Tournaments : : Story
Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Guthries 'Burn' no bridges

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- While spending the first eight years of his life as the son of an active major league pitcher, Dalton Guthrie had his pick of big-leaguers to both idolize and emulate. Dalton's father, left-hander Mark Guthrie, pitched 15 seasons in the majors from 1989 through 2003 with seven different clubs, including from '89 through '98 with the Minnesota Twins and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

For whatever reason, in 2002 when Mark Guthrie was pitching in his only season with the New York Mets, soon to be 7-year-old Dalton became a big fan of slick-fielding but light-hitting shortstop Rey Ordonez, who was only two years away from retirement himself. Mark remembered that when he was throwing middle-relief for the Mets in 2002, Ordonez was beginning his last season in Queens.

"Dalton loved Rey Ordonez," Mark Guthrie told Perfect Game on Wednesday. "He used to watch everything Rey Ordonez did -- doing the pop-up slide in the hole -- and he was doing that when he was 7 or 8 years old. That was kind of neat, and I think a lot of that memory and that visualization gets created in your head for kids like that, that actually have the attention span to watch the game."

"My favorite (player) of all-time was Rey Ordonez; I just loved the way he played," Dalton said Wednesday, backing up his dad's memories. But he had another favorite, as well. "Obviously, my dad was all right, too; I liked watching him pitch. Ever since I was like 6 years old I remember just sitting there watching the games and watching my dad pitch. I've always loved watching baseball and I love learning every day."

The Guthries are here with their powerhouse Florida Burn Orange team this week -- Mark is the head coach and Dalton is one of more than a dozen top prospects on the squad -- playing in the 17u PG BCS Finals national championship. The Burn Orange, almost unbeatable in 2012, dropped their first two games in the second round of pool-play Tuesday and Wednesday and will miss the playoffs at this event.

This comes on the heels of a 3-1 showing at the rain-plagued 17u PG WWBA National Championship up in the north Atlanta suburbs, a tournament where just about every team fought to find its traction.

"We didn't really swing the bats well in Atlanta, and I don't know if that was because of sporadic play and not getting to play on a consistent basis," because of the rain, Mark Guthrie said. "Usually as these events go on we starting swinging a little better, but we just haven't swung the bats very well.

"They're going to have little lulls and we told them after the game (Tuesday) that we're always going to have faith in this group of kids," he continued. "They've won too many events and they've played at such a high level, and every now and then you're going to have a little bit of a letdown and you're not going to win every game."

A second Florida Burn team, the Burn Navy, won all six of its fames to start the 17u BCS Finals and has securely wrapped up a spot in the playoffs. They didn't come in with nearly the pedigree of the Burn Orange, however.

With Dalton Guthrie as a centerpiece, the Burn Orange won Perfect Game national championships at the 2012 16u PG World Series and the 2012 PG WWBA Underclass World Championship, and also won the title at the 2012 PG WWBA Florida Qualifier. Those championships came on the heels of a runner-up finish at the 16u PG WWBA East Memorial Day Classic and a third-place finish at the 2012 16u PG BCS Finals.

Not only is this Florida Burn 17u team made up of longtime friends, but longtime teammates, as well. Dalton Guthrie (2014 Sarasota, Fla.);  Brandon Elmy (2014, Nokomis, Fla.); Ryan Miller (2014, Sarasota, Fla.); Michael Rivera (2014, Venice, Fla.); Tyler Shambora (2013, Venice, Fla.); and Tyson Albert (2013, Nokomis, Fla.) are all teammates at Venice Senior High School.

Venice won the inaugural PG High School Showdown in April and finished No. 2 in PG's 2013 Top 100 National High School Rankings.

"When we put this team together we didn't expect to have the success that we're having," Dalton said. "It's been nice, and to do it with a bunch of kids I've grown up with and I've played with for such a long time makes it that much more enjoyable. I play with these guys all year around so we know each other real well.

"Our main goal is to win and it's nice to play with a group of guys that it's not all about individualism and it's about winning as a team; by playing with each other for so long we've built the camaraderie that is really hard to explain."

So, yes, when considering their play at the 17u PG WWBA National Championship and here this week at the 17u PG BCS Finals, there has been a bit of a hiccup so far this summer.

"It goes through peaks and valleys," Mark Guthrie said. "Sometimes when you get to know each other too well you can hit a little bit of a relaxation type of thing, so we try to do things to keep them going and keep things interesting for them. ... These kids play a lot of baseball and they've been going since January with their high school practices , but this is pretty competitive group ... and we've still got a lot of ball to play."

Mark Guthrie pitched in 765 games in the big leagues, including his last outing in 2003. Not long after retiring from the game, Mark coached started coaching Dalton and his friends on a travel ball team when Dalton was 9 years old. He also coached his oldest son, Kevin, who just completed his freshman year at Brown University, playing in the Ivy League.

"It was such a great experience," Mark said. "I had never coached before and just getting on the other side of it and being able to share time with both my sons, was special."

Mark Guthrie said when people ask him what they should do to elevate their young sons' interest in the game, he encourages them to take their kids out to high school games or minor league games or any level of baseball game where they can begin to visualize the action.

"When the kids start thinking that that's just how it is, that raises their level and they realize that that's how you play the game and then that's all they know," he said. "I think that happens a lot with a lot of guys whose kids play the game and he really benefitted from it."

To Dalton's way of thinking, he's benefitted a lot more than even his closest friends who have been coached by his dad, along with Venice Senior High head coach Craig Faulkner, another ex-big-leaguer. Dalton gets to live in the same house with Mark -- something that will change next summer when Dalton heads off to the University of Florida -- and he's appreciative of the lessons he's learned from his dad.

"He knows so much about the game and he opens up a whole new world of thinking," Dalton said. "It's not just see-ball, hit-ball and run, it's that there's so much more to the game; you have to respect it and you have to play it the right way if you want to be successful."

Dalton is also appreciative of the guidance he's received from older brother Kevin, a right-handed pitcher and Brown University from the Ivy League sophomore-to-be. There is also a younger brother, 8-year-old Hayden, hanging out at home.

"He's been a major help," Dalton said of Kevin, who is spending his summer playing with Amsterdam (N.Y.) in the Perfect Game Collegiate Summer League. "My first two years in high school he was always there for me, even through my struggles and everything, and he was really a big influence on me."

So, is he trying to pass some things on to young Hayden?

"We're trying," Dalton said with a laugh. "He's a genius so we're just trying to get him into an Ivy League (school)."

Mark Guthrie was not uncomfortable talking about Dalton, but obviously didn't want anything he said to be construed as braggadocio. The fact is Dalton is ranked the No. 84 national high school prospect in the class of 2014, has impressed hundreds of scouts at 21 Perfect Game events -- including the 2013 PG National Showcase and the 2012 PG National Games -- and is a prized recruit at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

"He was kind of born with unusual instincts," Mark said, being careful not to sound too much like a doting parent. "He's always been instinctually pretty special and has a very sound knowledge of the game; since he was 3 years old he sat in the stands and watched nine inning of major league games.

"He was born with that and it's developed over the years and he has a little bit of athleticism, but his instincts and his feel for the game are what makes him a pretty good player."

Dalton seems a natural to have ended up with head coach Kevin O'Sullivan and the Florida Gators up in Gainesville. Winners seem to have a natural attraction, especially a winner with a 4.7 advanced-course grade point average, which is what Dalton Guthrie carries.

"They're an elite program and the coaches were great to me," Dalton said of his Gators decision. "They're all about winning, and I like that, and they didn't try to bull-crap me; I like a coach that's straight up with me. It's a real nice place and it's close to home, and the academics were big for me."

Mark Guthrie's days of coaching his son are winding down, although the Burn Orange are already penciled in for next week's 17u Perfect Game World Series in Goodyear, Ariz., and seem likely to show up at the PG WWBA Florida Qualifier and PG WWBA World Championship here in Florida in October.

"He's made me a better coach and having him on our teams has probably always made our teams better," Mark said. "He's not a statistics guy and he's not a guy who's going to come out and consistently hit balls over the fence, but he plays solid defense and I think he makes the players around him a little bit better.

"It's nice for me because even at a young age I kind of told myself I need to let him go ... so we just kind of let him develop. To this day he still does a lot of learning by watching the great players and trying to see how much he can get from them."

Seems kind of incredible that Rey Ordonez might have got the whole ball rolling.

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