GOODYEAR, Fla. -- The lives of the righty and lefty from the Chicago suburbs have intersected on baseball fields near and far on many occasions over the years.
They've worn the same uniform and they've sat in opposing dugouts. They've battled together for Perfect Game national championships and they've fought one another for neighborhood bragging rights. And here they are this week, working together to help the EvoShield Canes -- based in faraway Fredericksburg, Va. -- earn the opportunity to get fitted for PG national championship rings.
Jake Godfrey, the right-hander from New Lenox, Ill., and Jake Latz, the left-hander from Lemont, Ill., were invited by EvoShield Canes 17u head coach Jeff Petty to join his team at this week's 17u Perfect Game World Series. Nothing like holding a pair of Chicagoland Jakes. Both are members of the well established Illinois Sparks program based out of Chicago.
The Illinois pitchers are both highly ranked national prospects in the high school class of 2014 who have already competed on two of Perfect Game's biggest stages, most notably at the PG National Showcase in Minneapolis in mid-June.
This is Godfrey's seventh Perfect Game event and the 10th for Latz, but it is the first time either has pitched for the EvoShield Canes.
"They saw me at the Perfect Game National Showcase and they invited me down here to play with them with this week," Godfrey said Wednesday afternoon before the Canes played the Tri-State Arsenal out of New Jersey in a decisive sixth pool-play game. "I hadn't played with them at all until now, but it's been a good fit. The team is actually jelling really well, so it's been awesome."
"I didn't know what to expect coming in," Latz said, also speaking right around lunchtime on Wednesday. "Then I got down here and I really liked it and it's been a good fit for all of us. The team is really starting to come together and play together as a team so it's been a lot of fun."
It's been a strange tournament, outcome-wise, for the EvoShield Canes. Godfrey and Latz are pitching for a team that completed its first four games at the 17u PG World Series with a record of 1-0-3 -- that's right, three ties in four games. More curious, perhaps, was that the Canes' Pool B rivals were also seeing their games ending in ties, totaling seven tied games in all.
"We're really frustrated because we want to win," the Canes' Petty said Wednesday. "We're not frustrated from the standpoint that the competition is just so unbelievable -- this is an event that we're circling on our calendar for as long as (Perfect Game) has it. With 64 guys drafted that played in it last year, our guys really look forward to coming out here because of the competition level."
It all worked out for the Canes in the end. After those three ties in their first four games, they banked back-to-back wins over the San Gabriel Valley Arsenal and the Tri-State Arsenal and clinched a berth in Thursday morning's 17u PGWS final four. And the two pitchers from Illinois helped them get there.
Godfrey, a 6-foot-3, 215-pounder who is ranked the No. 81 overall national prospect in the 2014 class (No. 21 right-hander and Nos. 2-1 in Illinois) made two brief appearances for the Canes in their first six games, working 2 1/3 innings and allowing no runs and no hits with four strikeouts and one walk.
Latz, a 6-foot-2, 185-pounder ranked 116th nationally (No. 15 left-hander and Nos. 4-1 in Illinois) made one appearance that covered two innings and allowed no runs on one hit while striking out three and walking one.
"The competition down here is great," Latz said. "This has all of the top teams in the country so it's really fun being a part of it."
Godfrey and Latz made their first tangible impressions on the national scene when they performed at the PG National Showcase. PG vice president of player personnel David Rawnsley named both Illinois pitchers to the National's Top Prospect list and offered the following critiques, beginning with Godfrey:
"Godfrey (has) a nice, smooth delivery. He topped out at 92 in the Metrodome and showed good feel for his secondary pitches. Godfrey's mechanics are solid, and his fastball shows some life, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him throwing in the mid-90s in the future."
Of Latz, Rawnsley wrote:
"It's easy to dream on ... Latz, who commanded the lower half of the strike zone well with three pitches to cruise through his two innings of work, including striking out five batters in a row. His fastball peaked at 89 mph at this event, and he throws a promising overhand curveball in the low-70s."
"It was crazy," Godfrey said of the PG National experience. "It was fun but it just felt like a very serious setting because sometimes everything was so quiet. Someone would hit a bomb and no one would clap; it was just really serious. But it was a great event, a lot of scouts and a lot of everything."
Godfrey and Latz are enjoying an added bonus from being on the EvoShield Canes' roster this week. The Canes' head of pitching strength/conditioning coach is former minor league pitcher Jamie Evans.
His full-time jobs include acting as a pitching consultant with the Toronto Blue Jays while also being a co-owner of the National Pitching Association (NPA) with former big-leaguer Tom House. The NPA's website states that the company is "dedicated to the education of baseball pitchers, their parents and their coaches"
Evans is impressed with the two young right-handed and left-handed arms from Illinois.
"One of the things that we're always looking for is bulldogs -- guys that are going to go out there, pound the zone and have a couple of different pitches -- and we've seen that out of both of these guys, one from the right side, one from the left," he said. "Godfrey was 90 to 92 in both outings that we put him out there, and he's gone out there with just that mentality of 'Here it comes, let's hit it.' We love kids like that, so both of those guys have fit in perfectly."
Evans said the only real similarity between the two Illinois pitchers is just that -- geographical.
"One of them (Godfrey) is a righty that comes at you hard and the other (Latz) is a lefty that has good velocity but he also has finesse to go with it," he said. "From that perspective they're completely different, but as far as their mentality on the mound they're both the same and geographically they're both the same."
Evans went on to offer this about the lefty Latz:
"He has three pitches and he commands all three pitches, and he can throw all three at any time," he said. "His fastball is upper 80s and touches 89, which means he can pitch in so the hitters can't cheat and go out over the plate and try to flip everything to right field."
"I think I'm improving a lot just because of the experience I've had," Latz said. "The great competition and all the tournaments and showcases I've been to -- I've seen a lot of the top players around the country, and it's helped me improve and be able to pitch better against some of the top players."
Having grown up in close proximity, Godfrey and Latz have been familiar with one another for quite some time: "We've actually played with each other and against each other since we were about 8 years old," Godfrey said. "We go to a couple of area schools in the Chicago suburbs so we've done a lot of cross-town stuff."
Despite attending different high schools -- Godfrey will be a senior at Providence Catholic High School and Latz at Lemont Township High School in the fall -- they have been teammates at Perfect Game events several times.
They both wore the uniform of the Illinois Sparks-McCarthy at the 2012 PG WWBA 17u National Championship; suited up together for Cangelosi Baseball Silver at the 2012 PG WWBA Kernels Foundation Championship; were teammates again with Cangelosi Baseball at the 2012 PG WWBA Underclass World Championship; and one final time at the 2012 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., with Bo Jackson Elite.
Now, for one week anyway, they're together again with the EvoShield Canes.
"One of the things we have with this organization is we're a family," Evans said. "Whether you're here for a week or a day or four years with us, the kids do a great job of bringing whoever is coming in to play with us into the fold and making them part of the family."
Godfrey has committed to Notre Dame and did not hesitate when asked what attracted him to the school in South Bend, Ind., near his New Lenox, Ill., home: "It was the location, and the academics on top of that," said Godfrey, who carries at 3.5 GPA at Providence Catholic. "I wanted a good baseball school with good academics to go with it."
Latz, armed with his 3.87 GPA at Lemont Township High School, has verbally committed to faraway Louisiana State and has never second-guessed his decision:
"I went down there for a showcase event and they took me around on a tour and I got to pitch in front of them at the LSU stadium," he said. "It felt like a right fit and the baseball down there -- it can't get much better than that with the SEC. It just felt right and the coaches are really respectful and the want to win. I want to win a national championship and that's a (program) that can do it, and that's what all factored in."
As their development continues, of course, both of these "Land of Lincoln" hurlers may have decisions to make once the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft reaches a conclusion next June. Where ever they may end up, Evans thinks they will continue to shine.
"They're going to be effective at the next level, first of all because of their mentality," he said. "They're confident but not cocky; they're aggressive but don't get out of control. So when you start putting those things together, those are the kind of kids that are going to succeed at the next level."
They have been given the opportunity to capture a PG national championship when the semifinal round of the 17u PG World Series kicks off Thursday morning at the Goodyear Ballpark Recreation Complex. The Canes' Petty knows that his players -- including Godfrey and Latz -- understand why they are here in the desert this week.
"The competition here is unbelievable, and you'd be hard-pressed to find better competition at any event in the world at this level than at this tournament," he said. "We didn't come out here for a social gathering, that's for sure. We came out here to compete and ultimately try to compete to win this thing."