Tournaments : : Story
Saturday, September 15, 2012

Yak West, Garciaparra join forces

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- In just two short years of existence, Yak Baseball West has risen to become one of the top travel team organizations on the West Coast. By also traveling across the country to events such as the prestigious PG WWBA 17u National Championship in Marietta, Ga., Yak Baseball West has also earned a prominent national reputation.

Yak Baseball West --its base is in the Los Angeles (Calif.) County community of Hawthorne, a city that is perhaps best known for being the boyhood home of original Beach Boys Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson --is here at the Perfect Game/EvoShield National Championship (Upperclass) this weekend with a new name. And it's a name that resonates strongly across the nation's baseball community.

GBG Yak Baseball is the official name of the team that won its first two pool-play games at PG/EvoShield Upper Friday and Saturday, but the acronym needs to be broken down. GBG stands for the Garciaparra Baseball Group, a baseball developmental organization started by Michael Garciappara, and his father, Ramon.

James Byers started Yak Baseball West two years ago and is in the process of opening a 37,000 square feet training facility in the Los Angeles area. He worked with Garciparra and the Garciaparra Baseball Group to merge the two organizations in the name of efficiency.

Michael Garciaparra, a veteran of nine minor league seasons as a professional player, coached the team this weekend and with Ramon's help, gathered much of the talent that was present. Former big-leaguer Nomar Garciappara, Michael's brother, acts only as an unofficial consultant with Michael and Ramon doing all the heavy lifting.

"This is the first PG tournament we've done with GBG, although I brought Mike with me to (the WWBA 17u National  Championship) to coach the team when it was still Yak Baseball West," Byers said. "But it is still the same group of guys like Dominic (Smith) -- I've coached Dom since he was 13 -- so it's the same guys.

"But with Mike playing (nine) years of pro baseball, being a first round draft pick -- and his brother wasn't too bad either -- they bring in a lot."

Byers dropped the name of Dominic Smith very casually during a conversation with Perfect Game Saturday morning at the Goodyear Sports and Recreation Complex, the spring training home of the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians. Smith (2013, Los Angeles) has played for Byers for five years, the last two with Yak Baseball West.

Smith is ranked the No. 5 overall national prospect in the 2013 graduating class and is one of four Perfect Game All-Americans that played with Yak Baseball West this summer. The others are Christopher Rivera (2013, Fullerton, Calif.), John Paul Crawford (2013, Lakewood, Calif.) and Kevin Franklin (2013, Cerritos, Calif.)

None of the four were with GBG Yak on Saturday, but Byers said there is a chance Smith and Rivera could join the team as early as Sunday afternoon if it is alive in the tournament's playoffs. The top-ranked prospect with the team Saturday was shortstop Tyler Cohen (2013, Agoura Hills, Ark.), a Loyola Marymount commit who is ranked No. 162 nationally.

Byers brought mostly uncommitted 2013 prospects to the PG/EvoShield Upper, a move he made on purpose. He pointed to a player like first baseman Ivan Chavarria (2013, Gardena, Calif.) who he said "absolutely hurts baseballs" and shortstop Anthony Ayala (2013, Fontana, Calif.), a defensive specialist, who are still looking for suitable colleges.

"We're trying to get these kids exposed and find a way for them to go to a D-I school, or if not, whatever fits," Byers said.

GBG Yak opened the tournament Friday with a nail-biting 1-0 win over the ASD Bulldogs, a game in which Yak totaled just three hits. But right-handers Gordon Cardenas (2013, Manhattan Beach, Calif.) and Javier Alvarez (2013, Long Beach, Calif.) combined on a five-hit shutout to send Yak into Saturday's play unbeaten.

"Gordon threw really, really well," Byers said. "He struggled a little early just finding his groove but once he got going he did a really good job of keeping the ball down. And once we came in with Javy, he did fantastic; better than expected. He just did a real good job of mixing it up and not letting them get too comfortable up there."

The bats came alive in a 9-1, five inning win over the AZ Sabercats Pro Saturday afternoon. GBG Yak smacked 12 hits, including a pair of doubles from Cohen.

GBG Yak Baseball had one more pool game to play Saturday night, with the outcome determining if it reaches the 16-team playoffs or not. The 14 pool champions plus two at-large entrants comprise the playoff field, with first round games beginning at 8 a.m. Sunday at the Camelback Ranch facility in nearby Glendale.

Byers may not have all his horses in the corral this weekend, but the Yak team he has coached the last two years will always be one of his favorites.

"I love these guys, and a lot of them have been around pre-teen playing rec ball; it's been fun watching them," he said. "Guys like Dom who I remember as a 12 or 13 year old kid running around, and now people are talking first round (in the MLB draft) for him. This has just been a lot of fun."

And the newly organized affiliation with the Garciaparra Baseball Group will only mean a continued strong relationship with Perfect Game.

"I'm 100 percent in support of any Perfect Game event we can go to. If we can afford to go to it, we're going to go to it," Byers said. "It's been awesome; it's been great exposure, the kids all like the events and basically they get to play on big-league fields this weekend, and you really can't ask for more than that. And based on some of the fields we play on in So Cal, this is a welcome change."

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