Out of this world

pgwwba1This fall, Perfect Game will host its 15th annual World Wood Bat Association National Championships. The event, which is considered to be one of the best in all of amateur baseball, has seen a multitude of its alumni chosen in the MLB First-Year Player Draft since 2003, including more than 150 first round picks.

One of the game’s most respected scouting services, Perfect Game provides showcases, tournaments, online video, national rankings, player profiles, scouting reports and much more to prep players and their families. WWBA is Perfect Game’s wood bat division and puts on several high-profile tournaments throughout the calendar year, but the Jupiter spectacle is by far and away its marquee event.

With 17 pools of five teams each- 85 teams in all- the WWBA Championships are a who’s who of top prospects, MLB scouts, and top college programs.

“Typically MLB clubs will send 15 or more scouts, with some sending their entire scouting department,” said Perfect Game President Jerry Ford. “They combine the event coverage with a scouting department meeting. Pretty much all the top college baseball programs from all over the country send their coaches to attend.”

“It was actually started in San Antonio in 1998 as The Lone Star Showdown,” Ford continued. “It was our first look at Cody Ross (now with the Boston Red Sox), who was the star of the tournament.”

The event was moved to Fort Myers, Fl. in 1998 and eventually settled into the $28 million Roger Dean Complex in Jupiter, where it has stayed ever since (with the exception of weather prompting a return to Fort Myers in 2003).

“When we moved to event Fort Myers, the event grew in size and in quality and was heavily scouted by the standards back then,” Ford added. “We moved it to Jupiter and saw an amazing growth, with some 80 of the very best teams from coast to coast. The event produced 17 first round picks and another eight second rounders. It has been like that ever since!”

perfect-game-logoA signature of the event has become the golf cart rentals that are offered to coaches and scouts. During the weekend, a sizable fleet of golf carts can be seen, cruising from game to game all over 110-acre complex.

“There are hundreds of golf carts and vendors,” Ford said. “For five days in October each year, the Roger Dean complex turns into a baseball circus.”
“It’s constantly moving, there’s probably 700-plus coaches and scouts that weekend,” said National Tournament Director Taylor McCollough. “Last year, the Blue Jays sent down more than 30 scouts. They had a guy at every field charting every pitch, and they had other scouts driving around and watching games. Every MLB team sends multiple guys down there.”

Since 2002, more than 10,000 Perfect Game participants have been chosen in the MLB First-Year Player Draft. The list of alumni from the Jupiter event alone to reach the big leagues is currently at 280, and includes the likes of Matt Cain, Prince Fielder, Clayton Kershaw, Buster Posey, Stephen Strasburg, Mike Trout, David Wright and many, many others.

Competitors can make the field by winning one of the seven qualifiers that are hosted around the country. Other teams have automatic invites, and the remainder of the field is filled out by 17 Perfect Game teams, which feature top individual players from around the country.

The games- which are scheduled every two hours and twenty minutes- have a two-hour time limit and a 20 minute window for the grounds crew in between contests. All 12 of the fields on the Roger Dean complex are used during the event- plus the 6,800 capacity stadium, which is utilized on Thursday night. Visitors bounce to and from fields to see more than 1,000 players in action throughout the weekend. College coaches and professional scouts from all over the country flock to the five-day event, which is scheduled for October 25-29 in 2012.

Built in 1998, the Roger Dean complex is the only one in the country that hosts two MLB spring training teams (the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals) and two minor league teams (the Jupiter Hammerheads and the Palm Beach Cardinals, both class-A Florida State League affiliates of the Marlins and Cardinals, respectively).

“We’re at 80 games right now, and for the number of days, the number of fields, and the time of year, we’re pretty much maxed out how many games we can play,” added McCollough. “The issue we run into is that kids have to miss more school, which is not something we want.”

While it may be a challenge for Perfect Game to expand the event on the field, developments in technology have helped to make what goes on in Jupiter accessible around the globe. All of the games are scored using Gamechanger software, making live statistics available online for all eyes to see.

“The website has really evolved in terms of content and traffic,” said McCollough. “It’s a great place to go for schedule changes, information, and updates, and it’s been huge for parents, coaches, and scouts.”

In addition to Gamechanger, gamecasts, box scores, and game wraps are posted online throughout the tournament, with top performances earning a hat tip in the Perfect Game Scout Blogs that are viewed by thousands on a daily basis and continue to grow in popularity.

“The hard thing is that there are more than 300 teams that want to get into the tournament,” added McCollough. “It’s a tricky deal, but we pride ourselves on having the teams and players that need to be down there, because that’s what it’s all about.”

“I’m often asked to describe it,” said Ford. “We are positive it is the largest scouting attraction and has the most talent, but that doesn’t begin to cover it, so I always tell people it is the most unusual event in all of baseball.”