FORT MYERS, Fla. - It's not unusual for 14-year-olds to come into a Perfect Game tournament somewhat wide-eyed. And when the championship game of that tournament is played in an 8,000-seat stadium that a major league club once used as its spring training home, those young eyes can get wider than those of a barn owl.
“This is the second year we’ve brought a team down here and it’s a great tournament and I love being down here,” East Cobb Titans 14u head coach Tim Ayers said after his team won the 2011 PG 14u BCS Finals championship at City of Palms Park, the former spring training home of the Boston Red Sox.
“The kids love being down here and it was good for them. They love playing in a big stadium – they were talking about how much better could it be than being at an event like this and playing in a big stadium.”
Youngsters and prospects ages 12 to 18 will get a shot at gaining similar experiences over three weeks from June 29 through July 20 at seven PG BCS Finals tournaments, six of which will be played at six venues throughout Fort Myers and Cape Coral.
The inaugural PG 12u BCS Finals is the exception. That 16-team tournament will run June 29 through July 5 at the East Cobb Complex in Marietta, Ga.
The seventh annual 14u and 16u BCS Finals share the stage the first week in Fort Myers, running June 30 through July 6. The seventh annual 15u and second 13u Finals are slated for July 7-13, and the seventh annual 17u and eighth annual 18u Finals are set for July 14-20.
All PG BCS Finals are metal bat tournaments, with one stipulation: Rules for the 15u, 16u, 17u and 18u events mandate the use of BBCOR bats while the 12u, 13u and 14u tournament rules allow the use of more traditional metal bats.
The seven PG BCS Finals tournaments are recognized as Perfect Game national championship events. The championship team in each age group will receive a first place trophy and each player will be awarded a championship ring. Runner-up and third place teams will receive trophies and each of the tournaments' Most Valuable Player and Most Valuable Pitcher will receive individual awards.
There will also be a Fastest Man Contest and Home Run Challenge at all seven events.
The Finals share the first three weeks of July with three PG World Wood Bat Association (WWBA) National Championships in Marietta, Ga., but the same age group doesn't play the same week at both tournaments. That enables teams from each age group to participate in both national championships.
Last year, the East Cobb Astros won both the 15u BCS Finals and the WWBA 15u National Championship, and the East Cobb Braves 17u were co-champs at the 18u BCS Finals one week after winning the championship at the WWBA 17u National Championship. The Braves 17u shared the 18u BCS Finals title with Bullets Baseball.
Winning either PG national championship is a noteworthy accomplishment, and neither is more important in the players' or coaches' minds. When you can win both, it's just all the more better.
“This is real big,” East Cobb Astros head coach Dennis Jordan said after the Astros won the 2011 15u BCS Finals. “It’s our expectation to come down here and to play well – we expect that out of ourselves – but when you can come down and play against the competition that we’ve played against in the last three weeks, when you talk about the quality of the other teams that we’ve played, it speaks for itself.
“This is a high-quality tournament and I can’t give our guys any more credit than the way they’ve come out and played just as hard as they can play.”,
The other defending champions - joining the East Cobb Titans (14u), East Cobb Astros (15u) and 18u co-champs East Cobb Braves 17u and Bullets Baseball - are the South Florida Prospects (16u) and Texas Sun Devils (17u). The NorCal Red Sox won the 13u BCS Finals when it was last played in 2006.
The six BCS Finals tournaments being played here will utilize at least two dozen playing fields at Terry Park, the Player Development 5-Plex, City of Palms Park, the Lee County Sports Complex, the Cape Coral Sports Complex and the JetBlue Player Development Complex (the new spring training home of the Red Sox).
Championship games for the 13u, 14u, 15u and 16u BCS Finals will be played at City of Palms Park. The title games for the 17u and 18u BCS Finals will be played at Hammond Stadium - the Minnesota Twins spring training home - located at the Lee County Sports Complex.
The BCS Finals attract all of the top travel ball organizations from the eastern two-thirds of the country and as far west as Texas; several top teams from Puerto Rico will also be in attendance at all seven events. And when great teams show up, it's certain they will be stocked with a boatload of talented prospects that attract dozens of college recruiters and pro scouts.
Fourteen prospects that played in the 17u or 18u BCS Finals last July were either first round or first round compensation draft selections in the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft. Most prominent in that group was Team Mizuno of Puerto Rico shortstop Carlos Correa, who the Houston Astros' selected with the draft's No. 1 overall pick.
Shortstop Addison Russell was on the FTB Mizuno roster for the 18u BCS Finals and was the 11th overall selection by the Oakland A's. Outfielder Lewis Brinson was on the South Florida Elite Squad Black roster for both the 17u and 18u BCS Finals, and was taken by the Texas Rangers with the 29th overall pick of the draft.
The Texas Sun Devils won the 17u BCS Finals championship and they did it with three 2012 first-round picks on their roster: middle-infielder Gavin Cecchini (12th overall, N.Y. Mets); catcher Stryker Trahan (26th, Arizona Diamondbacks); and right-hander Ty Hensley (30th, N.Y. Yankees).
Other first round picks that were on rosters at last year's 17u BCS Finals were right-hander Nic Travieso (14th, Cincinnati Reds) from the South Florida Elite Squad Black and right-hander Lucas Sims (21st, Atlanta Braves) from Team Gwinnett.