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PG Select Baseball Festival | General | 8/30/2019

Fun-filled Friday at 14u Fest

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: PG 14u Select Baseball Festival (Perfect Game)

FORT MYERS, Fla. – After taking part in a crisp, timely and even lively practice session at the jetBlue Park Player Development Complex Friday morning, the 44 participants at this year’s Perfect Game 14u Select Baseball Festival then showed up loud and proud – albeit in a very mature manner – for their most important function of the day.

That was the fourth annual visit to the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, the beneficiary of the players’ weeks-long fund-raising efforts that produced a record-breaking sum in terms of donations.

Lee County Health Foundation Senior Special Events Manager Jason Powella said Friday afternoon that with the establishment of the Perfect Game Cares Foundation these important fund-raising efforts that aid in the exhaustive battle against pediatric cancer only continue to strengthen.

“This is now our fourth year and each year has been successful; it’s been great,” he told PG on Friday afternoon, speaking from the hospital’s brightly colored, well-windowed and welcoming reception area. “The kids have been incredible to deal with and talk with.”

Players raised more than $85,000 for Golisano Children’s in the event’s first three years and this year’s players went way over the top, raising $43,800 through Friday morning – and counting. For those keeping score at home, that’s nearly $130,000 collected by groups of 14- and 15-year-old kids from all across the country over the last 48 months.

Cade Kurland, a 2023 middle-infielder/right-hander from Tampa, has a cousin who was diagnosed with testicular cancer almost two years ago but today can call himself a cancer-free. Kurland used his cousin’s successful battle as a motivating tool and went out and raised $8,000, the most of any of this year’s 14u Select Fest participants.

“Me and my family really worked hard to raise that money because we knew how important it was,” Kurland said. “It was scary when we first found out about my cousin, who’s in college now.”

Bryce Eldridge is a towering 6-foot-6, 184-pound 2023 right-hander from Vienna, Va., who also did more than his part by collecting nearly $3,200 in donations.

“We all know this isn’t just about us, it’s about doing what every we can do to make these kids happy,” Eldridge said while preparing to meet with a few of the hospital’s young patients. “I saw it as an opportunity to just help out as much as I could.”

Another one of this year’s Select Festival participants who really took the fund-raising bull by the horns is Jakob Schulz, a 2023 left-hander from Houston. Schulz went out and collected nearly $3,100 in donations, adding to the record-breaking total.

“It’s a special opportunity to come here and you can either just kind of come for the baseball part or you can kind of get all into it,” he said. “I think it’s (best) to go all into it  and come and understand everything that’s happening here.”

Powella called the fund-raising effort an “incredible achievement” for these mid-teens. Not only are they happy and healthy and playing the game they all love, but they’re taking the time to contribute to children from across Southwest Florida who – at the moment, anyway – aren’t as fortunate as they are.

It’s a particularly incredible achievement because these players come from all across the country and many of them will never be able to visit Golisano Children’s again because this isn’t exactly their neck of the woods.

The fund-raising component is above-and-beyond what could have ever been expected from a baseball event that features 14- and 15-year-olds, Powella said. He even noted that 14u Select Fest alumni from the previous three years continue to return on this day and even continue to do fund-raising on their own. He called it a real testament to today’s youth that they’re willing to continue to do their part.

“This is the best part” of the Festival experience,” Kurland said. “I was excited to see the kids in this hospital and what their face would be like when we come and interact with them.”

With the hospital visit behind them, this year’s 14u Select Festival goers can now look forward to a busy Saturday that includes a practice session, an intrasquad scrimmage and the preliminary round of the event’s annual Home Run Challenge during the morning and early afternoon.

The 4th annual PG 14u Select Baseball Festival Awards Banquet is set for the Saturday night in the Estero Ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Hotel in nearby Bonita Springs. It all leads up to a Sunday full of on-field activities in front of Sunday’s 7 p.m. first-pitch at jetBlue Park.

“This is amazing; I’ll never forget it,” Kurland said. “I’m playing with the top 44 kids in the country and raising money for one of the best causes there is; there’s nothing better.”

Added Eldridge: “This is awesome; it’s a lot of fun and I’ve very excited to be here.”

Schulz has just started his freshman year at Houston’s Memorial High School and can’t imagine a better way to set a new school year in motion than being here in Southwest Florida – even with a strong hurricane bearing down on the state – and being a part of the 4th annual PG 14u Select Baseball Festival.

“This is awesome; it’s super fun,” he said. “You get to meet some new guys and get together with everyone, and it’s a great way to kick-off a new school year.”

Former MLBer’s Gordon, Sturtze lead this year’s Select Fest squads

Tanyon Sturtze hasn’t had any involvement with Perfect Game before this weekend, but when a good buddy of his who has been involved with PG for many years now told him it was time to climb on board, he saw no reason not to take the plunge.

“I’m good friends with Tom Gordon so Flash told me a lot about (Perfect Game),” Sturtze said Friday morning, speaking while a PG 14u Select Fest practice session was going on at a back field at the jetBlue Park complex. “He asked me if I wanted to be a part of this and I said, ‘Of course.’ It’s always important to give back to kids.”

Gordon and Sturtze are the head coaches for Team Gordon and Team Sturtze, respectively, at this year’s Select Fest.

This is the second straight year Gordon has served as the head coach of one of the two teams at the 14u Select Festival and he is also coming off a stint as head coach of one of the teams at last weekend’s inaugural PG 13u Select Baseball Festival held in Norman, Okla.

“I thought that went very well,” he told PG on Friday, speaking of the 13u Select Fest. “The kids were all enthused, and how Perfect Game has handled this and got these kids on the same stage together to compete, it’s just been tremendous. The kids have showed a lot of enthusiasm about the way the games have been played, and you see that in the celebrations.

“It just goes to show you how much they love competing against one another and knowing that they’ve done a really good job not only just on the ballfield but also in the classroom and all  that great stuff.”

Gordon, nicknamed “Flash”, won 138 games and saved another 158 in 21 seasons (1988-2009) with eight teams (eight with the Royals). A three-time All-Star during his career, Gordon is the father of the Mariners’ All-Star centerfielder Dee Gordon and rising Twins shortstop prospect Nicholas Gordon (known as Nick), a first-round pick of the Twins in 2014 and a 2013 Perfect Game All-American.

When Nick was 14 years old, he played for a travel team called the Florida Flash, which was coached by his dad, Flash Gordon.

“I just thank God that I get an opportunity to be on the field; it’s what I like doing,” Gordon said. “I enjoy being around these kids and seeing them play but also seeing them growing up. … It’s been a tremendous blessing for me because this is something I love doing but it’s also the way I give back.”

Sturtze, a big man who played at 6-foot-5, 190-pounds during his career, played parts or all of 12 seasons in the big leagues (1995-2006) with eight teams, including three each with the Devil Rays (2000-02) and the Yankees (2004-06).

He pitched three games with the Dodgers in 2008 and then retired for good. Lately he’s been doing a lot of work at youth camps with the Blue Jays and is also involved with a lot of the Yankees’ father-son fantasy camps. He enjoys working with this age-group.

“They’re a lot further along than when we were 14 and it’s a lot easier to coach them,” Sturtze said. “They know what they’re bodies are doing and it just makes it easier. … I love being around the kids, especially this age-group. This age-group is very easy to work with … and they’re starting to get to that level where good things will start happening for all of them.”

This weekend marks the first time Sturtze has been around this collection of young players so he’s not going to go in and try to change anything they’re doing. That said, if he does see certain things that he can point out to them, he’ll certainly do that, but he also knows that despite their youth, these prospects are more knowledgeable about their individual games than he is.

“I’ve talked to some of the kids already and they’re well aware of what they’re here for,” he said. “They’re here to have a good time and just go out there and showcase what they’ve got. We want them to enjoy themselves and we want them all to go to (college). Getting school paid for is a huge thing, so hopefully they can all showcase themselves and get that done.”

Gordon believes the event can still be used as a sort of a teaching mechanism when the situation calls for it because the players are still young. What he likes is that he knows they will ask a lot of questions and, perhaps not surprisingly, there never seems to be a bad question.

“It’s a lot of teaching, it’s a lot of development and also it’s a lot of knowledge about what it is that you may be experiencing down the line,” he said.

And Gordon, who has been around the game his entire life, knows good, young talent when he sees it and he was seeing it at the jetBlue complex Friday morning.

“You’re seeing such a huge jump in their ability and skillset but you’re also seeing a huge jump in their strength, their speed, their timing, their footwork and the things that they work on during the offseason if they even have an offseason,” he said. “It’s a credit to the work and the development and the time that they put in on the field as well as off the field to get stronger.”

All eyes on Dorian

PG officials are, of course, tracking the path of Hurricane Dorian very closely and are prepared to act if the storm impacts Southwest Florida before the Select Fest game can be completed Sunday night.

Dorian was upgraded to a Category 3 hurricane on Friday afternoon and is now forecast to make landfall on the Atlantic Coast of South Florida as a Category 4 hurricane Tuesday morning; it is then projected to move into Central Florida on Wednesday morning.

“You’re always thinking about your family because these kids recognize that their parents, their family, their loved ones support them tremendously and give them the opportunity to do these things,” PG's Tom “Flash” Gordon said Friday. “We need faith, we need God and we need to continue to pray. … I know there’s a plan in place so whatever happens I think these kids will always have their families at heart.”

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