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Sunday, September 04, 2016

Golisano visit simply 'awesome'

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Greg Wagner Photography


PG Select Baseball Festival Flickr Page

FORT MYERS, Fla. – If the workout session late Saturday morning/early afternoon at the jetBlue Player Development Complex bordered on grueling at times due to fairly intense heat and humidity, a visit to the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida later in the day offered welcome respite.

To use a word oft-repeated by the 40 14- and 15-year-old prospects that are part of the inaugural Perfect Game Select Baseball Festival, the stop at Golisano was nothing short of “awesome.”

The children’s hospital, which is part of the Lee County Memorial Health System and is located not far from the area’s Gulf Coast beaches, is the beneficiary of this year’s PG Select Baseball Festival. As of early Sunday morning, the players themselves had collected nearly $28,500 through individual fund-raising efforts; further proceeds will be generated from Sunday night’s all-star game and through ongoing PG philanthropic efforts.

The young prospects were readily welcomed by the gracious staff as they filed into the hospital after their lengthy morning workout, and it wasn’t long before they were given the opportunity to interact with a handful of young patients. The experience was both gratifying and eye-opening.

“This is great; this is one of the best parts (of the weekend),” Victor Mederos, a class of 2020 East Team right-hander/infielder from Miami, said about a half-hour into the visit. “This is awesome being with these kids and knowing that you could be in that situation, and knowing that you can help them.

“It’s just awesome; it’s the best part of the day. … We came here to play baseball but to be able to help the kids, that’s even better.”

Before the players met the young patients and were taken on a short tour of the pediatric oncology unit, they were addressed by both Jason Powella, a Lee Memorial Health System Foundation Development Associate II, and Tracy Connelly, a Lee Memorial Health System Foundation Director of Gift Planning.

The two men explained that their jobs at the Foundation are to help raise philanthropic dollars from across the community to support the hospital’s programs and aid in the construction of new buildings and facilities. Outside donations, like the money the players raised, is also welcome, of course.

The money the Select Baseball Festival players raised will go toward a $203 million project that involves the construction of a new wing to the children’s hospital which will open at the end of March 2017. The fund-raising drive has raised $198.8 million of its stated goal so it is right on track. The nearly $28,500 the players raised might seem like a drop in the bucket but it’s anything but that in the eyes of Golisano Children’s Hospital administrators.

“You guys were very generous with your donations … from all over the United States, so you all should be very proud of that,” Powella told the group. “Congratulations again on being selected for this year’s (Festival). It’s my understanding that it is quite an honor to be selected … and hopefully everybody is enjoying some of the sunshine here in Southwest Florida.”

The top fund-raisers among the players – recognized Saturday night at the Awards Dinner – were East Team members Michael Brooks and Dylan Crews, and West Team member Ryan Lynch. Brooks, a 2020 shortstop/outfielder from Lake Worth, Fla., raised $3,223; Crews, a 2020 catcher/right-hander from Longwood, Fla., brought in $3,028, and Lynch, a 2020 left-hander/outfielder from Granger, Ind., raised $2,039.

Once the Festival prospects had a chance to meet a couple of the patients and their siblings, the real fun began. There were board games to be played, puzzles to be assembled, coloring to be done, a quick session of hide-and-seek to be acted out and finally, a pretty impressive display of card tricks by one young person that had the players oohing and aahing.

“Just being around the kids and everything and building a relationship with them, it’s just awesome,” Crews said while still trying to figure out one of the card tricks. “There’s nothing better than this. In the future, I hope I can continue to work with kids, just helping them out. … This is great; this is awesome. This is probably one of the best experiences of my life.”

With Saturday night’s Awards Dinner and a full day of activities on Sunday still ahead of him, Mederos found the right words to describe the PG Select Baseball Festival experience after just the first seven hours.

“I’ve met a lot of people, played a bunch of baseball already, had a home run derby; it was kind of hot but it was fun,” he said. “This (the hospital visit) will always be in my mind. Just being here with these guys is awesome.”




Dmitri Young addresses the players at the Awards Dinner

Select Festival prospects feted at Awards Dinner

BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. – One of the expansive ballrooms at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa was the gathering place for Saturday night’s PG Select Baseball Festival Awards Dinner, where all 40 prospects were recognized and entertained by Master of Ceremonies and PG National Spokesman Daron Sutton.

The players and their families heard from representatives of the Golisano Children’s Hospital and the Lee County Sports group with additional comments coming from current and former big-leaguers. It was a night of celebration for the young prospects as most of them are just starting out their high school careers.

“You are the best 40, a very select few of you sophomores,” Sutton told the gathering. “You, amongst a half-a-million (high school players), are in the early stages of prime-time development, and you are here … Congratulations.”

Early in the program, and even before a dinner of prime rib and seafood was served, Sutton introduced Pittsburgh Pirates superstar and 2003 PG All-American Andrew McCutchen as the co-MC. McCutchen, a five-time National League All-Star and the 2013 NL Most Valuable Player with the Pirates, wasn’t in attendance but addressed the crowd via video tape.

In the video, McCutchen, who attended Fort Meade (Fla.) High School, recalled that when he first attended his high school team’s tryouts as an eight-grader, he noticed there was a varsity side and junior varsity side, and he decided to follow all the friends that he’d grown up with over to the JV side. It wasn’t long before the head coach blew his whistle and motioned McCutchen over to the varsity side of the tryouts.

“It was probably my first scare,” he related with a laugh. “Here I was with these 11th and 12th-graders and I’m in the eighth-grade; I wasn’t even in high school yet and he’s got me with these guys. I had a lot of work ahead of me right from the start but I held my own and I had a lot fun. I just felt like it was all about proving to myself that I was capable of playing with the varsity at the age.”

Later in the video, McCutchen spoke about the sacrifices this teenaged parents had to make in order for him pursue his dreams. His parents were trying simply to make ends meet – “They were trying to keep the lights turned on,” McCutchen said – and he was oblivious to all of that until he became a young adult.

The prospects and their families also heard from former big-leaguer and current scout Dmitri Young. A California native who the St. Louis Cardinals selected with the No. 4 overall pick in the first-round of the 1991 Amateur Draft, Young enjoyed a 13-year big-league career and was a two-time All-Star, first with the Detroit Tigers (2003) and then the Washington Nationals (2007).

He is the older brother of Delmon Young, the No. 1 overall pick of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2003 who twice played in the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla. (2000-01).

Young spoke to the young players about his own journey and the challenges that he faced. He asked them to recall the days – not so very long ago – when they were content to play for the postgame reward of pizza and ice cream, and how now things might be changing. He stressed the importance of maintaining good grades in school so that if baseball doesn’t work out, there will be plenty of options to fall back on.

Young continued to chase his own dreams and enjoyed a very fruitful major league career. Before walking away from the podium, he offered the young players a couple of words of advice: “This is a showcase … show off.”

One of the highlights of the program came when Sutton summoned four catchers – Logan Paustian from La Grande, Ore., Calvin Harris from Peosta, Iowa, Dylan Crews from Longwood, Fla., and Jackson Miller from Trinity, Fla. – to the stage to talk about the finer points of playing the position.

After a brief question-and-answer session with the four, Sutton asked Paustian to remain on stage to introduce his older brother, Hunter, who was in attendance. Hunter Paustian is a two-time cancer survivor who has also received a heart transplant.

The top Golisano Children’s Hospital fund-raisers were also recognized, as noted above: Michael Brooks, Crews and Ryan Lynch.

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