FORT MYERS, Fla. – Right about mid-day Saturday, some of the country’s most prominent collegiate baseball programs were represented quite well with their coaches and recruiters standing behind the backstop at George Brett Field at Terry Park.
There they stood, taking in one of what could end up being more than 300 games – weather permitting – at the Perfect Game WWBA Underclass World Championship being played this weekend at 15 venues and on more than 30 fields across the area.
Among the schools represented at this particular pool-play game between the ABA Braves and FTB Mizuno Royal were staffers from SEC schools Auburn, Mississippi, Florida and Georgia. Other coaches/recruiters wore shirts or caps from Clemson, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Michigan, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame.
And off to one side, not really in the main cluster of coaches, stood one young man who was proudly wearing a cap and shirt with the logo from Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black university located in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Barrett Shaft is a first-year assistant coach at B-CU under first-year head coach Jason Beverlin. He enjoyed a stellar collegiate career at Western Carolina and graduated in 2008 as the Catamount’s all-time hits leader.
Shaft played professionally with the Midwest Sliders in the independent Frontier League in 2008, and then became a volunteer assistant coach at the University of Tennessee while he pursued a Master’s degree in sports psychology there.
He got his first taste of recruiting at PG events during his time at Tennessee, but he is just now really getting acquainted with Perfect Game as a full-time coach/recruiter at B-CU. Shaft appreciates the opportunity PG gives to men in his position.
“You bring (prospects) in from all different regions and have them play at a centralized location, and you’ve got 110 games going on within a 45-mile radius,” he said. “It’s great for recruiters to be able to go to one place and you’ve got recruiters from all over the country here that come in. They may focus a little bit more on their specific region, but you still get to see kids from all the country, so it’s definitely advantageous.”
Bethune-Cookman is a small (3,500 enrollment) private school that was first established as an all-black college. Its athletic teams compete in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference which includes other historically black colleges and universities, and is NCAA Division I in every sport – including baseball – except football, where it competes on the FCS level (formerly Division I-AA).
Shaft has no problem attempting to sell the B-CU program to the top prospects at the WWBA Underclass World Championship while rubbing elbows with recruiters from Florida, Georgia, Ole Miss, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and all the other top schools the event draws.
“Each program has its own advantages, and we come out and we lay out very clearly what Bethune-Cookman is all about and what we have going for us,” Shaft said. “If they want to come on a visit they’ll get to meet our staff, they’ll get to see our campus and we have a rich history there. So as far as going toe-to-toe with big national programs, if it fits for the kid then it fits for the kid. We’ll go out and discuss it with kids, and you never know when Bethune-Cookman will be a good fit got one of them.”
Because of budget restraint and transportation costs, B-CU concentrates its recruiting efforts in Florida, which is certainly no hindrance considering the wealth of talent in the state.
Shaft said the WWBA Underclass provides a perfect recruiting opportunity for his school on many fronts. First is the fact that the event is being staged only about 180 miles from the B-CU campus and, secondly, the fall is the perfect time to start looking at the prospects who are sophomores and juniors in high school.
“It’s getting so where everybody is so far ahead looking at the juniors and sophomores that the summer is primarily when you’re going to see a lot of the kids that are going into their senior year start coming off the board,” Shaft said. “For us, we want to be at the underclass (events).”