Tournaments : : Story
Thursday, June 09, 2011

EC Astros 14u walk a step ahead

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

MARIETTA, Ga. – If the eight 14-and-under teams that exist within the East Cobb Baseball framework aren’t the organization’s foundation, they’re certainly on the ground floor.

Four of those eight teams are competing in the 14u/15u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational at the East Cobb Baseball Complex, which began Thursday morning and continues through Sunday. Among the teams in the 14u/15u tournament is the powerhouse East Cobb Astros 14u, which Dave Roberts has coached for the past five years.

The 14u’s are an important element in ECB’s structure, and in Roberts’ view the young players are at a very pivotal point in their development. But they don’t represent where it all gets started.

“I think the foundation of the program is the even younger age groups,” Roberts said from a dugout before the Astros 14u took to the field for their first game of the tournament against the Memphis Tiger 15’s. “At 14, obviously it’s the first year they start playing on the regulation fields (and) it’s the first year where they’re exposed to maybe the finer points of the game they’re not exposed to just by virtue of being on the big field.”

Roberts also pointed out that when players reach the 14u level it also marks the first time they start getting looked at by colleges and is the first year they get into the Perfect Game system and begin participating in tournaments like this week’s Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational.

“It’s a critical year,” Roberts said. “It’s an important transition year, but I think our foundation – what we try to do here – is to develop kids in the younger age groups so when they get to 14, 15, 16 and 17 and they start getting looked at by schools, they have a good base.”

East Cobb Baseball is fielding 79 teams this summer for 8-year-olds on up to 18-year-olds – 33 are at the PG-EC Invitational – and 39 of those teams are in the age groups from 8 to 13. That’s a lot of young players getting a lot of attention even before they reach Roberts’ Astros 14u’s or any of the other seven EC 14u’s.

“Fortunately, some of the coaches at our younger age-groups do a very good job of teaching the fundamentals, but at each stage you progress to, the game’s going to get quicker; the game’s going to get faster; the players are going to get stronger,” Roberts said.

“Yes, we focus on a lot of the development of the aspects of the game that they may not have encountered (previously) but we also focus on the other stuff … such as making the players realize that you never know who’s going to be watching you. That’s something we preach all the time.”

There are challenges to working with 13- and 14-year-old boys, of course, mostly because they are being exposed to certain aspects of the game for the first time in their lives. That doesn’t faze Roberts.

“I love this age group (because) you still have a situation where they’re eager to learn,” he said. “We try to get good kids on the team who understand they don’t know a lot about baseball. That’s what we try to really preach early in the process – you have to understand you don’t know a lot about baseball, and when you come to that understanding, that’s when you’ll start to learn a lot about the game.

“For us … this is all about taking great players and putting them in a position to lay a foundation where they can go on and play after high school.”

East Cobb Astros 14u is one of 48 teams entered in 14u/15u PG-EC Invitational; it is also one of the favorites to win the tournament, which should come as no surprise.

Roberts and his staff are beginning their sixth season with the ECB Astros 14u and success has been steady if not even torrential. They have won nine national-level championships in the previous five years, including last year’s PG WWBA 14u National Championship.

“We always want to win, but our saying is, ‘winning is a by-product of having good players working hard and executing well,’” Roberts said. “We don’t necessarily talk a lot about winning – we talk a lot about doing the things that will lead to winning.”

The EC Astros 14u beat the Memphis Tiger 15’s, 2-1, in their tournament opener early Thursday afternoon. Patrick Wiseman, a 6-3, 190-pound right-hander who will be a sophomore at Pope High School in Cobb, Ga., in the fall, pitched a seven inning three-hitter with five strikeouts, one walk and no earned runs. His fastball approached the mid-80s.

Most of the players that start out with East Cobb in the younger age-groups move through the ranks and a select few will one day play with the elite older age-group teams. Those older teams also attract players from throughout the country who want the exposure ECB can provide them with its participation in numerous Perfect Game events.

The ECB Complex also hosts many Perfect Game tournaments, including the prestigious WWBA Nationals in late June and July.

“We’re fortunate that we have organizations like Perfect Game, and our players can participate in these tournaments. The promotion they can get and the exposure they can get through doing Perfect Game events is invaluable,” Roberts said. “We (the Astros 14u) not only play in the 14 Perfect Game events, we play in the 15 and the 16, and one year we also played in a 17-year-old Perfect Game event.”

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