JBR is excited to report on our inside look at the Perfect Game Series Classic in Fort Myers, Florida. Our week during summer 2016 was spent participating in this invite only tournament, the goal of which is to gather the absolute best talent in the country at a given age group and showcase their skills against one another. Our age group was 11U, and consisted of 9 teams split geographically. This series has become, arguably, a mecca for scouts (both professional and collegiate) to observe the best pre-collegiate talent in the country.
Perfect Game Classic Set Up: The Travel Begins
We thought it might be helpful, at least for some considering the experience, to document our day to day experience. Helpful in part because, coming from the West Coast, we could find very little information—even on the perfectgame.org site—as it relates to what to expect.
We knew there we would be some baseball games, sure, but we had several questions: How legit is the competition? How competitive are the games? How much free time should we expect during the week? Can we compete on the team at the positions we wanted? How are the officiating, facilities, and gear? How much focus is on player development? And many others.
All these questions we had virtually no answer for when we boarded our plane in San Francisco on a red eye to the Sunshine State. But answers would come, and over the next several days’ posts, you will find them here. (Day 2)
Perfect Game Classic Set Up: The Set Up
We landed in Orlando, because flights were considerably cheaper, and drove the 3 hours to Fort Myers. We stayed in a local hotel about 10 minutes from the game fields. The set up for baseball in the area, thanks to the massive Spring Training facilities, is remarkable. Our opening ceremonies—including the Home Run Derby and speed contests—were held in the Boston Red Sox Spring Training facility (JetBlue Field). The pool play is set to be played in the Minnesota Twins complex (Century Link) and all of these facilities are within minutes of each other.
Day 1 consists of:
- a check-in where you get your gear
- several skill tests where the Perfect Game gets your metrics in the system
- a Home Run Derby
- a Speed test
- meeting your team and coach
- a dinner
- a fireworks show
We discuss them in more detail below.
Day 1 Morning Expectations: Gear Checks & Highlights
The highlights of the first day were getting our gear, meeting our week-long teammates on the Southwest team and watching the Home Run Derby. (We cover the Home Run Derby in this post). The gear, specifically, consisted of:
- Home and away jersey sets (shirt, pants)
- Game socks
- Perfect Game helmet (no need to bring your own as we did)
- Rawlings gear bag (that could hold bats)
- Rawlings batting gloves
- Two “Series” sport shirts (Black and White)
- Work out shorts
- PG game hat
The lowlights were standing around for what felt like too long a time watching other players get evaluated. Those evaluations are necessary to document the players, for sure. But that didn’t make it fun shagging balls with another 70 or so players who are also waiting for their 10 swings. Humidity, we might add, is foreign to those of us from the mountains—at least in these quantities.
No bats, at least at this age group, were provided. We brought our favorites (CF8, Easton Beast and Sam Wood Bat).
Day 1 Evening Expectations: Derby & Fireworks
After the check in and evaluation portions of the first day, we were given a few hours to get our stuff together, grab lunch off site and check in to our hotel. Then, about 6pm, we were back at the JetBlue park for the opening ceremonies. They consisted of a Home Run Derby, Speed Test, dinner and fireworks show.
Home Run Derby: Performance at the morning BP session determined the Home Run Derby participants. That evening, at the opening ceremonies, they competed against each other in a 10 swing contest for the most bombs. There were literally fireworks when the players hit balls over the fence. This was far and away the pinnacle of the first day (although the gear bags were pretty cool). There is a severe disparity in size between some 11 year olds and others, so this was an event for the bigger players.
Running Contest: During that morning skill test session, everyone is timed in a 30 yard dash. The times were recorded. Then, at the opening ceremonies, they called the top 30 or so times and had them race off individually for another time. Winners were announced on the spot. Less fun to watch than the Derby, and if your son isn’t running in the event, there is even less to watch.
Fireworks: A legit 10 minute show worth the wait, at least we thought, at the JetBlue Stadium after the provided dinner on the first night.
Players are chosen for this event through a number of avenues. Many are selected through regional showcases (you can see some options here). At those events, stats are recorded and top performers receive an invite for the following year.
For others, a connection to the program through a coach or sponsor appears to be helpful in terms of access for consideration. Each region has their own director for the perfect game and, we are assuming here, consideration for an invitation comes through them.
Either way, around February candidates get an email with a link to register. They have about 30 days to complete that registration process (and pay their fee) or their invite will move to the next set of players on the list that, somehow or another, rank out below them.
How well does the Perfect Game do in getting the absolute best of the best at these tournaments? Well, for starters, we’d suggest our sample size is small. And our sampling of the 11U is not very fair for the Perfect Game. The 11U is likely the most difficult for them to determine. Players at this age are the most unknown and unwilling to travel across country. Yet, even considering the poor sample, we’d guess the same problems exist, at least to some extent, for every age group when it comes to determining the best.
For starters, geography creates a bias that keeps some of the best out. The further away you live, the bigger these problems becomes. As an example, the 11U showcase we attended didn’t have a single player from Las Vegas or Phoenix—two serious hot beds of high level baseball in the West. Yet players from Georgia and Florida, a drive’s distance to Fort Myers, consist of more than 50% of the players. Clearly a geographical bias, and despite what some Mom tries to describe to you over dinner, baseball in Georgia just isn’t that much better than everywhere else.
Further, access to these tournaments are anything but inexpensive. Yet, it’s not only rich parents who have kids that are good at baseball. We can be sure the $600 registration fee and a week’s travel expenses are serious barriers to entry for more than just a few. Throw in plane tickets and a week off of work and you see why they didn’t have any takers from Vegas or Pheonix (or Southern California) to attend this year’s 11U Classic.
Don’t get us wrong, this doesn’t mean the players participating aren’t some of the best in the country. Our day one eyeball test shows there are some serious ballers here. Could they be among the very best? We’d guess some of them are. Others, not so much. But the restrictions of budget and distance create too big a bias to really think these are the ‘best’. For no other reason then we like to throw out numbers, we’d guess, from the near 200 11U’s here at the tournament, only 1 out of 5 would make a 9 team roster of the actual very best in the country.