Tournaments : : Story
Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Opportunity knocks for SL Pirates

Jeff Dahn        

The St. Louis Pirates Baseball Club works tirelessly at providing young players with unlimited opportunities. And when Pirates owner/operator Rick Strickland looks toward Jupiter, Fla., in late October, he sees opportunities with a capital “O”.

The 85-team Perfect Game WWBA World Championship is being held in Jupiter this weekend (Oct. 21-25) and Strickland has tried to make sure he’s had a team at the prestigious event every year since 2004.

“It is a tremendous opportunity for the kids,” Strickland said. “I just wrote an email to a parent that said it’s the best baseball experience that I can even think of as far as where these kids are concerned. We’re very fortunate we get a chance to do it and to take another group down in 2010.”

The St. Louis Pirates Baseball Club will complete its 12th year of operation after the WWBA World Championship. The Pirates started out as a fall-only program that got noticed when it started winning an annual tournament over in Tennessee on a regular basis.

They kept going to the Tennessee tournament and kept having a lot of success and eventually Strickland hooked his team up with Perfect Game.

“They gave us the opportunity to come to Jupiter a couple of times in 2004 and ’05, and they encouraged us to start doing summer stuff,” Strickland said. “We started doing the summer stuff in 2007 and from there our program really kind of took off.”

It’s a program that grew from two teams in 2007 to seven teams this past summer. Strickland hopes to field 11U and 13U teams in 2011 and could have as many as 14 teams next year.

“We were more on the showcase side of it when we first starting out, and as we started getting younger and younger players we kind of moved into more of a training standpoint. We’re training and developing players more than anything else,” Strickland said.

Strickland said the St. Louis Pirates are modeled after some of the other successful programs in the country in that they emphasize training and development.

The Pirates organization has its own 27,000 square foot indoor facility called The Sandlot which is located right in St. Louis that its players can use the year around. It includes six indoor batting cages, pitching machines, indoor clay pitching mounds and indoor turf mounds, and is completely carpeted in field turf.

“We get a lot of work done in it,” Strickland said. “It’s really focused on baseball training.”

The training leads to more skilled players and skilled players are the ones who get offered college scholarships. It is to that end the St. Louis Pirates strive to reach.

“Our No. 1 focus is to get kids to play beyond high school,” Strickland said. “We know that maybe one-percent of them or even less are ever going to play in the Major Leagues … but the thing we can pass onto the kids that leave our program is an opportunity for them to play baseball another four years, and maybe along the way that will pay for some of their education.”

The Pirates have been among the top programs at Perfect Game events over the last several years.

The St. Louis Pirates Baseball Club sent four teams to the East Cobb Complex in Marietta, Ga., for the PG WWBA National tournaments in June and July and its 18U team finished third at the PG 18U BCS Final in Fort Myers, Fla., July 14-19. The Pirates have finished second, first and third at the 18U event the last three years.

The Pirates draw players from outside of the St. Louis area, and they have picked up several out-of-state players from Texas, Illinois and Iowa for the World Championship.

“But for the most part, the St. Louis Pirates are a St. Louis-based team,” Strickland said.

The highest-ranked player on the Pirates’ Jupiter roster is outfielder/left-handed pitcher Garrett Schlecht (2011, Milstadt, Ill.) who is Perfect Game’s 315th-ranked national prospect and No. 12 in Illinois. He has verbally committed to South Alabama.

Right-hander Dakota Freese (2011, Cedar Rapids, Iowa) is ranked 420th nationally and No. 5 in Iowa. Left-hander Bryant Holtmann (2011, New Baden, Ill.) is ranked 461-16 and has committed to Florida State.

The St. Louis Pirates had six former players selected in the 2010 Major League Draft, including two immediately out of high school. Catcher Jake Depew was taken in the ninth round by the Rays, right-hander Josh Mueller in the 13th round by the Rockies, right-hander Patrick Doyle in the 24th round by the Reds, Joe Lincoln in the 34th round by the Dodgers, right-hander Chad Green in the 37th round by the Blue Jays and left-hander Matt Tracy in the 43rd round by the Marlins.

All of those players participated at Perfect Game events when they were in high school and playing during the summer and fall for the Pirates. Strickland values the opportunities the PG events provide.

“It’s been awesome, but it’s become a little bit more complicated as we grow,” Strickland said. “We want to make sure we send the right kids to the Perfect Game events because all the all the kids want to go. It’s been tremendous for our kids with the experience they get, the competition that they play.”
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