FORT MYERS, FLA. -- The Perfect Game National Academic Showcase rates as one of the most unique events on the annual PG showcase schedule; invitations to the showcase are extended only to prospects who have a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 3.4
Coaches and recruiting coordinators from many of the most prestigious academic colleges in the country always manage to find their way to southwest Florida in early June to evaluate the top talent they know will not have issues with qualifying academically to their schools.
Evan Dougherty, a highly regarded prospect in the class of 2014 who just completed his junior year at academic and baseball powerhouse Bishop Verot High School here in Fort Myers, spent Saturday on the fields of the former Boston Red Sox Player Development 5-Plex performing at this year's PG National Academic Showcase; he was at this event a year ago.
He is exactly the kind of player this showcase attracts -- he carries a 3.9 GPA at Bishop Verot and scored a 1880 on his SAT, a score that is higher than 87 percent of all the test-takers nationwide.
He is also a veteran of 19 other Perfect Game tournaments and showcases and was named to the all-tournament team at last week's PG WWBA 18u Memorial Day Classic while playing for FTB Louisville Slugger, so he knows his way around a ball field a little bit. The talented player hit .333/.449/.595 with 28 hits (four doubles, six triples, two home runs) with 24 RBI and 29 runs while helping Bishop Verot to a 24-7-1 record in the spring.
There was one college coach in attendance Saturday who was more interested than any other in watching Dougherty play. Duke University head coach Chris Pollard arrived in town not to try to lure Dougherty to Durham, N.C., but to make sure he was still firmly in the fold. Dougherty has already committed to Pollard and the Blue Devils, which might seem to make his attendance at the National Academic somewhat redundant.
"I had a weekend off and Coach Pollard was coming down," a smiling Dougherty said Saturday when asked his reasons for being here. "I figured I could give (Pollard) another chance just to see me play and also just to stay sharp because I'm playing a lot of summer ball this year. I want to keep playing so that I don't lose (my edge) and then when I go to a big tournament or something I'm (all right) with my timing and hitting and everything."
And there is another reason, as well. A very big reason, in fact.
"I would like to get an invitation to the Minnesota national showcase," Dougherty added.
That would be the 2013 Perfect Game National Showcase, slated this year for June 13-17 at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. The PG National Academic Showcase and the PG Sunshine East Showcase provide seniors-to-be with a final opportunity to impress PG scouts enough so that they may receive a coveted invitational to the National. Dougherty came into the National Academic ranked the nation's No. 262 overall prospect in the 2014 class and No. 59 outfielder; he is ranked 54th in Florida and the state's No. 15 outfielder.
Of course, every one of the 318 prospects that are at either the National Academic or Sunshine East this weekend have their own reasons for being here; even their parents have opinions.
"To me, quite honestly, the biggest reason for being here is for him to keep his swing going," Evan's father, Tom Dougherty, said Saturday. "His Duke coach is here and we actually talked to (Pollard) beforehand to make sure he was going to be here. That's the primary reason, but honestly this is just a great set-up. He gets to go out here and see how his skills have progressed -- his 60 (yard dash) time, throwing the ball. He's actually moved from the infield to the outfield, so every time he's worked out for Perfect Game before this, it's always been in the infield.
"He just wants to continue to get his grade up; he's a 9 now (with 10 being the top) and he would certainly like to be compare with the guys that are up there with the 9 1/2s and 10s."
It is kind of unusual for an attendee at the PG National Academic to have already made his college commitment and only one of the other 129 prospects at the event has already committed: 2014 Duluth, Ga., catcher Griffin Helms to Kennesaw State. But Dougherty wanted to be here surrounded by other like-minded athletes with a passion for both baseball and academics.
"Every since I was a little kid, my mom (Katherine) has always preached that academics are first and baseball is after that, and that's kind of stuck with me," Dougherty said. "The (high) school I go to, Bishop Verot, that's the way it is there -- you have to get your schoolwork done before anything else. Academics are a huge part of my life and I put a lot of effort into my schoolwork; I also put a lot of effort into baseball. Going to Duke, that's the best of both worlds."
Dougherty said he was impressed with Duke's campus, its athletics facilities and especially Pollard and the rest of the coaching staff. The fact that the Blue Devils are members of the rock-solid Atlantic Coast Conference was another selling point.
"It's in the ACC, first off, which is maybe the best conference in (college) baseball and it's one of the best places to get an education in the whole nation," he said. "I do pretty well in school and I would like to get a great education; there are not many places for that there are better than Duke."
That is music to his mother's ears.
"We've always been a household that puts academics first and that has certainly afforded him an opportunity to go to a fantastic school," Katherine said Saturday. "He's happy with his choice and we're thrilled with his choice, and baseball has probably afforded him to go to a college that he may not have had the opportunity to go. Baseball has opened the door for him to go to a fantastic school and play for a fantastic baseball team."
Dougherty has honed his baseball skills playing in a terrific high school program at Bishop Verot and also playing with FTB, which ranks as of the country's most respected travel team organizations.
Bishop Verot won a Florida state championship during Dougherty's freshmen season in 2011, led by 2011 first and second round MLB draft picks Hudson Boyd and Daniel Vogelbach. It lost in the 2012 state championship game -- Dougherty's sophomore year -- and returned to the final four this past season. And then there is FTB, where he and general manager George Gonzalez hit it off immediately.
"FTB is awesome," Dougherty said. "They invited me to come play and George welcomed me with open arms. He treated me great and he told me right when I got there that they were going to get me a D-I scholarship opportunity. He said they were going to put me in the right position to go play D-I baseball somewhere, and that's exactly what they did."
FTB Louisville Slugger finished 5-1 at the PG WWBA 18u Memorial Day Classic last week after losing to the Orlando Scorpions Prime -- the tournament's eventual runner-up -- in the quarterfinals. Dougherty earned all-tournament honors after hitting .375 (6-for-16) with three doubles and five runs scored.
"It was a great way to kickoff the summer," he said. "I met my new teammates for this year -- FTB Louisville Slugger -- and we look like we've got a pretty solid team. We should be able to make some good runs at some tournaments this year and hopefully win a couple of them."
Mom and Dad will take advantage of the remaining chances they'll have to watch their son play on his hometown fields here this summer, fall and into next spring. Then he'll likely be on his way to Durham, perhaps after some consideration in the MLB draft in June of 2014.
"We love watching him so we enjoy any opportunity to come out and watch Evan play. It's a good family thing and we love getting together and being out on the baseball field," Katherine said. "And knowing that he's going to go a little bit farther away makes all of the (events) he's doing this summer all the more important."
"I'm going to be a little selfish," Tom said, "but the fact that Perfect Game does so much here in Fort Myers has made (the experience) all the more incredible."