MARIETTA, Ga. - Lenny Webster knows how to judge talent on the baseball field. He has been around baseball for a long time, and he is currently the coach of the GBSA Blue Rays who are playing this weekend in the 17u PG/EC Invite. A great number of baseball coaches can say they have been around the game for a long period of time, but how many can say that they played at the highest level possible?
Webster is a former major leaguer who spent 12 years in the big leagues that included stints with the Minnesota Twins, Montreal Expos (3 times), Philadelphia Phillies, Baltimore Orioles, and the Boston Red Sox. When it comes to judging talent, look no further than Webster. He played part of the season with the 1999 Red Sox that included the likes of Jason Varitek, Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez, Tim Wakefield, and Derek Lowe. Needless to say, Webster knows exactly what an elite baseball player looks like.
When a softball coach approached him about combining softball and baseball into one academy, Georgia Baseball Softball Academy (GBSA) was born. He felt that the area in which GBSA was to be located (the south side town in Decatur) was rich with talent, and he felt that it was a good place to have a baseball organization.
“We just tried to get together a bunch of kids in the community in the Dekalb area,” Webster commented. “And, there is a lot of talent in that area, so we just tried to assemble some kids and get them to play some quality baseball.”
Assembling the talent and playing quality baseball is exactly what Webster has done with the Blue Rays. His experience having played professional baseball has been key in helping this team produce talent and win ballgames.
“When you are a former big league player, you see talent and it open your eyes. We got a couple of kids out here with some talent. So for me, as a former big leaguer, [when] you see kids with the ability that we have, I try to push them.”
“I’m firm, but I’m fair, and they know that. But, I try to push them to get the best out of them.”
The Blue Rays were pretty close to being at their best today when they took the field at Kell High School. Led by a dominant start from southpaw Armond Upshaw, they cruised to a 9-1 victory. Upshaw, a North Carolina Central commit, finished with seven strikeouts in only four innings of work, while allowing only a single earned run to pick up the win.
His mindset entering today’s game: “just throw strikes and get everybody out.” That seems pretty simple considering the situation in which he was faced with: scouts on hand and radar guns out. But, if there is one thing that Upshaw does not lack, it is confidence. When asked about the atmosphere of people watching his every move on the mound he simply replied, “pressure is just a lack of confidence. You just can’t have a lack of confidence and be confident. I know it sounds a little cocky, but you just have got to have it.”
With a variety of talent on the team, Upshaw may sometimes get overlooked, but Webster knew he had seen this type of performance many times before.
“It was typical Armond Upshaw; very consistent with his fastball. Velocity wise, he was probably up to 88-89 today; real good curveball. And, he kept us in the game. It was evident of the score. I thought he pitched pretty well, and we played pretty good defense behind him.”
The Blue Rays got back on track after a disappointing end to their game Thursday. Standout shortstop Tekwaan Whyte felt his team was on a mission today to write the right and forget about what had happened the previous day.
“We just wanted to come in here and get a win. The team we played yesterday, we know they are not better than us; we just had a bad game. So, hopefully somebody else can beat them, and we can come back and go into bracket play.”
Whyte and teammate Bakari Gayle are two of the catalysts that the team looks for especially in situations like the one they were faced with coming off of the game yesterday. Whyte and Gayle came through today by each reaching base twice and combining for four stolen bases and three runs scored.
It is no coincidence that these two work so well together. Whyte and Gayle have known each other since they were six years old, and they live down the street from one another. They both are ranked in the top 160 nationally for the 2015 class, and they are both headed to the Perfect Game National Showcase June 12-16 in Fort Myers, Florida. To say they are both taking this showcase as a huge opportunity for the future is an understatement.
“I’ve been preparing for this for [awhile],” said Gayle. “Just trying to work hard on all parts of the game. And, hopefully I go down there and do something special.”
“It’s a blessing because not a lot of people get to go down there every year,” Whyte added. “So, I feel it’s a blessing to go down there. I’m preparing by going to the field every day and the gym, working hard trying to get my numbers up.”
Although Whyte and Gayle are the only two GBSA Blue Rays invited to attend the National Showcase, Gayle is quick to thank his teammates for being the ones to help him get looks in front of scouts. He feels that because of his teammates and the type of chemistry they have as a team, he is able to play at his best.
“[There’s] so much talent out here that if I don’t bring someone out here, somebody else is going to bring somebody out here. So, we are always giving looks for each other. We are comfortable with each other, so we can play at the highest level possible.”
As day three of the tournament continues on tomorrow, the Blue Rays look for a repeat performance from today in an effort to make it to bracket play and start a winning streak. With talent like Whyte and Gayle and a former MLB player for a coach, it would not be wise to count out this bunch.