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Showcase  | Story  | 6/16/2017

Cabell a natural at PG National

Jeff Dahn     
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – The high school class of 2018’s No. 11-ranked national prospect lives quite comfortably in what he refers to during conversation as his perfect “baseball world” and it’s not a place Floridan Elijah Cabell is any hurry to vacate. Fortunately, he won’t have to move out any time soon; in fact, this weekend at jetBlue Park, that world just got quite a bit bigger.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound primary outfielder from Winter Park, Fla., is using some rare baseball downtime to join 280 of his closest friends at the Perfect Game National Showcase, which got underway Friday morning and will continue through next Wednesday.

“I was invited and I figured this would be a great opportunity for me to show off my ability,” Cabell said Friday afternoon before taking part in his PG National defensive workout session. “I was excited, and I said, ‘Why not?’ so I put it on my calendar. Now, let’s get it going.”

The 17-year-old Cabell surrounds himself with baseball the year-around by attending TNXL (The Next Level) Academy in Longwood, Fla., that basically offers nine months of baseball training. He then spends the summer and fall playing for the powerhouse Central Florida Gators Baseball program, based in nearby Altamonte Springs, Fla.

The PG National is the 27th PG event Cabell has attended, most of them WWBA tournaments with the Gators. He has been named to eight PG all-tournament teams, seven while playing with the Gators and one while playing with the TNXL Ducks at the PG High School Showdown-Academies tournament in March.

He was also included on the prestigious Top Prospect List at last year’s PG Junior National Showcase, and with so much experience on so many big stages, he was feeling quite comfortable in his surroundings at the PG National, even though it presents as big of a stage as can be found when it comes to high school showcases.

“I feel very prepared for this,” Cabell said. “I have great coaches that keep me in check, and after coming to these events you kind of get used to it. I was nervous at first but now I look at it as just another tournament.

“It is a big tournament where a lot of people are watching me, but I just try to stay relaxed. From the very beginning, I feel like I know what I need to do and now I can just have fun with it and be more relaxed.”

It was interesting that Cabell chose to use the word “tournament” when talking about the PG National Showcase, because when pressed further he said performing at a showcase provides him with a bigger “rush” than playing in a tournament game.

He enjoys playing in those tournaments with the CF Gators – “my boys” he likes to call his teammates during conversation – but when he’s at an event like the PG National he feels like he’s not only representing his own name but also the people that have made it possible for him to be here. That’s where the rush comes from.

Cabell has been raised by his mother, Constance Bonaventure, and his granddad, Bruce Bonaventure. He said Bruce has provided him with a lot of guidance in his life and he credits his grandpa with nurturing his love of baseball.

“Starting to play baseball was a big life-changer for me, and taught me so much about life; it made me the person I am today, in a way,” he said. “I learned how to fail in life – everybody fails – and how to control my emotions.”

But Cabell heaps most of his praise on his mom.

“She has supported me all the way through; she means the world to me,” he said. “She raised me; she’s done everything for me. She provided for me, she took care of me and she did everything a mom’s supposed to do and more. I’m very blessed to have her.”

Cabell called his association with the Central Florida Gators a “blessing” and pointed out that he’s been there with program founder Mark Roberts and head coach Joe Mercadante since he was 9 years old, or more than eight years.

He’s won PG WWBA championships with the Gators at the 2016 16u PG World Series and at the 2016 PG WWBA Florida Qualifier; he was named the MVP at the 2015 15u PG World Series, a tournament at which the Gators finished as runner-up.

He called it “sad” that the relationship is going to come to an end after the team plays in the 2017 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., in October, but he feels especially fortunate that he was given the opportunity to meet and be around the many good players that populate the Gators’ roster.

Several of them have joined him here this weekend, including nationally No. 8-ranked infielder Nolan Gorman, No. 15 catcher/right-hander Mason Denaburg, No. 22 right-hander Carter Stewart, No. 84 left-hander Matthew Liberatore, No. 127 right-hander/third baseman Connor Thurman and No. 133 infielder Connor Ollio.

The word “grateful” doesn’t even begin to describe how Cabell feels about Roberts and Mercadante for the opportunities they’ve provided him with to show off his skills and talents at PG tournaments and, ultimately, PG showcases. He’ll never forget the welcoming environment they created within the organization and the camaraderie he’ll still get to enjoy with his teammates for the next five or six months.

“It’s another family for me,” he said. “It’s a brotherhood we’re going to have for life and nothing’s going to destroy that; we’re always going to have each other’s back. It’s amazing just being around these boys, and we’ve grown up with each other and we know everything about each other. It’s been a pleasure, and I wouldn’t trade anything for it.”

TNXL Academy serves as both a high school and a training center. The Next Level Baseball was founded by Sal Lombardo and he’s still involved with the academy, but TNXL Baseball as it is now called is owned by Brian Martinez. Joe Mercadante and former Orlando Scorpions owner Matt Gerber are also on the staff, as are coaches Mike Mercadante and Brent Rossi.

The young men attending the academy have regular, high school classes every morning and then spend the rest of the day working on baseball-related activities. The academy’s team doesn’t play a tradition high school spring baseball season but instead travels out of state to play in various prep tournaments, usually against other academy teams. The TNXL Ducks, with Cabell in the lineup, won the PG High School Showdown-Academies tournament at PG Park South-LakePoint in March.

“It’s so much fun,” Cabell said. “It’s almost like this showcase because everybody is really good and everybody has the same goal, and we push each other. It’s been the best experience of my life besides being with my boys on the Central Florida Gators. It’s a baseball world and nothing is better than that.”

Every one of these young men at the PG National have already proven themselves to a certain degree or they wouldn’t have received an invitation in the first place. They’re also all competitors and it’s in their nature that they’re going to try to out-perform the guy standing next to them, behind them or in front of them in everything from the 60-yard dash to the defensive workouts to batting practice and, finally, during games. But Cabell insists the competition never gets so intense as to be considered cut-throat.

“We do compete a lot but we have fun with it,” he said. “It’s not like we’re trying to put each other down, we’re just trying to show everyone our own abilities. It actually makes me better by learning that I need to fix this or maybe get stronger with that. Everybody wants to be the best here and I get it, but afterwards we talk to each other and become friends.”

With all the playing time and developmental work he gets between his associations with the Central Florida Gators and TNXL Academy, Cabell – a Louisiana State commit – feels like his game continues to improve and progress on a daily basis. He wakes up every day excited to learn new things and take any step necessary – within limits, of course – to become the best ballplayer he can possibly be.

Getting the invitation to the PG National Showcase made Cabell feel special, and parlaying a strong performance here into an invitation to the PG All-American Classic in San Diego in August would make him feel even more special. “That would be a blessing. It’s something that I’ve been working for and it would show me that hard work pays off,” he said.

When informed that 204 PG National Showcase alumni have been selected in the first round of the MLB June Amateur Draft in the last 16 years, Cabell – who boasts a 3.5 grade-point average at TNXL Academy – considered the information he had just received before giving a very mature response.

“First-of-all, I just take it day by day and I never want to get ahead of myself and think about where I’m going to be next year; I want to stay within myself and just work hard,” he said. “Hopefully if that day comes when I would be able to be drafted I would be very blessed and very excited, but at the same time I’m focusing on trying to get to college – that’s my big goal. … My main focus right now is getting my education.”

Welcome to Elijah Cabell’s baseball world, the one that just got a little bit bigger this weekend.