Sunday, July 17, 2011

Youth Baseball: Nations Baseball National Championship (Part 6)

How did the Nations Baseball Premier National Championship held in Gulfport, MS rate compared to other National tournaments?

Here is my report card on Nations Baseball Premier Level National Championship held in Gulfport, MS during the week of July 10 - 16, 2011.

My son has competed in the CABA World Series (U10 - Indianapolis, Indiana), the AAU National Championships (U11 - ESPN Disney Wide World of Sports, Orlando, Florida), Cooperstown Dreams Park (U12 - Cooperstown, NY) and Nations Baseball Premier National Championship (U13 - Gulfport, MS). It is from this broad base of experience that I feel qualified to grade these events in comparison to each other.

Opening Ceremonies: The Nations Baseball Premier National Championship started with a parade in downtown Gulfport. It could have been a great event, but very few teams participated. Our team participated to the delight of the younger siblings. I think that this will be a great opening ceremony with the proper planning, promotion and participation.
  • Nations Baseball Gulfport, MS B
  • CABA - F (I don't remember any opening ceremonies)
  • AAU Disney Fields - A (Disney performers entertained the players, siblings, parents and coaches.)
  • Cooperstown Dreams Park - A (It was a bit long, but it was a festive start)
The Skills Competition: The Nations Baseball Premier National Championship started with a skills competition. You can read about it here. It was good, but not great. The Home Run fences were too far to make it exciting. The tournament committee did not make a big real about celebrating the winners or even announcing the winners on the website.
  • Nations Baseball Gulfport, MS B
  • CABA - B
  • AAU Disney Fields - F (I do not remember any skills competitions)
  • Cooperstown Dreams Park - A (Exciting competitions played out in front of a packed stadium)
The Fields: I give the fields at the Gulfport Sportsplex a B+. The grass was green, freshly cut and fast. The infield is made of crushed crimson stone that looked beautiful, dried very quickly and did not tear up skin like some crushed brick fields. The fences on the fields used for the U13 event were 8 feet high, 280 ft down the line and 300 ft straight away. This is a much more challenging distance for U13 players compared to the U12 experience in Cooperstown. Portable 3.5 foot fences were put in for the younger age groups and set at 275 feet. Portable mounds were used. I prefer dirt mounds, but I understand why portable mounds are used on fields that accommodate multiple age levels. The portable mounds used at the Gulfport Sportsplex were good. Finally, the drainage system is very good. We had a torrential rain one morning and we were able to play all the games with a minimal delay.
  • Nations Baseball Gulfport, MS B+
  • CABA - C+ multiple municipal fields of varying quality.
  • AAU Disney Fields - A (Perfectly manicured fields configured identically. These fields can take on lots of rain and be playable in short order.)
  • Cooperstown Dreams Park - A+ (20 perfectly manicured fields configured identically with reachable fences. These fields can take on more rain than the Disney fields and be playable faster.)
Gulfport Sportsplex

The Concession Stand: I give the concession stand at the Gulfport Sportsplex a F. They had a very limited menu. There were two concession stands and a snowcone truck, but the concession stand near the group of fields where we were playing was not open for all games. We played one full game on field #7 in intense heat with the stand closed up. We had to walk all the way over to field #2 to get much needed water and sports drinks. This was particularly frustrating because the tournament committee made it very clear that no outside coolers were allowed. (The team coach could bring in one specially marked cooler for team use.) Halfway through particularly hot game, the concession stand employee started to close the stand. We had to get the tournament director to remedy the situation. He was able to get the women to stay for the duration of our game. This situation was so indicative of the poor planning of this event.
  • Nations Baseball Gulfport, MS - Grade F
  • CABA World Series - Grade B (Some venues were good, some not so good)
  • AAU Disney Fields - Grade B - (Too expensive)
  • Cooperstown Dreams Park  - Grade A+ (Good food, big variety, honest prices)
Game Schedule: I give the game schedule a C. Most of the games were played later in the day 5:30 or 8:00. Perhaps this was done to avoid the heat. It does cool off at 8:00pm, but most of the games were played at 5:30 when it was still very hot. I would rather have games in the morning, so the kids can swim and have fun in the afternoon without worrying about getting tired out. Plus the parents can go out to and enjoy dinner at a reasonable hour. We were told that the tournament could not secure enough umpires for day games. I guess that makes sense.

Another reason for the C rating, the original schedule was wrong and a few game times were changed at the last minute. This made planning difficult. We were originally scheduled to play our one Wednesday game at 8pm, so many families headed to New Orleans for the day. That trip was cut short when the game time was changed to 5:30. Despite all of these issues,  most of the games were started on time and the umpires managed the games to the 2 hour time limit.
  • Nations Baseball Gulfport, MS - Grade C
  • CABA World Series - Grade B
  • AAU Disney Fields - Grade B - (Many doubleheaders had large gaps of time between them)
  • Cooperstown Dreams Park  - Grade A+ (I am not sure how they coordinate all of the teams when it is not raining, but they manage the schedule beautifully when rain delays or cancels games too.)
The Competition: Nations Baseball only attracted 7 total teams for the U13 tournament so they got an F. This 2011 inaugrial premier level tournament only attracted 7 teams and two of teams were U12 teams who had to compete at the U13 level. The tournament committee had an even tougher time attracting U12 teams. Go figure, the best U12 teams are spending their time and money in Cooperstown. The U13 teams were all talented and competitive teams, but not top level super regional teams that one would expect to see in a National Championship. The Cooperstown, CABA and the AAU National Tournaments attract a lot of high quality teams and thus these events crown worthy champions.
  • Nations Baseball Gulfport, MS - Grade F
  • CABA - Grade A (International teams from Puerto Rico and Panama made the event special)
  • AAU Disney - Grade A  (Lots of quality teams competed in this event.)
  • Cooperstown Dreams Park  - Grade A+ (Each week for 13 weeks every summer, 100 plus teams compete. There is a wide range of competitive levels competing in this event. The top teams typically prevail, but the mid-range teams can advance far.)
Click Read More for Umpire, Competition Format, Destination, Website, Tournament Committee grades

The Umpires: I thought that the umpires at the Nations Baseball Premier National Tournament were great. The event had 2 men crews for each game. These guys were experienced and consistent. Of course they made some questionable calls, but all in all they were very good.
  • Nations Baseball Gulfport, MS - Grade A
  • CABA - Grade B 
  • AAU Disney - Grade D  (Perhaps the worst officiating I have ever seen)
  • Cooperstown Dreams Park  - Grade A (Each team provides an umpire for the event. It is an honor to be nominated by your team.)
Nations Baseball National Championship had good umps.

The Competition Format: I give the Nations Baseball Premier National Championship with its 6 game guarantee double elimination tournament a grade of A. Each team competed in 4 pool play games and then competed in a double elimination tournament. The tournament committee did a great job setting up pools that were even. Double elimination events are good for the top teams because it reduces the possibility of getting knocked out of a tourney by an inferior team with a hot pitcher. Double elimination events are also good for second tier teams too. It gives these types of teams a chance to advance a little by upsetting a top seed or by facing similar second tier teams in the first rounds of the loser's bracket.
  • Nations Baseball Gulfport, MS - Grade A
  • CABA - Grade B  (Pool play with single elimination)
  • AAU Disney - Grade B+  (Pool play with single elimination in two separate divisions Gold and Silver)
  • Cooperstown Dreams Park  - Grade A (This is a single elimination event because double elimination would take too long with 100 teams. but it is set up in a way were the higher seeded teams (40+) face each other in the early rounds of elimination play while the top teams get byes.
The Destination: - Gulfport, MS is hot and humid in the summer and the area has not completely recovered from Hurricane Katrina but the people of southern Mississippi were so welcoming. It felt good to support the recovery of the area. The beaches are good not great. The food in the area is great. The airport is small but modern. The area has many nice golf courses. New Orleans is close by. There are casinos for those who like to gamble. Southern Mississppi will never be mistaken for Orlando, but it was a good place to watch a baseball tournament. I give the destination a B.
  • Nations Baseball Gulfport, MS - Grade B
  • CABA - Grade C  (Indianapolis is ok but not overly exciting)
  • AAU Disney - Grade A  (It's "the" destination place for families)
  • Cooperstown Dreams Park  - Grade B+ (The players and parents love Cooperstown. Siblings were not as enthused by the destination.)
The Website: The Nations Baseball Website is good, but could be better. There is a National Tournament link at the very top of the page. This houses Tournament Information, Itinerary, Info on the fields, Who's coming, Accommodations and Attractions. For some reason, it does not house the schedule or the results. You need to go to another area of the site for that. Besides that the website is easy to navigate, but a website can only be as good as the people who fill it with content. Case in point, if you look at the area attractions tab on the Premier National Tournament you will find a note - Information on Gulfport attractions will be posted shortly - the information was never posted (The screen capture below was taken after the event was over.) The results of the skills competition were never posted and amazingly, now 3 days after the event, the final results were never updated. (See screen capture)

Helpful information about attractions were never loaded
The final results were not loaded
  • Nations Baseball Gulfport, MS - Grade C
  • CABA - Grade C  
  • AAU Disney - Grade C
  • Cooperstown Dreams Park  - Grade B- (The website is very hard to navigate through, but all the info is there.)
The Tournament Committee: There are 6 situations that were not handled well that earned the Tournament Committee a grade of F.
1) The 12U parents were particularly mad. Only two teams participated in the event, so they had to compete against 13U teams. These 12U teams struggled. One parent told me that there were told just a week prior to the start of the tournament that 10-12 U12 teams would be competing. He went on to tell me that they were told that many teams dropped out at the last minute for various reasons. The 12U parent found this very hard to believe.
2) Our parents were not happy about the concession stand situation and the last minute schedule changes.
3) Our coaches frustrated with the accuracy and the timeliness of the information the entire week.
4) Games were played in a lightning storm. In Ohio, if the umpire sees lightning anywhere, close or far, the game is automatically delayed. The delay is 30 minutes for each lightning strike. There was an amazing lightning storm on Wednesday night, yet the games played on. I was nervous for my son and my wife and daughter sitting in the stands.
5) On Thursday it rained hard for hours. The rain stopped about 1:30pm. We had a game at 5:30. Our kids showed up at 4:15 to warm up and no one was working on the fields which soaked up 95% of the rain. The fields could have been ready to go for the scheduled start time if the crews were working the fields earlier. At 5:30 the original game time, we were informed that the game would be played at 8pm. My family decided to go to dinner. We got about 15 minutes down the road when we were called back and told that the game would be played at 6pm.
6) Our Wednesday game was schedule for 8pm so many of the families decided to take a day trip to New Orleans. They jumped in the car at 9:30 and arrived in New Orleans at 10:45 just as a One Call from our coach alerted them that the game would be at 5:30 and the team needed to be at the field at 4:15. I am sure that the committee thought that they were doing our team a favor by moving the time earlier, but it was a mistake.

  • Nations Baseball Gulfport, MS - Grade F
  • CABA - Grade B+  
  • AAU Disney - Grade B+
  • Cooperstown Dreams Park  - Grade A

The Main Point

This was Nations Baseball first ever Premier National Championship. And the first big Nations Baseball event in Gulfport, Mississippi. Nations Baseball is a part of Cooperstown Dreams park which sets the gold standard for how to conduct a baseball tournament, so we had really high expectations. We had a great time, but this event did not meet the expectations of the parents, the coaches or the players. I know that Lou Pursetti and his team will get it right eventually so I would not count this event out, but do your homework before you commit your team.

Please note that this is only commentary regarding the Premier National Championship held in Gulfport, MS. Nations holds lots of tournaments in various places across this great nation of ours. I have no idea how those tournaments compare. They might be great. Feel free to comment about the tournaments that your team competed in.

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