Florida Burn Wins Inaugural Ultimate Baseball Championship
Florida Burn has won its share of high-profile events over the years. In 2019, the program won one of the most prestigious travel ball tournaments in the country for the second straight year, claiming the Perfect Game WWBA World Championship in both 2018 and 2019.
Now, after a four-day grind against some of the best travel ball programs in the country, Florida Burn can boast being the first ever champions of the Ultimate Baseball Championship, powered by Baseball America.
The UBC turned out to be a bit different from other tournaments.
“I don’t think we’ve ever played an event where the depth of talent is like this,” said Florida Burn general manager Mark Guthrie. “It becomes a little bit of a mental strain even though it’s five games. You go out there as a hitter and if you’re struggling—or as a pitcher if you’re struggling and you don’t have your stuff all of the sudden it’s relentless and it never stops. You can get washed under with it.
“It’s important for kids to be able to take a punch against players like this and be able to come back. Fortunately our guys did it. We’ve never played an event where every day you show up like this and part of you walking in is like, ‘Make sure we don’t get embarrassed.’ ”
The UBC featured seven high-profile travel ball clubs, among the best programs in the country, and the entire player pool featured 37 of the top 100 high school prospects in the 2021 class.
The Burn ran into the No. 2 player in the class in just its first game, facing lefthander Maddux Bruns and the East Coast Sox, who topped the Burn, 5-1. There was no respite after that, with the team facing off against a loaded Team Elite club in game two (a 4-3 victory), and then pulling off a five-run final inning against the Dirtbags to make it two wins in a row.
“I think we probably got a little bit lucky and scored five runs against the Dirtbags in the last inning to win a game and that really kind of catapulted them, and had them believe they could do it,” Guthrie said. “Shoot and then playing probably the two best teams in the country after that.
“Going into it I don’t know if they would have had that mindset. As a coach you can say all you want. And you can tell them you have to stay within yourself, you have to do this, but until they actually can experience it that lesson can’t be fully learned. And they did it. So we’re happy for them and hopefully it’s a huge part of their maturation process to become really good baseball players. What a great experience, win or lose just a tremendous experience to be able to learn those lessons. That’s what it’s all about.”
The Burn topped Canes National, 4-2, in the Gold Semifinal matchup on the back of a strong, six-inning effort from righthander Daniel Vassallo. Following that was a second matchup with Team Elite, a club that boasted 11 players ranked among the top 100 high school players in the class, including top-ranked Brady House.
Righthander Harrison Povey and lefthander Parker Fenton combined to limit Team Elite to just one run over seven innings, piling up seven strikeouts and one walk between them both. The middle of Florida Burn’s lineup, with center fielder Michael Robertson and third baseman Tommy White batting second and third, helped enough with the offensive load, each tallying a hit, a run and one walk for Robertson and two for White.
Typically a strong defensive club, Guthrie said it was timely hitting that helped to overcome a loaded UBC field this week, and White—the MVP of the tournament—was squarely in the middle of that.
“Tommy White carried us this week,” Guthrie said. “He got a ton of big hits and is definitely a presence in the middle of our lineup and you have to be careful with him. And the guys in front of him, Michael Robertson came around. He had had a little difficulty at the beginning of the summer and now he’s hitting his stride. And he’s an elite player. So if Michael gets going and Tommy continues to do what he’s doing a lineup becomes pretty powerful, as well as scrappy. Those guys are huge for us."
White has become of the louder bats in the 2021 class this summer, with strong performances at a number of events. That’s not a surprise for Guthrie, who’s seen him perform since his freshman days. White started for the Burn as a sophomore, and Guthrie saw huge power potential. He’s continued to refine his offensive approach and now has the ability to do damage to all parts of the field, no matter what pitch is coming next.
“He’s in his final year and he is maturing his approach as a hitter,” Guthrie said of White, who went 6-for-13 (.462) with three doubles and four walks. “He is kind of quieting down his body a little bit and trusting his power and when he does that he becomes really dangerous. I told the Florida coaches this in the past too, he reminds me of Pete Alonso at that age. A very similar type hitter. I have immense respect for Pete, not just as a power hitter but a hitter with a tremendous approach who can hit each pitch. Tommy’s gaining that.
“When he’s quiet and when he’s willing to shoot the ball the other way every once in a while. And when he doesn’t shoot it he can go deep the other way. He is a special, special hitter in my opinion. And to compare him to Pete is about as good as I can get for a guy.”
Outside of the satisfaction of leaving the UBC as champions, Guthrie is excited about what this week of formidable competition will do for the development of his players—and the players of other teams—moving forward. Having to be locked in for every at-bat and every pitch because the level of talent was consistently strong had a real effect, Guthrie said.
“I think you go into some other event and you think you might have a day where you might be able to relax and (then) you don’t play well,” Guthrie said. “It was impressive, I will tell you that. It’s neat at the end of five days, you’re playing an event and some lefthanded pitcher is throwing 94 and the kids are like, ‘Eh, it’s firm but it’s not a big deal.’ And you’re like, ‘What?’ So that’s great for them. You get used to it. Even with high velocities those kids learn they have to locate and they have to perfect their craft and become pitchers.
“A really, really high level of baseball and it’s really special just to be a part of it.”