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McCullers living in the present

Tournaments : : Story
Jeff Dahn        
Published: Sunday, May 29, 2011

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Just last Tuesday, Tampa (Fla.) Jesuit High School junior right-hander Lance McCullers was the starting and losing pitcher in the Florida Class 4A state championship game played in Port St. Lucie at the spring training home of the New York Mets.

On Sunday, McCullers was preparing to take the field at the spring training home of the Minnesota Twins as a member of the Tampa Bay Warriors 18U travel ball team. The Warriors 18U and 16U teams are in town for the Perfect Game 18U and 16U WWBA Memorial Day Classics, which kicked off Friday and conclude Monday.

McCullers wasn’t dwelling on the championship loss five days earlier. Perhaps he was thinking of that old saying that goes something like, “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.”

McCullers, Perfect Game’s No. 1-ranked national prospect in the high school class of 2012, is certainly living in the present. On a hot and sunny Sunday morning in southwest Florida, he was thinking only about playing another baseball game.

“This is a great way to kick off the summer. It’s real good competition,” McCullers said with a smile before leaving a dugout at the Lee County Sports Complex to play some catch with a teammate. “It’s nice, you know. You just finish your (high school) year with all-metal bats and you jump right into a wood bat real quick, which is a good thing because you can get used to it a little bit right away.”

McCullers swings a sweet bat from the left side of the plate, but it his arm that has fueled his rise to the nation’s No. 1 ranking. Perfect Game has clocked his fastball at 96 mph and a throw across the infield at 97 mph.

Dan Withum is McCullers’ coach with the Tampa Bay Warriors, and has developed an unwavering respect for the way the 6-foot-1, 190-pound McCullers carries himself.

“Lance is a complete baseball player,” Withum said Sunday. “He’s big, he’s extremely athletic and he’s a great kid in the dugout. That’s our number-one criteria – how good are these kids in the dugout? Are they good teammates first?

“Lance is just focused. He’s a baseball player. Everybody knows he can throw 99 (mph) but that’s not the big deal. The big deal is he’s a complete, 360-degree baseball player.”

McCullers has played with the Warriors on and off over the past couple of years and has also spent time with a couple of Midland teams, including the Midland Redskins/Royals Scout Team at last year’s PG WWBA World Championship  in Jupiter,  Fla. He has also played summer ball with the Midland Braves, the Tampa Tigers, and Dawg Pound.

The Tampa Bay Warriors have been around as an organization for five years. The program started with one 14U team and now has seven teams in most of the recognized age-groups.

“We started it with a dream while looking up at the stars in a hot tub one night,” Withum said with a chuckle.

Withum credits Perfect Game for giving the Warriors a boost.

“Perfect Game has provided a tremendous opportunity for us to showcase the ‘Warrior Brand’, to get kids together and say ‘Hey, there’s a pretty good team in Tampa, Fla., so take a look at them,” he said.

The Warriors 18U sailed through pool play at the Memorial Day Classic with a 3-0 record, and because McCullers had thrown for his high school on Tuesday, Withum hasn’t pitched him yet this weekend. He is expected to start in Monday’s playoff round.

There are many top prospects on this Warriors squad, including middle infielder Avery Romero (2012, St. Augustine, Fla.) who PG has ranked No. 30 nationally and No. 10 in Florida.

“We’ve crafted the team to compete and they’re all winners,” Withum said. “We don’t have tryouts, we just hand-pick them. We scout, ask around – for every one kid that says ‘Yeah’ you get 20 that say ‘It just doesn’t work out for me.’ So you just keep trying.”

McCullers made his college commitment to the Florida Gators and Coach Kevin O’Sullivan in September of his sophomore year in high school and hasn’t looked back. He made his visit to Gainesville and had planned on visiting LSU and Georgia, but never followed through.

“I went (to Gainesville) and went to a football game,” McCullers said. “Coach O’Sullivan and the coaching staff are just a great group of guys. It was home there for me. I felt comfortable with the coaching staff I felt comfortable with the players, and a lot of my friends have gone there and they’ve said how great it’s been.”

Romero, McCullers’ Warriors teammate, has also committed to Florida.

This weekend’s tournament is the 17th Perfect Game event the 17-year-old McCullers has participated in since 2008. He plans on participating in quite a few more.

“It’s good to get things going a little bit,” he said of being here. “I’m going to play in some more Perfect Game events … so I’m eager to get this summer going and see how it turns out.”

McCullers is living in the present, accepting it as a gift. He still thinks about his just-completed high school season – “I’m proud of the guys coming together and making a run like that to the finals. It was a good year overall,” he said – but is looking forward to moving on.

“I’m kind of just taking it day-by-day right now,” he said. “I’m taking it tournament-by-tournament, just trying to play the best I can and always have fun, which is the main thing.”


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