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Friday, September 04, 2009

ABD Bulldogs Red are 17U national champs

Jim Ecker        
See also: 17U Travel Teams: Top 64 + Honorable Mention

The ABD Bulldogs Red were locked in a tight game with the Canes Orange at the WWBA 17U National Championships in Marietta, Ga., this past July. It was just the opening round of the 32-team playoffs on a Saturday night, but the game had the feel of a championship showdown with two outstanding pitchers on the mound and a vast array of talent on the field.

The Bulldogs prevailed in extra innings in a classic battle and proceeded to win the WWBA title two days later, a major reason they've been named the top 17-&-under team in the country this year by Perfect Game USA.

Mike Spiers, the executive director of the ABD program and the coach of the Bulldogs Red, said his players look forward to games against other top teams and outstanding players, just like their meeting with the Canes Orange in Georgia.

"It was a neat game," said Spiers. "Our guys knew they were going to face a good pitcher. They really thrive when they face a good team like that. They raise their game. It turned out to be a great game. We train them that you have to be prepared when that opportunity arises."

Peter Tago, an Aflac All-American, pitched a strong game for the Bulldogs that day. DeAndre Smelter, also an Aflac All-American, was equally impressive on the mound for the Canes. Both pitchers threw in the mid-90s, and both pitchers had outstanding defensive teams behind them. It was tied, 2-2, after the regulation seven innings, then the Bulldogs prevailed in the eighth.

The Bulldogs compiled a perfect 10-0 record in the WWBA 17U tournament, winning 10 games in six days. It came just a week after they went 7-1 in the WWBA 18U tournament, giving them a 17-1 mark for their two weeks in Georgia.

The Bulldogs sent six players to the Aflac All-America Classic in San Diego this August with Tago, Tony Wolters, Austin Wilson, Stefan Sabol, Michael Lorenzen and Tyler Shreve making the trip. Eight other Bulldogs played in the Area Codes games this summer, and just about everybody on the expanded 33-man roster won an award of some kind this season. Travis Harrison was named the MVP of the WWBA 17U tournament after a tremendous display of hitting.

All of the players on the ABD roster were from California except Brett Harrison, who is from Nevada.

"You know the best part of it? They're good kids," said Spiers. "They're awesome kids, actually. Good players, good families."

Spiers said players have to fit into the ABD philosophy of working hard, playing hard and behaving themselves. Otherwise, they're not welcome. "And they're competitive. That's the funnest part," he said. "They have fun."

The ABD initials stand for Amateur Baseball Development. They had 33 teams this year, ranging in age from 9U through preps, with 24 teams at the high school level. The program is based on California, but they also had teams in Hawaii and Nevada this season.

Spiers has a staff of excellent baseball people, several with major league experience. Randy Curtis, the president of the ABD program, is a former Topps Minor League Player of the Year whose career was cut short by a boating accident.

Spiers was formerly a college baseball coach in California. He used to give lessons to younger players to supplement his income, and that led to starting his own youth baseball organization in the early 1990's. That's how the ABD program began.

"It was more or less an accident," he said. "Each year, the interest level grew more and more. It was basically what people wanted."

Spiers said there weren't summer all-star travel teams like this in California in the early 1990s. At the time, he thought high school players were not getting the proper training and experience they needed for college ball and the pros. "The players were kind of behind in how to play the game," he said.

There are four ABD graduates in major leagues right now with Tommy Hanson (Atlanta), Reed Johnson (Cubs, 15-day DL), Greg Dobbs (Phils (15-day DL) and Xavier Paul (Dodgers, 60-day DL). More could be on the way to the big leagues.

Spiers keeps busy with his work in baseball. He's also the West Coast Director for Perfect Game USA, serves as a scout for the Atlanta Braves and coached Equador's National Team in the Pan-American Games a few years ago.

This year, he coached the top 17U team in the nation.
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