Tournaments | Story | 7/3/2019

Canes simply compete

Jack Nelson        
Photo: Roman Anthony (Perfect Game)
HOOVER, Ala. – It’s hard to argue any team has been more dominant in Hoover this week than Canes National 14u. Bouncing around the field with purpose and enthusiasm, the Canes improved to 6-0 on Tuesday and have firmly planted themselves as a frontrunner to take home the 2019 WWBA 14u National Championship.

Taking on the previously undefeated Twelve Silver on a sweltering afternoon at the Hoover Met Stadium, the Canes prevailed, 9-4. Through six games, the Canes have outscored their opponents, 70-10. In a matchup for Pool G supremacy, it was the Canes’s bats that once again stole the show. George (Jed) Howard was 2-for-3, and Roman Anthony was 1-for-3 with two RBIs. In total, eight Canes recorded a hit and Drew Lanphere and Matthew Matthijs both tallied two RBIs each.

The victories are sweet, no doubt. But for Canes GM and 14u coach Dan Gitzen, every day at the yard is precious time for his kids to continue to develop on their baseball journeys.

“There are two things we always talk about,” said Gitzen. “First, this isn’t your last stop in baseball, and if you don’t learn something that helps you get better every time you come to the ballpark, then you wasted a day.”

“The second thing is about doing the little things,” he said. “Little victories can turn into big victories, and little mistakes can turn into big mistakes. But if you minimize your little mistakes and you increase your little victories, then it’s going to add up to a great victory at the end of the day.”

Gitzen has been impressed by the maturity of his young hitters. On a roster as talented as the Canes, kids that are hitting eighth or ninth in the lineup would probably be at the top of most other teams. Things are made more complicated by the fact that bottom of the order guys usually only get two at-bats per game. And when you are 14, all you want to do is been written up by scouts or be the standout performer on Diamondkast.

But that’s not always what is best for the team. Gitzen said he is most proud of how his kids will go up to the plate with a blue-collar approach, putting the team over self.

“Our at-bats have been really good all week,” said Gitzen. “14 year olds with wood don’t realize how easy it is to get themselves out. But these guys have learned that most kids aren’t going to blow the ball by you, so we have worked the count well.”

In order to win a WWBA National Championship at any age level, you must be deep on the mound. Through six games, the Canes have surrendered just 10 earned runs, and on Tuesday used four pitchers to stifle Twelve Silver’s potent offense. Lefthander Hayden Thomas stood out, throwing two innings of scoreless relief, striking out five.

“Our pitching staff has been great, too” Gitzen said. “They (Twelve) are a really good hitting team.”

There are generally two schools of thought in assembling a travel baseball team. You can either gather up local talent, develop what you have, and go get after it in big time tournaments. Or, you can pluck top players from across the country and meet up every couple weeks at a weeklong event. While the Canes do add a couple players for major tournaments, the very fabric of the organization is built from the ground up, from the 9u and 10u levels all the way to 17u.

“I don’t think any of this is possible without our youth programs,” said Gitzen. “At a young age, these kids will practice together every day and work hard in the offseason.”

“Everyone knows about our 17u team and our American teams,” said Gitzen. “People think it’s easy for us to get these great players because we have ‘Canes’ across our chest. But what people don’t really see is that a lot of these kids have been playing with us for a long time. We have one of the best youth programs in the country, and about seven of these guys on the 14u team have been with us since they were 9 years old. We have a really strong core.”

Across all levels, the Canes have won 11 Perfect Game national championships. They are almost always in the mix when things are all said and done. They have sent over 1200 alumni on to receive college scholarships, and more than 250 have been lucky enough to here their name called in the MLB Draft. Their secret lies in the energy and atmosphere fostered by the coaching staff.

“The thing that sets us apart is that we try to compete all the time,” said Gitzen. “We don’t play in events that we’re not trying to win. I don’t run a practice and try not to get better. There will never be a day when you show up to one of our practices and you see a coach sitting on a bucket, rolling the balls out.”

Gitzen believes this mantra prepares his boys not just a long and successful career in baseball, but in whatever endeavor they choose to pursue after they are finished playing.

“I always say that life is a competition,” said Gitzen. “And if your not practicing to compete at life, then you’re going to get left behind. I think the reason we have been so successful is because we are always practicing to compete, whether that is in batting practice, taking ground balls, or an at-bat in the seventh inning when you are winning 17-1.”

“If you go out there an compete all the time, your going to have a pretty high level of success.”

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