FORT MYERS, Fla. -- "Let's play two!" happy-go-lucky Chicago Cubs Hall-of-Famer Ernie Banks was fond of proclaiming. For Xtreme Baseball and a handful of other teams here this week, the cry is more along the lines of "Let's play two weeks!"
Xtreme Baseball, with its base of operations right here in the Fort Myers-Cape Coral neighborhood, is one of five teams that is playing at the 2013 14u PG BCS Finals right on the heels of playing in the 2013 PG WWBA 2017 Grads or 14u National Championship on the fields of rainy southwest Florida. In fact, the Xtremers played their first game at the 14u PG BCS Finals less than 24 hours after playing their final game at the PG WWBA 14u National Championship.
The others that stuck around for potentially six more days of baseball are the Florida Express (Fort Meyers), SWFL Baseball 14u (Fort Myers), CFBL Mizuno Elite 2017 (Orlando, Fla.), the South Florida Breakers 14u (Plantation, Fla.) and the SBO Storm (San Juan, P.R.).
Because the PG WWBA 14u National Championship was interrupted by rain every one of its six days, none of the participating teams played more than six games -- including the 11 that advanced to the rain-shortened playoffs. Xtreme Baseball was one of the handful that got six in, and finished 5-1 after losing to eventual national champion Kentucky Baseball Club-Boggs, 4-2, in the quarterfinals.
"We're just worried about the kids, even though they're 14 years old, being tired," Xtreme Baseball head coach Glen Stegemann said before his team opened play at the 14u PG BCS Finals. "We play double-headers and in this heat we obviously want to keep them hydrated and keep them playing at their top, their peak. We're from (southwest Florida) and we're used to the heat, so we condition to be ready for this; I think it's a bigger challenge for teams that are coming from out of the area.
"And I like the fact that we're continuing to play because if we're playing 'hot' we just keep on a roll and we don't get slack or lose our focus."
Xtreme Baseball also played in and advanced to the playoffs at the 2013 PG WWBA East Memorial Day Classic in late May and kept busy through the first couple of weeks of June. Stegemann said this team has played closed to 150 games since last August, so it knows how to play back-to-back-to-back-to-back, etc ...
"This particular team, they're friends; they've really come together and they enjoy each other's company," Stegemann said. "They all get along and within the group they all appreciate the talent that is here and they respect each other's game. For the parents it does become a grind but that's the sacrifice you make as a parent if (your son) has above average talent and has a future on the ball field."
Several of Xtreme's everyday position players saw plenty of playing time at the PG WWBA 14u, and at least one of its pitchers also got in plenty of work. Outfielder Alexis Sensat (2017, Cape Coral) made 20 plate appearances in six games; shortstop Shane Shifflett (2017, Englewood, Fla.) made 19; and third baseman Javier Valdes (2016, Miami) and catcher Alejandro Olivert (2016, Lehigh Acres, Fla.) each made 17 trips to the plate.
Valdes hit .462 (6-for-13) with two doubles and five RBI; Olivert hit .385 (5-for-13) with a double and an RBI; Sensat hit .294 (5-for-17) with six runs scored; and Shifflett hit just .214 (3-for-14) but tripled and drove in a team-high six runs.
Left-hander Jordan Butler (2017, Tampa) made two appearances on the mound, picked up two wins and allowed only one run on four hits with 14 strikeouts in 10 innings for work (0.70 ERA).
"Our particular group seems to rise to the occasion," Stegemann said on the last day of play at the PG WWBA 14u. "When it's an important game and something's on the line ... that's when they really seem to get ultra-focused. They're 14 years old and the ones that are freshmen are already playing varsity ball and the ones that are becoming freshmen are already slated to be varsity players for their high school teams, so I think they realize they have to be (focused). "
The Xtremers certainly seemed focused -- especially from the mound -- while winning their first two pool-play games at the 14u PG BCS Finals Friday and Saturday. Right-hander Robert Touron (2017, Miami) fired a seven-inning one-hitter with six strikeouts in a 1-0 win over the St. Lucie Mets Elite 14u on Friday morning; righty Christian Menendez (2016, Cape Coral) followed with four innings of two-hit ball, striking out five, in a 10-0 five-inning win over the East Coast Greys 14u on Saturday morning.
Xtreme Baseball was scheduled to play a second pool game Friday afternoon against Team Elite Black but that game was postponed by rain and rescheduled for Saturday night.
"(Friday) is going to be a big test because of the letdown of losing (Thursday)," Stegemann said. "The personality of this team is that they tend to flush that down the toilet and forget about it and today's a new day. I have a lot of faith in them that they have the potential to play just as good of a tournament as they did in the last one."
There is another adjustment the five teams that played in last week's tournament and are playing again this week must make. WWBA stands for World Wood Bat Association, so that PG national championship tournament was played with wood bats. The BCS (Baseball Championship Series) Finals national championship events are played with BBCOR bats, the same ones used at the high school and collegiate levels.
Stegemann said the switch from wood to metal bats has no affect on the way he manages a game.
"I actually like the wood bat tournaments better because it makes the kids focus hitting for base hits as opposed to power," he said. "When we get to these metal bats they tend to swing out of their shoes a little bit thinking that they can do more they can, but it doesn't change my focus.
"We try to play situational baseball ... where it doesn't matter where you are in your lineup if calls for a bunt you're bunting," Stegemann continued. "Hit-and-runs, stealing, things of that nature --defensively, walking guys if it gets you in a better position for a double-play -- that's our brand of baseball ."
He firmly believes it was important for his young players to be at both PG national championship tournaments, even if it is a lot of baseball crammed into a potential 12-day period. This is an important developmental stage of these kids' life, and Stegemann and other coaches (and parents and family members) expect a lot out of them.
"These guys are getting contacted by college scouts and they're getting looked at by recruiters, even at 14 years old," he said. "They're not only baseball players but they're straight-A students ... and they're not trouble makers and that's the biggest thing. They have to keep their grades up and they have to be good citizens, otherwise they don't belong on this team."