying to keep them competitive against top competition in those different states.”

Apparently, competition can be tough to come by for these unimaginably gifted ballplayers. They’ve accumulated a 75-2 record since February 1st and have played in all the major tournament across the country. The most impressive part is that this week’s 13u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational is the first time the team has played down with their age group.

“The cool thing about this team is there are no egos because everybody’s at that same talent level,” Sagaro said. “They’re humble. When they’re here we keep them grounded. That’s our number one thing, because they are all at that level. They always have that bond. These guys were hand-selected from all over the country. It’s like an all-star showcase team.”

The impressive résumé of MVP Elite Squad has earned them high marks by most of the youth baseball sanctioning bodies, including a No. 1 spot in the latest Baseball Youth 13u rankings.

“With MVP it was mostly us sponsoring all these kids and flying them around; the whole nine yards,” said Sagaro. “Now it’s become a national movement. It’s really cool and it’s really different. It’s really turned into something exciting.”

So exciting, in fact, that the team is often followed by a camera crew while at tournaments around the country. They get to show off their talents to the world while revealing some incredible success stories and the different routes they’ve taken to make baseball a priority.

“It’s all about their separate stories and how they’ve come from all over the country and given their life for this,” explained Sagaro. “They are the top one-percent, and not just of a certain area.”

Even though everyone involved has bought into the idea that these kids are the best of the best, Sagaro makes sure to regularly remind them how important education is because of the reality of becoming a professional ballplayer.

“No matter what, you have to teach them that less than one-percent make it to the big leagues, and a couple of them have fathers who are the proof, going from Cuba to the Yankees,” Sagaro said. “We’ve invested in them, education-wise. Our priority was getting them into the top private schools where education is as big as baseball is, and that was tough for me.”

Sagaro was happy to say many of his players will be attending Archbishop McCarthy, one of south Florida’s finest private schools for education. They aren’t too bad at baseball, either. The organization, run by former Major League pitcher Alex Fernandez, finished the 2014 campaign ranked 20th in the nation by Perfect Game.

This team will be the first MVP team to enter the world of Perfect Game tournaments, something Sagaro has been really looking forward to. With the incomparable talent they have when lined up with the rest of the field, Sagaro would not be surprised to capture his first Perfect game championship in the same week.

But Sagaro doesn’t forget why he originally started the MVP organization. He still recalls their first national championship quite a few years ago, not for the game itself, but for the reaction of his players when they saw Disney World for the first time.

“No matter how hard they throw or how hard they hit, they are still kids,” said Sagaro.

Normal kids, though? Far from it. Most kids can’t say they’ve already been on ESPN and have a camera crew following them around to baseball tournaments. These might be the most advanced 13-year-old ballplayers on the face of the earth, and they will try to prove to Perfect Game just that.

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