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Tournaments | Story | 7/13/2015

'Melting pot' begins to mesh

Jeff Dahn     
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – After opening play at the 17u PG BCS Finals on Saturday with what looked to be a resounding 10-3 victory over Golden Prospects Academy out of Sugar Land, Tex., Philadelphia, Pa.-based Chandler World Black 17u let a one-run, seventh-inning lead slip away in a 6-5 loss to the Florida Hardballers 17u on Sunday.

Losing a game that way might have been discouraging to a lot of teams, but Chandler World had to score three runs in the top of the seventh to grab their short-lived 5-4 lead in the first place. At game’s end, head coach Jeremy Accardo was pleased with the way his “just-getting-to-know-you” team hit the ball all day and the way it battled back in the end.

“Line-outs are going to happen, the game’s going to come back around and we gave ourselves a chance to win in the seventh,” Accardo said after the setback. “Young kids have to learn sometimes that the game should slow down in intense situations rather than speedup; when you try to do too much, you end up doing a little less. … That’s our job here is to teach these kids lessons so they don’t have to learn them in intense situations when maybe a championship is on the line.”

The learning curve for the players on the Chandler World Black 17u roster might be a little steeper than it is for other teams at the 17u PG BCS Finals. They not only have to learn the intricacies of situational baseball at the highest amateur level, but they also have to learn about each other.

These players have come together for this tournament from their hometowns in at least 12 states, places as far-flung as Arizona and Delaware, Colorado and New Jersey, and Utah and Florida. The Chandler World organization assembles its teams with players from all over the country and it is the responsibility of its coaches – like Accardo and his top assistant Mike Taylor – to mold them into one big, happy, cohesive unit. It is from that context that, at certain levels, Sunday’s loss was acceptable.

2016 corner-infielder/right-handed pitcher Matt Mervis from Potomac, Md., is a Duke University commit and the 197th-ranked national prospect in his class. Mervis doesn’t like to lose under any circumstance but understands it’s going to take a day or two for the team’s glue to take hold.

“It’s been great meeting a lot of new guys from all over the country and we have great coaching,” he said Monday morning. “We really came together (Sunday) after struggling a little bit the first day; we put our personalities aside and just played as a team.”

This is a talented roster consisting almost entirely of class of 2016 prospects. It is led by Mervis, outfielder Wyatt Featherston from Lakewood, Colo. (No. 237-ranked), right-hander Sean Mooney from Marmora, N.J. (No. 428, St. John’s U.), middle-infielder Rykker Tom from Cedar City, Utah (top-500, U. of San Diego), left-hander/outfielder Will Brennan (top-550, Kansas State) and left-hander/first baseman Jake Sadowitz  from Maniapan, N.J. (U. of Pennsylvania).

It’s a melting pot, to be certain, but it’s the good kind, one that mixes only the finest ingredients and produces a gourmet sauce to be enjoyed by everyone. Most importantly, these talented players have been put in a situation where they can learn from each new situation as it presents itself.

“Each kid plays the game a little bit differently,” Tom said. “Everyone’s seen some different things like the weather and other things that come into play, but at the end of the day we all come in and play together pretty well. Each day, we’ll have played together that much longer, and right now we’re still trying to figure out each other a little bit; by (Tuesday) we’re going to be pretty close.”

Mervis agreed: “Different places (in the country) play baseball differently. Northeast, Southeast, West Coast guys, it’s all different. We really just try to get rid of how we’re used to playing and listen to our coaches, and play how they want us to play; where they position us and how we pitch.”

All of the players on this talented Chandler World Black 17u roster are veterans of summertime travel ball, and they’ve learned to travel to these tournaments by themselves, make new friends as soon as they arrive at their destination and then ease into the entire process as seamlessly as possible. They’ll adjust to playing games at 8 a.m. one day and then as many as three games on another day if the weather forces delays and postponements.

Accardo, the head coach, pitched eight seasons (2005-12) in the major leagues with the San Francisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians and Oakland A’s and knows baseball top-to-bottom. He was very positive and upbeat with his comments to the team following Sunday’s loss, and encouraged his young players every step of the way while the game was being played. Accardo fully understood what this new group was experiencing Sunday.

“It’s tough to become a unit and jump on each other’s backs when you’re just meeting guys for the first time a day ago,” he said. “That’s a real tough thing to do and we saw it (Sunday). We had a really big inning to take the lead in the top of the seventh, and our guys did it. Now, if we take a deep breath and we just throw strikes, then that’s our game.”

Accardo also understands he has a roster filled with kids who have led different lives in different parts of the country with different experiences both on and off the baseball field. He’s dealing with some players who have the luxury of being able to get outdoors and play the game the year-around and other guys who get to do that only four or five months out of the year when they’re back home.

 “We’ve got a great group of guys – great personalities, good players … We’re out to make these boys men, and teach them the game,” he said. “Our job as coaches is to teach these kids how to make the adjustments the quickest. Baseball is a game of adjustments and the quicker you can make them, the better you’re going to be.

“Hopefully, we can get them to the best schools they can possibly go to and succeed as baseball players and as (people),” he continued. “That’s what our goal is, and we’re going to put them in situations to succeed. If we do that and if we do our job, we’re going to win.”

Chandler World Black 17u put up eight runs in the bottom of the first on its way to a 14-1, four-inning victory over Chain Southeast Monday morning. Featherston tripled and drove in four runs and Ryan Hernandez from Pinecrest, Fla., tripled and drove in three in the win; Tom, batting leadoff, scored three times. After three games, Tom has six hits, including a triple and a double, with seven runs scored; Jared Gillis, a 2016 corner-infielder from Smyrna, Del., singled, doubled and tripled, drove in six runs and scored five.

Monday’s outcome left Chandler World with a 2-1 in pool-play, with pool games remaining Tuesday and Wednesday. Chandler World Black 17u is in one of the two eight-team pools which send their top-three teams into the 28-team playoffs, and the way this team is hitting, It appears this melting pot is beginning to simmer and poised to make a strong push into bracket-play.

“We’ve all come together and we’re playing (well) together,” Tom said. “It’s baseball; we all love playing the game. We’re just all out here to have fun and we have each other’s back. It’s a little different the first 10 minutes you meet each other but other than that we’re all playing baseball, the game we love.

“There’s really not much to complain about right there,” he said. “It’s a little different if you’re playing with someone who hates baseball, but everyone’s good on this team.”

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