Tournaments : : Story
Sunday, September 29, 2013

NorCal talents seek exposure

Patrick Ebert        
Photo: Perfect Game

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – The WWBA Kernels Foundation Championship for the most part is a regional tournament, in which 44 teams from 12 states from the upper Midwest and Canada assemble in and around the Cedar Rapids, Iowa area to compete for a paid invitation to participate in the WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla. Naturally, the players that makes up the rosters of the 44 teams also, for the most part, are from those 12 states.

There are two notable, and very obvious exceptions to this.

Stetson Woods, a 6-foot-9, 210-pound righthander from Madera, Calif., and 6-foot-4, 180-pound third baseman McCarthy Tatum of Clovis have made the trip cross-country to play with the Illinois Indians–TRIBE team to not only help the Indians win the paid invite to Jupiter, but also in an attempt to help themselves gain exposure in front of the scouting community on hand.

My coach Terance Frazier was talking to Coach Gord,” Woods said of his decision to attend the Kernels Foundation Championship. “He asked me if I wanted to come, and I thought it would be a good experience. I'd never been here before, and I love the Perfect Game tournaments so I decided to come out.

(I) just want to try to help this team win when I can pitch, try to further myself and get my name out there.”

The Indians, with a strong group of underclassmen on their younger age group teams, were looking to bolster their roster not only for this weekend's Kernels Foundation Championship, but also for the PG/EvoShield Upperclass National Championship conducted last weekend in Arizona. When the program opted not to attend the Upperclass event after going 3-1 at the PG/EvoShield National Championship the week prior, Head Coach Nelson Gord opted to bring some of the players he secured to Iowa.

When I knew we were going to do the Arizona events I reached out to a lot of my contacts out on the West Coast that I'd either played with in pro ball or coached against, asking for some direction to fill some roster spots,” Gord said. “A couple of people pointed me in the direction of Terance Frazier who runs Central Cal Baseball. A lot of the things that he said about the approach with his program resonated with me.

We didn't end up doing (the PG/EvoShield Upperclass National Championship). McCarthy and Stetson were going to come down to that. When we decided that we didn't have the quality team to bring down there I asked if they would be interested in coming out to Iowa (for the Kernels Championship). They both have aspirations of playing professional baseball, and we knew most if not all of the Major League teams would be represented here, so we felt it would be a great opportunity for them.”

With the exception of one player from Iowa, the rest of Gord's Illinois Indians roster is made up of players from Illinois. Gord's organization, Play Ball Baseball, is part of his newest venture, Players U, which is based in Mount Prospect, Ill., a suburb northwest of Chicago.

We started the Indians program in the winter of 2007,” Gord said. “It was just a youth program, we just had 11, 12 and 13-year old teams. It quickly transitioned into the high school age, and that's where I found I was best suited because I really enjoyed going through that recruiting process with the kids. More importantly, just the ability to teach them just how to be young men was a lot more impactful at that age.

Over the past 5-6 years we've really grown not only the quantity but the quality of the kids that are coming through. We're seeing more and more talented kids come through and out of our program, so we're really excited about the direction its going.”

While they didn't participate in the Upperclass edition of the PG/EvoShield National Championships, they did field a team at the Underclass, and played quite well. They finished 2-1 in pool play, holding a 3-1 lead in their game against eventual pool winner Trombly Baseball in the bottom of the sixth before things unraveled.

I knew defensively we would be pretty solid–we had about six kids that are high school shortstops–so I knew we would pick up the baseball,” Gord recalled. “The big question mark was going to be how we were going to pitch, and it ends up that every starter on our staff ended up being on the all-tournament team. The key thing especially with wood bat events is throwing strikes. I feel we do a good enough job training the kids with defensive fundamentals that we'll be solid behind them, and that's what those guys did.

If you look at the one game we loss to Trombly, we were up 3-1 and then we had a couple of walks, one miscommunication in the outfield and that's the ballgame.”

The Indians did win their consolation game against the powerful ABD Bulldogs to end their experience on a high note, but it left Gord and his team hungry for more.

In addition to the Kernels Foundation Championship, the Indians are scheduled to participate in both the WWBA Underclass World Championship as well as the inaugural WWBA Freshman World Championship, both of which will be held in Fort Myers, Fla. on back-to-back weekends in mid-October.

I was telling our assistant coach Anthony (
Concialdi)–this is his first experience with a Perfect Game event–you'll never see anything like it,” Gord said of his experience competing at WWBA and Perfect Game tournament events. “From having the official scorekeepers, to the amount of colleges, the publicity, to getting the colleges (the player's) contact information–a lot of people keep that close to their chest–that's why we're all in this, to help them get to the next level.

I also knew bringing these two guys from California would help draw attention to the players in our program , and I think they deserve that. It's a nice benefit to them and a great opportunity that not many get.”

Traveling isn't anything new to Woods, currently ranked 102nd
 in PG's high school class of 2014 rankings, who participated at numerous Perfect Game events over the course of the summer.

His travels began with a trip to Minneapolis, Minn. for the National Showcase in mid-June, where the lanky righty took the mound in the very first game of the showcase. That game was notable in that three eventual Perfect Game All-Americans, Brandon Murray, Kodi Medeiros and fellow Northern California native Luis Ortiz (Fresno), also pitched.

It definitely opened your eyes,” Woods said of the added attention he received at the National. “But I grew up playing against a lot of lot of older players. I've known Luis (Ortiz) for a while. Now he's one of my friends, so I don't really look at him like a superstar that a lot of people do.

Playing in the Metrodome was kind of crazy to go in there and see it with the history that's been there. But once you step on the mound it's like any other mound.”

Under the roof of the Metrodome Woods displayed his usual, free and easy delivery getting pronounced downhill leverage thanks to his skyscraper build. He pitched consistently in the upper-80s at the event, peaking at 90 mph.

Two weeks later, pitching for the San Diego Show at the 18u WWBA National Championship in Marietta, Ga., Woods peaked at 92 mph playing on a talent-laden squad that included Ortiz and two other PG All-Americans, first baseman Rowdy Tellez (2012) and shortstop Jacob Gatewood.

One week later Woods participated in the 17u WWBA National Championship, peaking at 91 mph while striking out eight batters in his six innings of work. One more PG All-American joined the Show that week, catcher Alex Jackson.

Perfect Game draws a lot of scouts, and they're known to have the best athletes come to their showcases,” Woods said of his experiences in both Minneapolis and Marietta. “The atmosphere with all of the coaches and pro scouts is pretty special. Playing with people like Alex Jackson, who was ranked No. 1, that was definitely cool.”

The trip to Iowa proved to be a productive one for Woods, who waited to take his turn pitching until Sunday against the talented Team DeMarini-Koutnik squad in Iowa City. With both teams sitting at 2-0 in their pool, the winner would move on to the Kernels Foundation playoffs.

Woods worked the first 4 2/3 innings for the Indians, sitting in his usual 87-90 mph range while peaking at 91. He also mixed in both an upper-60s curveball and a low-80s slider, striking out five and allowing only one run on two hits and two walks. The best news about it was that the Indians won the game to advance.

While Woods has gained plenty of his travels, the same isn't true for his Illinois Indians teammate McCarthy Tatum, with whom Woods traveled with to Cedar Rapids.

McCarthy Tatum played in his first PG event at the 2013 WWBA Kernels Foundation Championship.
The Kernels Foundation Championship marked Tatum's first taste of Perfect Game, an opportunity he was excited to experience.

I'm just trying to get my name out there a little bit, get some looks, show people what I can do,” McCarthy said. “(I want to) try and help this team win so they can get a spot in Jupiter, whatever I have to do to do that.”

While not quite as towering as Woods, Tatum also stands out on the baseball field thanks to his 6-foot-4 frame. He is teammates with Gatewood at Clovis High School and is quick to point out the impressive talent Northern California has to offer.

Tatum, like Woods, has committed to play for Fresno State, along with yet another PG All-American, outfielder Trenton Kemp, who is also from Clovis.

It's unbelievable, there are some great players out there,” Tatum said of the players he gets to play with and against on a regular basis. “I've never played anywhere else, really, besides when I was little. I haven't really travelled much, but I know the competition is great in Northern California.”

Because he hasn't travelled, despite his commitment to play for Fresno State locally, Tatum recognizes the importance of playing with and against the best players in competitive events with hopes of being drafted to play professional baseball.

I would really be fortunate to be drafted,” Tatum said of his future aspirations. “But I always have to think about my education, so I'm just going to do whatever I have to do to get my name out there.”

Tatum also made the most of time spent in Iowa. Through the team's three pool play games the young slugger was 5-for-8 (.625) with two runs scored, including a 2-for-2 effort in the Illinois Indians-TRIBE 3-1 win over Team DeMarini-Koutnik on Sunday.

While the main goal of many to most travel teams is to provide that platform for their players to be recognized by both the college and professional scouting community, Gord is quick to recognize the ultimate goal playing in the WWBA Kernels Foundation Championship.

Every year since we started doi
ng the high school team, Jupiter, Jupiter Jupiter. That's the goal behind this, that's the place to be. As long as we don't have a spot in that tournament we're going to continue to do everything we can to earn that berth. Hopefully with those two guys, in addition to the talent we brought out here from our usual summer program, I think we have a legitimate shot, I'm excited.”

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