Tournaments | Story | 7/23/2017

Generals solidifying name

Steven Walters        
Photo: Perfect Game

EMERSON, Ga. – Generals Baseball is off to a 3-0-1 start in the 17u PG Summer Showdown, and have had success already in their first summer as an organization. The Jacksonville, N.C.-based organization started from a need for a higher-level travel team out of the eastern North Carolina area. Many of their players had previously driven over 2 1/2 hours to play on a travel team, but that all changed last year when T.J. Vladyka began Generals Baseball.

“It was actually some of the kids who got together and approached me about starting a travel organization,” Vladyka said. “They had known that when we lived up in Virginia, I had coached some travel organizations there and managed a couple of teams, so they approached me and actually Greg Strickland’s dad approached me and asked me to do it. I was a little hesitant at first because running the whole show is different than just coaching and managing a team.”

Even then, players from all over North Carolina have traveled to play with Vladyka’s team. They have players from Raleigh and Belmont, with the latter being over a four-hour drive. Vladyka said that this has to do with the players they take into the organization.

“It’s more so the way we look at the kids we accept into the program. We take good kids, we take kids that are there to play baseball, kids that take it seriously, so the team itself, they automatically gel together because they’re all on the same plan, they’re all there for the same purpose,” Vladyka said.

The organization currently has three teams, a 17u, a 13u and a 14u, and are looking to build up the organization naturally by moving on up with the current age groups. Next year, the plan is to add a 13u after the other two move up one level. Vladyka said that the organization is not focused on the money aspect, but rather providing an opportunity for their kids to play.

“I think were unique because when we started this, I consider this the Jerry McGuire effect, we’re not a big organization, we’re a low-budget team, we do everything at cost, nobody’s getting paid and we promote our players everywhere we go,” Vladyka said.

Even with being new to the travel baseball scene, Vladyka said that their team is getting a good number of looks from college coaches. They have taken a unique approach to this, since they are still gaining exposure.

“Every tournament we go to, we contact all the local schools that are around and we let kids know that if they’re interested in these local schools to personally send them emails,” Vladyka said. “We just promote the heck out of the kids and it seemed to work. We’ve gotten a lot of interest, we’ve gotten a lot of kids getting contact from schools, so I think that’s what makes us different from most organizations.”

One of the players who is garnering some looks is Greg Strickland who pitches and plays shortstop for the Generals. The 5-foor-11, 180-pound righty is ranked as the No. 13 shortstop in North Carolina for the class of 2018, but also has been clocked at 87 mph on the mound. The Raleigh, N.C., native is off to a hot start in the tournament, hitting .455 (5-for-11) with a double, a triple, three RBIs and three stolen bases.

“Greg’s the player that every coach wants. After every tournament, even today, Team Elite came up asking me about him. Every tournament we’re in, there’s always coaches coming up asking about him, and same thing with college coaches,” Vladyka said. “He plays the game the right way, he’s a good kid, he’s an academic kid. I wish I had 15 of him.”

On the other side of shortstop is second baseman Jordan Lathe. Although Lathe is listed as a primary second baseman, the Belmont, N.C., native has been playing mainly center field for the Generals, stemming from a need. The athletic Lathe has been up to the challenge and said that he has vastly improved his jumps and routes over the summer.

“The thing with Jordan is I can play him anywhere,” Vladyka said. “This tournament so far I’ve played him at short, he’s not even a shortstop, he’s a center fielder. I’m not even sure if I’ve played him in center field this tournament. You can play him anywhere, he’s solid and he goes 100 percent all the time. He’s just a good kid.”

Lathe has also been a catalyst to the Generals success, hitting .400 (6-for-15) with three doubles and a stolen base out of the No. 2 spot in the lineup, thriving from the environment that this tournament provides.

“It’s been to attack fastballs early in the count and not let myself get behind in the count. I just go up there looking for fastballs and try to drive it up the middle,” Lathe said. “Both times we’ve come here, it’s been unbelievable competition and it’s gotten me better in so many ways facing this type of competition.”

The two contributed to the Generals 5-4 win over Team Elite 17u Nation in their second game on Sunday, a game that meant a lot for the pool as the Generals came in at 2-0-1 and Team Elite came in at 2-0. The Generals sent Strickland to the mound, while Team Elite countered with Derrius York. It was Strickland’s first start of the tournament, and he turned in a terrific performance going 6 1/3 innings, giving up two hits, two runs, four walks, while fanning seven. A leg cramp forced him to exit, and even after he pleaded his way to stay in the game, Vladyka decided to go to the bullpen in the top of the seventh.

“My fastball command was good the first couple innings, first three, four innings, and then I really got it with my slider the last three innings I’d like to say. I realized I wasn’t going to overpower these guys, it was a hot day, so I had to get [my slider] working,” Strickland said.

Strickland did not pitch as much in high school because his team needed him at shortstop, but he said that the summer has been a great opportunity for him to grow as a starter and refine his game. The righty sat in the mid-80s for much of the game, topping out at 86 mph, and finishing his start at that velocity.

The offense scored three runs in the bottom of the first inning and pounded out 10 hits against Team Elite. Petey Frey went 2-for-4 out of the leadoff spot, while Lathe went 1-for-4 with a run out of the No. 2 spot. Shane Ratz picked up two RBIs out of the No. 9 spot in the order, while Strickland, Ryan Kokocha and Andrew Vladyka each picked up an RBI apiece.

“Today was a big step for us,” Vladyka said, “because most days when we play a double header, that second game our kids tend to be a little laxed, they tend to get a little tired, especially in this heat, so we’re still working on it. Today we were really good, but it’s something we always have to be cautious of and be ready for.”

After the win, the Generals moved to the top spot in their pool with one game left on the schedule. They will play the Georgia Jackets 17u on Monday morning at 11:30 a.m. to decide the pool, and the team hopes that they can make it into bracket play and make a run in the playoffs, something that would allow them to showcase their organization and gain exposure for the Generals Baseball name.

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