FORT MYERS, Fla. – The Perfect Game summer and fall tournament seasons would not exist – let alone thrive – without the annual participation and support of the country’s most successful travel ball organizations.
Among them are the Houston Banditos and Dallas Patriots from Texas; Team Elite and East Cobb Baseball out of Georgia; California-based CBA Marucci and GBG Marucci and, of course, Florida’s own FTB, Elite Squad and Orlando Scorpions, to cite a very small sampling.
There is another lesser-known fact involving the annual PG tournament schedules, especially those for the annual PG WWBA and PG BCS national championship tournaments that take place every June and July. The PG summer and fall tournament seasons also would not exist – let alone thrive – without smaller programs like Florida Surge Select out of Boca Raton.
Always competitive and never to be taken lightly, the Florida Surge are at this week’s 17u PG BCS Finals with a talented roster that fully expects to challenge for a podium finish at the PG national championship tournament.
At just about every PG tournament played every summer and fall, there are teams like the Florida Surge that bump the bigger programs to the back of the crowd by winning pool championships, earning respectable seeds in bracket-play and making strong runs into the events’ round-of-eight.
“The thing about us is, we’re a low budget team and we’ve managed to stay around for 10 years,” Florida Surge Select owner and head coach George Sands said Sunday from the CenturyLink Sports Complex before the Surge and the Atlanta Blue Jays endured the first of at least three long lightning and rain delays.
“Some teams come and go,” Sands told PG. “Some of the powerhouses – the teams with the money – come and go, but we’re always here, we’re always competing. We’re that working-class, blue-collar group that comes out and works as hard as we can but sometimes we just don’t have the depth to put the bigger teams away.”
That’s not to say the Surge isn’t capable of getting the attention of some of those “bigger teams” from time-to-time. In 2014, they advanced to the second-round of the playoffs (the final 16) at the 16u PG BCS Finals and finished 5-2-1 after losing to the Florida Burn Pennant in bracket-play. They then advanced to the quarterfinals at the 18u PG Labor Day Classic and finished 4-1-0 after being eliminated by the South Florida Storm Blue.
In late May, the Surge were at the 18u PG WWBA East Memorial Day Classic and again made the elite-eight where they lost to the Florida Burn Easton, 2-1, and finished 4-1-0. Nine Surge players were named to the all-tournament team at the event.
“I just want them to go out there and do everything they possibly can do, no matter who they’re playing against,” Sands said. “All we can do is worry about ourselves. If we happen to run out of pitching, well, we’ll run out pitching, but we’re going to go full throttle until we do; we’re going to try to beat anybody that’s in our way.”
Five Surge prospects here this week are ranked in the top-600 nationally in the class of 2016, including middle-infielder Michael Feliz of Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Feliz, who is ranked No. 277, attends the prestigious IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and has committed to Notre Dame. First baseman/outfielder Andrew Flaherty from Conifer, Colo., and outfielder/right-hander Brett Tivnan (top-550) from Hingham, Mass., also attend IMG.
2015 right-hander Nick Fernandez from Boca Raton – unranked but committed to Warner University (formerly Warner Southern College) in Lake Wales, Fla. – shutout D-Bat Wilson (Dallas, Tex.) with a complete-game four-hitter in the Surge’s 4-0 tournament-opening victory Saturday.
Other top 2016s include catcher Paul Macintosh from Miramar, Fla.; middle-infielder Myles McKisic (top-550) from Boynton Beach, Fla.; catcher/middle-infielder Daniel Ableman (top-500) from Southwest Ranches, Fla., and infielder Alec Bowman (top-600) from Boynton Beach.
Macintosh is an interesting prospect. Built like a fullback at 6-foot, 225-pounds, Macintosh gives a whole new meaning to the term “backstop” when referring to a catcher, and smashed a solo home run in the win over D-Bat Wilson that had an bat exit-speed of 101 mph, according to Sands.
“I look forward to us doing pretty well down here,” Macintosh said Sunday. “We’re supposed to hit the ball, field the ball and play good defense, and hopefully we’ll win some games. We really haven’t been doing that a lot lately so we’re going to have pitch and play defense a lot better than we usually do.
“We had a good game (Saturday),” he said. “We hit the ball pretty well, we played pretty good defense and I think we should do well (the rest of the way).”
The reference to not doing a lot of winning lately was in regard to the Surge’s participation in last week’s 17u PG WWBA National Championship at the LakePoint Sports Complex in Emerson, Ga., where they didn’t show as well as they as they would have liked. They finished 2-3-1 at the rain-plagued event and Sands said it was just a matter of the team not hitting as well as it’s capable of.
All of the players here this week knew in advance that they would be playing in two Perfect Game 17u national championship tournaments back-to-back the first two weeks in July, and they’re all-in. They knew the drill because as soon as Perfect Game releases its WWBA and BCS Finals schedules each winter, Sands decides where he want to go and has his players sign what amounts to a contract that has them committing to be at certain events. All of the parents don’t always make the trip, but the players show up as promised.
They will play in one more PG tournament after this one: the PG/EvoShield Classic July 28-Aug. 2 back at LakePoint in Emerson, Ga.
There are a handful of players on the roster that attend the same high school, including the three at IMG, but for the most part these guys go their separate ways for nine months out of the year. They stay close, however, with many of them training together during the offseason.
“It’s a pretty good group of guys,” Macintosh said. “We play pretty well together; we bond pretty well as a team. We have our ups-and-downs and we all have tough times sometimes, but we’re all brothers. We’ve been together a long time and we’ve learned to know each other on the field and off the field. When we’re on the field, we really don’t have to say anything because we all know each other so well.”
Feliz and Fernandez are the only Surge prospects on the official roster submitted for this event that list a college commitment, but that will certainly change in the coming months – if not weeks. Sands said every player he had on the roster in his first group between 2006 through 2010 signed to play college baseball at some level and he expects the same sort of showing from this group.
According to the Florida Surge Select website, the organization has graduated 29 of its alumni into either the collegiate or professional ranks in the last four years, and 47 in the last nine years.
“My ultimate goal is to get 100 percent of our guys committed and at the same time knock off as many people as we can along the way,” Sands said. “We really feel like we can beat anybody on any given day. Now, if you get into a seven-game series, there might be a little bit of difference there, but it really has been a lot of fun.”
It has been a lot of fun for the Florida Surge, coming out here and competing at the highest level, giving the “big teams” all they can handle and making deep runs into bracket-play. Perfect Game couldn’t offer such successful and rewarding tournament experiences without the country’s most prominent travel ball organizations being involved, but it also couldn’t do it without groups like the Florida Surge Select being involved, either. Don’t be surprised to see this version of the Surge still playing on Thursday and maybe even into Friday.
“This group is really still trying to find its own identity put pitching and defense has been the key for us,” Sands said. “We don’t have a ‘stud’, we have a bunch of guys that just get out and go. The chemistry of this team has been one of the best we’ve had; they like to be around each other.
“The special thing that sets our program apart is the ‘team’ aspect, like with this group staying together all the way though.”