The trip was a decade in the making.
And, to hear members of the Showtime Baseball Club Red team tell it, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.
A team of 14 high school players from Clark County surprised itself by reaching the final 16 among 196 teams at a World Wood Bat Association national tournament for players 19 and younger in Marietta, Ga.
The tournament, which included teams from many of the top youth baseball programs in the eastern United States, was played during the first week of July. Showtime went 4-1 to win its pool, then won a first-round elimination game. Eventual tournament runner-up East Cobb Braves 17U of Marietta defeated Showtime in the quarterfinals.
“I was surprised how well we did,” first baseman Nate Culver said. “We definitely gelled at the right time. Everyone just wanted to do their best.”
The tournament is considered one of the bigger annual showcase events for high school baseball players. Clubs must be at least 10 years old and apply for consideration to enter the tournament.
Showtime Baseball founder Billy Hayes said he applied for a spot in the World Wood Bat nationals because it is considered a premier tournament by coaches at NCAA Division I universities, and is also well attended by major league scouts. More than 1,000 scouts attended the event, Hayes said.
Showtime showed it belonged by winning its second game of pool play over the defending Florida state champions. Colton Kreuger threw 60 of 87 pitches for strikes, allowing six hits and pitching out of several jams in the 4-2 win over FTB Pride.
In that game, the opposing pitcher was a 17-year-old left-hander who threw 95 mph.
Showtime catcher Chad Michaud and infielder Luke Heyer both said the trip to Georgia showed them they need to get bigger and stronger to compete at the highest levels of baseball.
“The size of some of the kids there was amazing,” Michaud said.
Being exposed to that caliber of athlete and that high-intensity environment was motivational, Showtime players said.
“I know what I’ve got to work at now,” Michaud said. “I’m going to push myself even harder.”
Kreuger, who had a home run at the tournament, said the biggest challenge other than the high-level of pitching, was playing in the heat of the Georgia summer.
Ultimately, the heat took its toll. After winning its first bracket game, Showtime ran out of jump in a mid-day contest against hometown East Cobb.
“That second game, we were all dead tired from the weather,” Zach Carter said.
Noting that most teams had 25 players compared with only 14 on the trip for Showtime, Carter said the heat and humidity caught up with him on the day of the bracket games.
“Just knowing we had to play another game” after the first-round win had a wearing effect, shortstop Elijah Dickerson said.
Carter, who picked up two pitching wins, said he faced hitters who were more disciplined at the plate.
“I had to think more as a pitcher to beat those hitters,” said Carter.
Showtime Red manager Jesse Villanueva and assistant coach Andre Dickerson said the 14 players who made the trip embraced the challenge of playing outside their comfort zone in terms of competition and climate.
“They worked hard and competed and surpassed my expectations,” Andre Dickerson said. He called the experience eye-opening.
Showtime Baseball is in its 11th season. It does not compete in structured leagues such as American Legion Baseball, which offers the chance to qualify for state, regional and national playoffs, so the trip to Georgia was the summer highlight for this team.
Villanueva said Hayes deserves credit pursuing the opportunity to play in such a prestigious tournament.
“It made me a better coach,” Villanueva said, explaining that the talent level and attention to detail from opposing teams kept him on his toes.
Hayes, who is the Battle Ground High School baseball coach, did not travel to Georgia.
Earlier this summer, he traveled with the younger Showtime Blue team that reached the semifinals of an invitational tournament in Omaha, Neb. He said the application process for the World Wood Bat Association national tournament took several months.
“We wanted to play against teams that we hear about,” Hayes said, explaining his motivation for sending a team to Georgia. “Our kids matched up well with kids from across the country.”