GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The members of the GBG Yak Baseball squad were just about finished posing for photographs after winning the national title at the 2012 Perfect Game/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) Sept. 24, when they were asked to line up for just one more.
The players slipped off their GBG Yak jerseys and replaced them with navy blue T-shirts with gold lettering that displayed the EvoShield logo with the words "NATIONAL CHAMPIONS" printed proudly across the front.
And with that, Perfect Game and EvoShield wrapped up another successful September tournament played-out at Cactus League spring training facilities spread throughout the greater Phoenix area.
Over two four-day weekends between Friday, Sept. 14 and Monday, Sept. 24, Perfect Game and EvoShield co-sponsored the PG/EvoShield National Championship (Upperclass) and PG/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass), two tournaments that this year brought a combined 104 teams to the Valley of the Sun.
Alex Bush, EvoShield's Events and Sponsorship Manager, called the PG-EvoShield joint sponsorship of the two tournaments a "natural fit."
"The sponsorship has really helped getting our name out there, on the West Coast especially. This really helps us out with the exposure to the West Coast kids," Bush said. "We've had a lot of success selling (our product) out here so far, and it's good to see a lot of the teams have it already when they're walking in for the first time. The past couple of years we'd have to tell them about it and now they're starting to know what it is, and the brand's growing and this is awesome.
"Our partnership with Perfect Game is mutually beneficial for both of us."
EvoShield, with its corporate offices in Bogart, Ga., produces protective equipment that is used and endorsed by hundreds of professional and collegiate teams in sports as diverse as baseball, softball, football, lacrosse, soccer, hockey and hunting/shooting. "Our finished products are designed to achieve a perfect balance between functional protection and increased performance," the company states on its website, evoshield.com.
As Bush sat under the EvoShield tent in the center of four Cincinnati Reds' spring training practice fields at the Goodyear Sports and Recreation Complex in the 100-degree late September heat, there was plenty of EvoShield protective gear on display for purchase in front of him, alongside neon EvoShield T-shirts that were also for sale.
He explained that he was there to both move product and heighten awareness of the EvoShield brand. While firmly established in the eastern part of the country, the company is still making inroads on the West Coast.
"We're still getting a lot of kids asking, 'What is this? What does it do? I've seen it on TV but I'm not sure about it,'" Bush said. "I think this year and next year and going forward it will be more about moving product. This (year) is the best we've done at the tournament so far, and every year just about everywhere we go, it gets a little better and better, and we haven't really reached a peak yet at a tournament booth."
The predecessors to the PG/EvoShield National Championship Upper and Under tournaments were held in Tucson in late September, 2009; the two events ran over the same weekend and drew a total of 42 teams. EvoShield came in as co-sponsor in 2010, and the tournaments continued to be held on the same weekend in late September through 2011.
The combined number of participating teams climbed to 78 in 2010 and 84 in 2011, and this year hit a record 104 with the tournaments held on back-to-back weekends. PG officials decided to give each tournament its own weekend to provide the dozens of college coaches and recruiters more opportunities to see as many prospects in action as possible over eight days.
"I remember the first year we did it, there were only about 40 teams and it was a one weekend deal," Bush said. "Now its two (four-day) weekends ... and I know Perfect Game has grown a lot in the last four years and I think we're going right along with them and riding the wave."
The Trombly Baseball Nighthawks won this year's upper class national championship while GBG Yak Baseball won the underclass national championship.
Perfect Game built its reputation on its ability to draw the best young national and international prospects to its tournaments and showcases. Although EvoShield products are endorsed by the most elite professional athletes in the world, the younger demographic remains one the company wants to target.
"Perfect Game gets the best teams and the best athletes out here and that's what our brand is trying to reach, is the elite athlete" Bush said. "I think with that, we just go hand-in-hand with us trying to reach the top athletes in the country and this is a great way for us to hit that market."
Bush anticipates a growing relation with Perfect Game in the years to come as more and more elite ballplayers are drawn to PG tournaments and showcases.
"We're going to talk about doing a couple more things together as the years go along, and not just tournaments but maybe something a little out of the box that we're thinking about also," Bush said. "We're just going to keep growing right along with (PG).
"Whatever we put out, we have to make sure it's innovative, and that's our number one thing," he continued. "Whether it's with these T-shirts or whether it's with the technology in the molding (of the products) we're trying to take the game to the next level protection-wise."