FORT MYERS, Fla. – The second member of the second generation of the Bichette family baseball players is performing quite nicely on the many big-league caliber playing fields of Lee County this weekend, intent to follow his older brother into the professional ranks and maybe even his father into Major League Baseball stardom.
Bo Bichette is a 15 year old middle-infielder from Tierra Verde, Fla., and a home-schooled high school sophomore who has developed into one of the top national prospects in the high school class of 2016. He is here playing with prospect-laden FTB Chandler 2015 at the PG WWBA Florida Qualifier, a 70-team tournament from which the champion earns a paid invitation to the upcoming PG WWBA World Championship over in Jupiter, Fla., Oct. 24-28.
Bichette is one of the youngest players on FTB Chandler 2015’s roster but he is also among the most talented. He came into the event ranked No. 6 nationally (No. 3 in Florida) in the class of 2016.
“It’s always a blast; I love playing baseball so any tournament is fun,” he told PG this weekend. “Perfect Game tournaments are always a lot of fun and they’re always a blast. I feel like last year I was a pretty good player but I feel like I’ve worked hard and now I’m a good player, and everything is paying off.”
Right here along for the ride – FTB Chandler 2015 won its pool Sunday morning with a 4-0 record – are Bo’s parents: his father, Dante Sr., and mother Mariana. Dante Sr. enjoyed 14 seasons in the major leagues between 1988 and 2001, and he and Mariana have spent much of the past six years as proud Perfect Game parents. Dante Bichette Jr. was a regular on the PG scene from 2008-10, right before Bo took the torch.
“The best thing I do these days is watch my boys play,” Dante Sr. told PG on Saturday after watching Bo and his FTB teammates collect a win at the Player Development 5-Plex. “That’s the most fun I have these days.”
Dante and Mariana have been provided with plenty of opportunities to enjoy themselves here lately, especially now that Dante Sr. has finished the 2013 season as the Colorado Rockies’ hitting coach. This is the fifth PG tournament Bo has played in with FTB this summer and fall after playing in two events with Team Warehouse – a program his father started – in 2012. Dante Bichette Jr. participated in 14 PG events between 2008 and 2010 and played in seven tournaments with FTB in 2009-10.
“My brother played with FTB when he was coming up through Perfect Game, so I just kind of grew up with FTB and Perfect Game,” Bo Bichette said.
“It’s just created a better level of baseball where the elite players can come together and improve their skills,” Dante Sr. said of his sons’ involvement with PG. “We didn’t have this when I was younger … but it’s organized baseball and there are more games to play. That’s the bottom line for a kid this age – let’s play ball. So, it’s created a great place to play ball.”
Bo Bichette was nothing short of terrific in FTB Chandler 2015’s four pool-play wins this weekend. A 6-foot, 190-pounder, Bo went 5-for-8 (.625) at the plate, with three doubles, five RBI and five runs scored with a 1.750 slugging-plus-on-base (OPS) percentage. He has already been named to all-tournament teams at three previous PG events and could add a fourth this weekend.
“With Bo, you could tell he was going to be a hitter from an early age; it just kind of comes natural to him,” Dante Sr. said. “He was always one of the smaller (players) and now he’s starting to grow and it’s good to see the size and the strength come in and to see him develop mentally and physically at the same time.”
Dante Jr. was nationally ranked at No. 69 in the class of 2011 when the New York Yankees made him a supplemental first-round selection in the 2011 amateur draft with the 51st overall pick. He’s spent the last two seasons with Charleston in the Class A South Atlantic League where he hit a combined .232 with 14 home runs and 107 RBI in 236 games.
“He’s making some good adjustments to the game,” Dante Sr. said of his oldest son. “I can remember being 20 years old and hitting .230 and I know where he’s at. He’s got to figure it all out, but he’s making the right adjustments and it’s coming to him.”
Little brother Bo has nothing but unabashed admiration for big brother Dante.
“He’s always there for me; he’s the best brother ever,” Bo said. “He’s always teaching me stuff, things that he’s learned from failure, things he’s learned from succeeding. He’s had a really big influence on me.”
The man that has had the most influence on both Bo and Dante Jr. is their old man.
Dante Bichette Sr. played 14 big-league seasons for five organizations but is most synonymous with the Rockies, for whom he enjoyed his seven most productive campaigns. He was a four-time All-Star (1994-96, ’98) and finished second in the 1995 National League Most Valuable Player balloting after hitting .340 with league-highs of 40 home runs, 128 RBI, 359 total bases and a .620 slugging percentage. He was a .286 career hitter, with 274 home runs and 1,141 RBI.
He was a member of the Rockies’ famed Blake Street Bombers, a group of sluggers named for the street address of the Rockies’ Coors Field. When that state-of-the-art stadium opened its doors in 1995, balls immediately began leaving the yard with remarkable frequency and sluggers rejoiced. Other Blake Street Bombers included Vinny Castillo, Andres Gallarraga, Larry Walker, Ellis Burks and Mike Kingery.
The earliest Rockies teams played their first two seasons at Mile High Stadium, the Denver Broncos’ old home, and more than 4 million fans turned out in both 1993 and ’94.
“That was the greatest time of my baseball career playing with maybe the greatest offense, in my opinion, that stepped on the ball field for a little while there,” Dante Sr. told PG. “The fans were incredible and the fans in Colorado made (Mile High) a special place in those early years because we’d average 60,000 (fans a game) and on opening day we had 82,000.
“I went back this year as a hitting coach and they remembered me; it was a good feeling,” he added with a laugh. “That was a special, special time in baseball for me.”
This past year his dad spent as the Rockies’ hitting coach was also special for Bo.
“I visited him all the time,” Bo Bichette said. “It was a really good experience going up there to see all the big league players. When my dad (ended his playing career) I was around 3 (years old) so I don’t remember much and I never got to grow up in it. When he got the job (with the Rockies) I got to learn a lot of things. Watching Michael Cuddyer (the National League batting champion) go out there every day and do the same thing every day, it’s been awesome to learn from those experiences.
“He’s had so much influence on me,” Bo continued, speaking of his dad. “He’s taught me everything from my swing, to how to field ground balls and everything mentally during games. He’s been a real good influence.”
Dante Sr. has also learned to take a step back, more so with Bo than with Dante Jr. He will offer advice and insight to his sons but tries to leave the coaching to their coaches and instructors.
“I’ve learned that the more I do it the more I’m hands-off, to be honest with you,” he said. “We practice when we’re away from the field and we’re on our own but when they go play ball I’ve learned to sit back and enjoy it. It wasn’t as easy with the older one but I’ve learned that they’ve got to go out on their own; they’ve got to make mistakes and learn from them.”
Bo Bichette will play with FTB Chandler Mizuno at next week’s 12th annual PG WWBA Underclass World Championship here in Fort Myers. From here on out, Dante Sr. and Mariana will not only be able to enjoy many more seasons watching Dante Jr.’s professional career blossom but they’ll have two more years of watching Bo’s Perfect Game career reach its pinnacle.
“It’s been great,” Dante Sr. said. “It brings back memories of the struggles and the good times and the battling, and it reminds me that this game is not easy, but it’s a blast if you can figure it out. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy and they’re learning that, so it’s fun to watch. I love to see my boys grow and learn and it’s been a blast.
“What’s cool about Perfect Game is you guys get to see these (prospects) grow up and go on to do great things, and that’s kind of what it’s like to be a parent,” he concluded. “You watch your kids grow and see what they’re going to do in life.”