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Tournaments | Story | 6/16/2019

Arsenal proves fun matters

Jack Nelson     
Photo: Jacob Orr (Perfect Game)

DUNWOODY, Ga.- Frustrated by the less than optimal weather conditions of northern climates, many aspiring high school baseball players long to find a college down south to play their college ball. But the reality is most of those warm weather schools are not traveling far outside the Southeast to go recruiting.

Programs like Tri-State Arsenal solve this problem in taking a proactive approach to travel baseball and provide their players an invaluable experience in their baseball careers. Based in New Jersey, they have assembled an elite roster and made the trek down to Atlanta to compete in this week’s Perfect Game Super25 16u Georgia Super Qualifier.

“A lot of these kids want to play SEC or ACC baseball, and this is where they come watch,” said Arsenal coach AJ Vulimiri. “That is every kid’s dream, so it is my job to get them in front of those guys as many times as possible. It is tough for these southern programs to get up north to recruit, so coming down here is the best way to do it. Our job is to get them seen and committed. We want to help get them to wherever they want to go.”

But it is not all business for the Arsenal Army. They understand that baseball is a game. Yes, everyone wants a scholarship and everyone wants to get drafted.  But in the end, it is the friendships and memories that you make with your teammates that are what guys truly remember about their time playing.

“We have fun. These kids show up and become best friends,” said Vulimiri. “We have a kid from Alabama, a kid from New Jersey, a kid from Ohio. We are building a special team of kids all across the country and we put together a cool atmosphere for them.”

The product of this philosophy is a scary sight for opponents. This Tri-State Arsenal 16u Scout Team just rolled through pool play by outscoring their opponents 30-8, and they four players already committed to Power 5 schools. This includes Owen Flynn (North Carolina), Roy “Bubba” Chandler (Georgia), Jacob Orr (Maryland), and Dylan Hatfield (Virginia Tech).

“It’s a lot of fun to play for Arsenal. We don’t stress very much,” said Hatfield, who Perfect Game ranked the top catcher in Virginia’s high school class of 2021.

“Everyone gels quite well,” said Bubba Chandler. “Coach AJ just brings everyone together and really makes us a team.”

The Arsenal approach has especially helped Chandler mature in his attitude toward the game. As a result, he just committed to Georgia on Saturday after stellar play in tournaments and showcases the last few weeks.

“They have taught me to enjoy the game more,” said Chandler. “Like if I strike out, I don’t get upset. I just go out and play defense.”

Perfect Game ranked Jacob Orr the top shortstop in Maryland’s high school class of 2021, but he is thankful Tri-State Arsenal gives him the opportunity to prove himself on a national scale. He also relishes the opportunity to show that, as Marcus Stroman says, height doesn’t measure heart.

“Just playing the same teams in Maryland got kind of old,” said the 5-foot-8 Orr. “Down here, the competition is really good and the games have been a lot of fun. As an undersized player, I like to show that being a good baseball player is not about how tall you are. I like to go show everyone I can play.”

With notable alumni including Mike Trout and Twins starting pitcher Devin Smeltzer, Arsenal has a proven track record of guiding its players not just to the college level but all the way to the MLB. The current crop of Arsenal players know they are in good hands.

“Everyone is really talented and we all have a lot of fun,” said Orr. “Plus playing against the best competition is only going to help me out when I get to the next level.”

“Baseball is a game of small details,” said Hatfield. “Being in these great tournaments, I can work on my skills. Pretty soon I’ll be going off and playing college ball and hopefully I can get drafted.”

The playoffs of the Super25 qualifier begin on Monday, and Arsenal is in a tremendous spot. With many arms rested, they have the luxury of sending Owen Flynn, Perfect Game’s 125th ranked player in the class of 2021, to the mound with a trophy on the line.

With bags packed and the dugout cleaned, the boys remembered one thing on this Father’s Day. They expressed gratitude for the immeasurable role their dads have played in shaping them to become some of the best high school players in the country.

“I can remember us going down to a park in Virginia and he would hit me 500 ground balls and 500 fly balls,” said Hatfield. “He has been such a key reason why I’ve been successful in baseball. I wouldn’t be where I am without him.”

“When I was young he built me a baseball field in the backyard. He would always throw to me or hit me ground balls,” said Chandler. “He is the rock.

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