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Sunday, December 30, 2018

14u-ME debut gets thumbs-up

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Jackson McKenzie

FORT MYERS, Fla. – They came from points near and far and arrived at the Lee County Player Development 5-Plex bright and early Saturday morning, unified not only by matching blue jerseys and black PG caps, but by a shared mission to perform at their very best.

These were the young guys who landed together on the roster of 52-Royal, one of 14 teams carved out from the 200 players who were part of the inaugural Perfect Game 14u Showcase-Main Event.

The 14u-Main Event joined the PG National Underclass-Main Event and the PG Uncommitted-Main Event showcases on fields spread across Fort Myers over a long, post-Christmas three-day weekend, and when counted together, nearly 900 budding prospects were in attendance.

It’s quite an undertaking, getting that many young players together in one Southwest Florida county to play some showcase baseball during the late December holiday season. And the addition of the 14u-Main Event brought added excitement not only for the young prospects who are just now beginning their baseball journeys in earnest, but for their parents, as well.

Sam and Traci Newman, a middle school teacher and a banker, respectively, from Marietta, Ga., were at the 5-Plex with their son, 2022 outfielder/right-hander Adam Newman. Thanks to living in baseball crazy Marietta, Adam already has had multiple PG experiences with many more sure to come, and the next chapter started with the 14u-Main Event.

“Coming from Atlanta, it’s a baseball city and there’s a lot of competition but I think for some (players) that are coming from smaller towns or smaller regions and who want a better challenge, this is the place to go,” Sam Newman told PG.

“I think this gives (Adam) perspective,” Traci Newman added. “There are so many good players from all over the country and it gives him a chance to come play with them and make some new friends; just have a good time and hopefully play some really competitive baseball.”

The 52-Royal roster was about as far-flung geographically as it gets. There was 2023 left-hander/first baseman Jackson McKenzie from Fairhope, Ala.; 2023 shortstop/outfielder Frank Kelly from Massapequa, N.Y.; 2023 middle-infielder Masai Marshall from Alpine, N.J.; 2023 outfielder/left-hander Sam Cantrall out of Milburn, N.J.; third baseman/right-hander Cam Carmichael from Carmel, Ind., and 2023 catcher/corner-infielder Miles Birke out of Webster Groves, Mo., just to name a few.

Preston Murphy, a 2022 catcher/third baseman from Miramar Beach, Fla., was here with his parents James and Lori Murphy.

“It’s a very diverse roster and that’s one of the main things that this (event) is all about,” James Murphy, a co-owner of a pool/brick business, told PG. “These kids get to meet each other and when they leave here, they don’t just take home the numbers from the Perfect Game website, they take home more than that. It’s new friends that are going to be playing against them in college one day or whatever it is they’re going to do.”

Even though the Murphys call Miramar Beach home, Preston is a part of the Georgia-based East Cobb Astros organization and was rostered at seven 13u, 14u and 15u events this past summer. But this is his first showcase, as it is for many of the youngsters at the 14u-Main.

“The real reason my son wanted to come down here is to kind of to get know where he is with all the other 14u kids,” James Murphy said. “We saw that there were more (players) coming to this showcase and you really want to come to the one with more numbers; that’s where you want to be. You know that almost all the good guys are coming to this one.”

The 14-and-under age-group is garnering a lot more attention these days, as college recruiters increasingly look to get verbal commitments from the younger players. PG will conduct at least 15 regional 14u showcases in 2019, leading up to the 3rd annual PG 14u National Showcase in early August and the 4th annual PG 14u Select Baseball Festival over the Labor Day Weekend; both will be held here at the jetBlue Park Player Development Complex.

Brennan Friloux, a production trainer from Luling, La., brought his son, Donovan Friloux, here to Southwest Florida for his first taste of the Perfect Game experience; Donovan is a class of 2023 catcher/right-hander/utility.

“We know we’re going to need to do more of these because once you leave, the stats are recorded so you want to try to come back again,” Brennan Friloux told PG. “I want him to come back and do better, just keep striving to get better. And when you do it early like this, that way you can come back later. You do it at 14, you can come back at 15, 16 maybe, and see how you’ve progressed.”

All three Main Events kicked-off Friday morning and all three of the workout sessions were held at the jetBlue Park complex. It had to be a little overwhelming for the 14u first-timers to experience that scene first-hand, with 900 players and their families moving en masse between the six fields.

“When you have the number of mixed ages like you had (on Friday), it can be a little intimidating,” Sam Newman said. “But they’re going to confront that in high school so it might as well be something that they confront now. So, the numbers can be a little bit intimidating but the sizes and differences in ages are coming anyway.”

Talking with parents, it quickly becomes obvious they all want the same thing for their sons. They do, of course, want them to perform well and impress the thousands of influential eyes that have been on them over the last three days. But, just as obviously, it goes well beyond that.

“My message to (Preston) is just to do your thing,” James Murphy said. “Don’t come here all tense and thinking that you’re going to be a superstar or the lowest man on the totem pole, just come in and do your thing and meet new guys.”

Traci Newman’s message to her son Adam was very much along the same lines: “I told him to try to do your best and also to try to make this about more than just baseball,” she said. “Try to make friends and try to encourage other kids, and just try to make it more about the whole experience.”

Making friends seems to come easy for these early teens. The kid from New Jersey can leave here knowing he now has a best bud who happens to live down in Alabama. Same thing can be said for the middle-infielder from Connecticut and the right-hander from Illinois.

“We’ve been doing travel baseball for a long time and every time he goes to events like this, he knows kids because they’ve been (coming) from all over the country,” James Murphy said. “It’s unbelievable to me as a dad … and I say, ‘You know that guy?’ and he says, ‘Yeah, yeah!’”

Added Brennan Friloux: “I tell him just to have fun. You try not to stress ‘em out – they’re young, still – and this will get in their head, easy. … But it’s a good experience to communicate and mess with other kids, you know. And, he’s going to treat this as a learning experience.”

These 14u players will continue to learn and improve as they mature with the game and, most importantly, they will continue to have fun with the game they hold so near to their hearts. Many, if not most, of these kids who are just starting their high school careers will one day – if their dreams are realized – be taking spots on college rosters. But, as stated previously, their journeys are just beginning.

“We’re kind of taking this one year at a time, because baseball is a tough sport,” Traci Newman concluded. “As long as (Adam) loves it and wants to keep doing it, I want him to have those opportunities to keep doing it. If he keeps doing well and he’s able to keep coming to these (events), we’ll support him.”

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