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Tournaments | Story | 6/24/2019

Gamers carry spirit of St. Louis

Jack Nelson        
Photo: Cade Hohl (Perfect Game)

MARIETTA, Ga.- St. Louis is a city that loves its baseball. And in the midst of the Cardinals and Busch Stadium lies another Missouri baseball institution: Gamers Baseball. Serving young players from across the Midwest since 2007, Gamers has emerged on the national scale as an elite travel ball organization. This week they have taken their talents to Georgia to compete in the WWBA 17u Elite Round Robin.

On Monday, the Gamers 17u opened their tournament schedule with a 9-0 mercy rule victory over Titans Baseball. The Gamers bring a seasoned group that has high expectations for not just the WWBA Round Robin, but the WWBA National championship, which kicks off play on Friday.

“Most of our team has been together for the past five years,” said coach Matt Whiteside. “We aren’t one of those teams that goes out and tries to recruit the next best guy. We practice and train a lot together, and so the hope is that we create good baseball players that can do well down here.”

“We’re here to win,” said shortstop Cade Hohl, who Perfect Game ranks the 405th overall player in the high school class of 2020. “We want to do well in the Round Robin and then win our pool in the WWBA National Championship. That is what we’ve been thinking about all year.”

They certainly got off to a good start on Monday. The Gamers were spurred by a seven run fourth inning, and were led at the dish by Ty Stauss. The Southeast Missouri State commit went 1-for-2 with three RBIs. His double in the fourth inning broke the game open. Devin Ward went 2-for-3 with two RBIs, and Kyle Miller went 2-for-2 and added a run scored to further bolster the offensive output.

It was a staff day on the mound, as head coach Whiteside is using the next few days to keep his arms fresh in preparation for the National Championship later this week. But the Gamers rolled out quality pitchers nonetheless. Ian Lohse was particularly impressive, as the lefty ran his fastball up to 86 mph in an easy 1-2-3 fifth inning. Gamers pitchers allowed just two hits in the game.

Hohl was thrilled with the hot start, and sees the team’s growing success at Perfect Game tournaments as a manifestation of the hard work the team has been putting in for years back home in St. Louis.

“I’ve known most these guys for four or five years so we are a really tight knit bunch,” he said. It’s really cool how we’ve grown up in the game and now we’re playing at these really big tournaments.”

Gamers coaches are able to impart unique wisdom that they have picked up from playing the game at its pinnacle. 17u coach Matt Whiteside had an 11-year pitching career in the major leagues, including stints with the Rangers, Athletics, and Braves. Another instructor, Scott Cooper, was a two-time American League all star during his seven year MLB career. The players are appreciative to be taught by the best.

“They really develop us,” said Hohl. “We have the nicest facilities in St. Louis and we’re always practicing. A lot of the coaches have big league experience, so they know what they’re talking about. It’s nice to have them around all the time.”

The Gamers have a history of sending kids to top baseball schools around the country, and have multiple former players in professional baseball. While there are sure to be many who pledge to a college in the next couple weeks, for the moment, Ty Stauss is the only committed player on the Gamers roster. He attributes a lot of his success to the opportunities the program has provided him.

“I’ve been with Gamers for seven years,” said Stauss. “My older brother played here before me. In that time, I’ve learned what it means to play hard-nosed baseball. I’ve learned about the little nuances of the game and also polished my mechanics. But in the end, they’ve just taught me how to play like an animal.”

Spoken like a true cold weather baseball player, Stauss was quick to note that none of the summer success would be possible without a proper indoor facility back home.

“It gets cold in St. Louis, so obviously we don’t always have the opportunity to go outside,” said Stauss. “But Gamers has a beautiful facility. That gives us a chance to get our work in every day. “

It is not all about winning for the Gamers. A fully funded college baseball program only has 11.7 scholarships for an entire team. But if you have the grades, you can parlay an academic scholarship to go along with an athletic scholarship. Understanding this, the Gamers prioritize schoolwork over baseball, and even have a wall of fame in their facility for players who have over a 3.25 GPA. Coaches are so invested in the boys’ overall success that they have been known to make a player do his homework while the rest of the team practices. And this policy works, as the program reports that 90 percent of its players move on to college baseball.

“The goal is to teach these kids how to play baseball,” said Whiteside. “But also how to become successful men for later in life.”

The current 17u group has plenty of role models to look up to, including their own coaches. But Whiteside was especially proud of Peter Fairbanks, a former Gamer who just recently was called up by the Texas Rangers. Fairbanks’s career has been anything but smooth sailing, but his unwavering tenacity in chasing his dreams is just what the St. Louis based club is all about.

Peter Fairbanks has had two Tommy John surgeries, but now he’s touching 100 mph,” said Whiteside. “In high school, he played basketball as well. In the morning, he would do his weight training and then in the afternoon he would have basketball and then baseball after. But he was also a 32 ACT guy. His time management skills and work ethic were off the charts. And now to see him reap the rewards of that is awesome to see.

"I tell my kids all the time that this is who we want to be.” 

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