Tournaments : : Story
Friday, August 02, 2013

Placing a value on just placing

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Don't try telling New England Ruffnecks Baseball director Steve August that playing in a game against the South Florida Elite Squad that would determine the ninth-place finisher at the 14u Perfect Game World Series was meaningless to him and his young players from the Boston area.

Don't even think about suggesting to New Jersey-based Tri-State Arsenal owner/operator/head coach Bob Barth that his 14u team's seventh-place game against NorCal Baseball was a waste of time and energy as oppressive heat enveloped the jetBlue Player Development Complex and rain threatened Friday afternoon.

The two men had brought their young teams here to challenge for a championship at the 14u PG World Series, but if a berth in the title game proved elusive they had, after all, mostly came here to play baseball -- be it for first-place, seventh-place, ninth-place or 13th-place. With the top-two finishers in each of the two pools matched in Saturday's semifinal games, the placing games matched the third- through seventh-place finishers in each pool against one another.

"It's a no-lose situation; it gives you an opportunity after a long, grinding (event) to play some other kids in these games," August said before he had even learned who his Ruffneck squad would be playing in the national tournament's ninth-place game.

"All these rosters are pretty large and you bring a bunch of kids this far in a competitive, developmental program, which we are, and you're grinding it out and trying to get to the next round because that's important to teach," he said. "You're going to use all your guys to go that deep but if you still don't advance it's nice to have that game where you can get a guy a moment or two.

"This is youth baseball and these kids all love to be here and they all have aspirations to play at the next level so why have people come this far and then say, 'Hey we lost, now we're gone, see-ya, bye.'"

The Ruffnecks 14u were very competitive through six pool-play games, finishing 1-2-3. An 8-1 loss to the South Florida Elite Squad in the ninth-place game left them 1-3-3 for the tournament.

Playing in the pool opposite of the New England Ruffnecks 14u, the Tri-State Arsenal completed pool-play with a 2-4 record. A 5-4 win over NorCal Baseball sent them back to New Jersey with a 3-4 record and positive feelings about the entire experience.

"I think anytime you get to play against this level of competition regardless of what you're playing for, it's a chance to get better as a baseball player and to grow, especially if you're 14 years old," Barth said Friday. "Regardless of who we play, you know they're good; they're here and you know it's going to be a great ballgame. If I was at home (in New Jersey) I can't play anybody as good as the guys I'm playing right here.

"I'm always a fan of the consolation game or the play-back for another place (in the standings). I think it's great and I was really happy that we got this seventh game."

By the time pool-play was completed in the 14-team 14u PG World Series Friday afternoon, the slots in Saturday's two semifinal games and the five placing games had been filled. The Houston (Texas) Banditos (5-1) will face the MBA Pride Elite (4-1-1) out of Daytona Beach, Fla., in one semifinal, and Xtreme Baseball (5-1) from Fort Myers will play the Georgia Jackets ((5-1) out of Milton, Ga., in the other semifinal. Those games are at the jetBlue Player Development Complex beginning at 9 a.m.

In other placing games Friday, 6-4-3 DP Academy (4-3) beat the Ohio Glaciers (5-2) for fifth-place; Team Northwest (2-5) topped the So Cal National Travel Team (1-4-2) to claim 11th; and the St. Louis Gamers (2-4-1) got past the Orlando Scorpions (1-6) to claim 13th place.

But the question persists: Are the added placing games -- really just glorified consolation contests -- beneficial to the young players.

"Anytime you get a chance to play in Perfect Game national events, every game that you play is an opportunity to get better as a player, develop as a player, and to learn something and to see something else that you haven't seen yet," Barth said. "To see another great player from somewhere else in this country that you don't know about that you can learn something from watching."

Participating in this tournament was especially meaningful for the New England Ruffnecks 14u. The organization's main offices are located about a block from where the first bomb exploded near the end of the April's Boston Marathon. There were people in the Ruffnecks' offices that day but no one associated with the organization was injured.

The Ruffnecks wore "4/15 Boston Strong" patches on their uniforms this week to commemorate the date of the bombing. "This is good for us to be here," August said, adding that the competitive environment is what was most beneficial to his young team.

"We extended our season another week because we felt it was a privilege to be invited to this tournament," he said. "This has been a successful team all year -- we've played well over 80 games -- but this is probably the first tournament we've played in that is pretty select (competition).

"In most cases you got to a tournament where there's that team that you know you're going to -- it's kind of free parking on the monopoly board," August continued. "Here, every game is something you need to prepare for ... and I think the kids take away a sense of what it's like to really bear down day-in and day-out."

Learning the importance of "bearing down" is especially important to 14-year-olds. Barth talked about how his team had learned a lot this week about what it takes to compete for a Perfect Game national championship and how it lost games to programs that have traditionally been strong on the national stage. But the important thing, he said, was that the Arsenal got to face those teams at all.

"Just to get the chance to play them -- we can't got to Texas to play the Banditos and then fly to Orlando and play the Scorpions and then fly all the way out (to Washington state) and play Team Northwest," Barth said." We're playing teams we can't play unless we come here."

He talked about how his older teams get the coveted exposure in front of college coaches and professional scouts. He talked about how the younger guys get an opportunity to gain valuable experience so when it's their turn to get that exposure, they'll play like seasoned veterans.

"Win or lose, you get to play in great fields against great teams, and it's a great tournament and it's run well," Barth said. "You know it's going to be a class tournament, (Perfect Game) keeps an eye on the kids, they scout the kids, they start talking about who's going to be a dude down the road and who's not going to be a dude down the road; it's good stuff, man, it's really good stuff."

And if that means playing a seventh-place consolation game, so be it.

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