A Pitch For Sarasota: Ed Smith Stadium and the Buck O’Neil Baseball Complex, which house the Orioles spring training home and minor league facilities in Sarasota, were busy places the past three weeks, hosting the Wilson Premier Championship East for 2018, 2019 and 2020 high school graduates. As the 2020 tournament for rising sophomores concluded this past week, the Orioles and Wilson Sporting Goods saluted the working relationship.
“The city of Sarasota has been great with us,” tournament director Matt Bliven said. “We pitched them with this idea and they welcomed us with open arms. And the Orioles staff has been great about letting us use both of these facilities.”
For the Orioles, it’s a chance to pay it forward and attract visitors to the city, which used bed-tax funds to remodel Ed Smith Stadium several years ago.
The Orioles market Sarasota extensively on MASN (the Orioles cable network) during telecasts. As part of that, the Orioles have reached out to host youth tournaments when Ed Smith and the Buck O’Neil Complex are available to highlight their southern spring home.
“This really drives heads in beds and visitation to Sarasota, particularly in the offseason when hotels and restaurants might be looking for some extra help,” said David Rovine, the Orioles’ vice president of Sarasota operations. “Our staff talks to the tournament directors that typically utilize the east coast and let them know of our venue.
“We’ve done that for the past five years and it has worked out very well, particularly hosting a high-end tournament like this with Wilson where we had teams of different age groups coming down here for three weeks. It’s great exposure for the city.”
+ Prospect peek: Elite Squad Prime from South Florida lost the first game of the tournament to Ohio Elite Ratcliff and then reeled off six consecutive wins to advance to the championship game against Team Elite Nation from Georgia.
“That’s been our (modus operandi) all summer,” Elite Squad coach Scott Morrison said. “The boys have continued to play hard even when they’ve been tired. This is our 17th game in 11 or 12 days. They’re resilient, they’re hard workers, and most importantly, they care for what the organization stands for.”
Elite Prime finished as the runner-up in a Perfect Game tournament in Fort Myers prior to coming to Sarasota. It is headed to Atlanta later this week for another tournament. Among the program’s alumni are Zack Collins, Lucius Fox and Lewis Brinson, each of whom played in this year’s Futures Game.
Morrison lauded the competition in the tournament, noting how teams will jump on you if you come out flat.
“They’re all reputable programs,” he said. “You’re going to face good arms and good players.”
Elite Squad was been led offensively by third baseman Gio Ferraro from Florida high school power Archbishop McCarthy High (Southwest Ranches, Fla.), which has won seven of the last eight Class 6A state championships, including this year. Ferraro is hitting .450 for the summer with 14 extra base hits and 30 RBIs in 90 at-bats. He delivered a key RBI single in the 3-1 semifinal victory against Team Elite from Georgia.
The strongly built 6-3, 190-pound Ferraro has verbally committed to the University of Miami.
“Gio is special,” Morrison said. “He came to us and we’re lucky to have him. He’s been borderline unconscious all summer. Miami is his dream school and it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.”
Watch Those Arms:Pitch counts and arm care were big topics at the tournament, with each of the 32 teams guaranteed at least five games and playing as many as eight if they advanced to the championship game.
With many teams headed directly to another tournament, coaches kept a close eye on their young hurlers.
“The game we just played I used five pitchers just to keep everyone under 20 pitches,” said Jack Stewart, coach of the Gamers from Georgia. “Fortunately for us our kids are strike throwers and that keeps everyone from being overused. We’re playing in the WWBA national tournament this weekend in Georgia, so we’ll spread the work around.”
Wood Vs. Metal Bats: Summer tournaments afford players the chance to use wood bats, and many seemed to enjoy the feel and sound of hitting balls squarely.
“I like wood better because it helps you square the ball up so when you go back to aluminum if you miss hit the ball a little bit you’re still getting a good piece of the ball,” said Dalton Strickland, a center fielder, shortstop and pitcher for the East Cobb Astros from Georgia. “It helps your swing, too. The bat’s a little heavier, so it helps you get stronger and quicker.”
“I love using the wood bat because you get a more realistic idea of how far you’re hitting the ball,” said Michael Hotcaveg, an infielder who played for Team Elite Select from Athens, Georgia. “With wood it’s more pure strength if you’re going to get a hit than metal. I love the way it sounds coming off the bat, too.”