Friday, July 27, 2012

Youth Baseball: Nations Baseball Gets an F

How did the Nations Baseball World Series held in Pensacola, FL rate compared to other national tournaments?

Here is my report card on Nations Baseball U14 World Series Championship held in Pensacola, FL during the week of July 11 - 15, 2012.

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), the Nations Baseball Premier National Championship (U13 - Gulfport, MS) and Nations Baseball World Series (U14 - Pensacola, FL). 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 World Series had an opening ceremony on Pensacola Beach the Wednesday before the start of action on Thursday. Our team did not participate for several reasons. 1) Many of the families stayed on Perdido Key far from Pensacola Beach. Few were motivated to get back into a car after recently driving 11 hours, 2) the 14 year old boys were not excited about the event, they wanted to stay on the beach instead and 3) There were only 4 teams in the tournament. What is festive and fun about that?
  • Nations Baseball Gulfport, MS - Grade B
  • CABA - Grade F (I don't remember any opening ceremonies)
  • AAU Disney Fields - Grade A (Disney performers entertained the players, siblings, parents and coaches.)
  • Cooperstown Dreams Park - Grade A (It was a bit long, but it was a festive start)
  • Nations Baseball, Penacola, FL - Grade NA
The Skills Competition: The Nations Baseball World Series had a skills challenge on the schedule when the team signed up for the tournament, but it was canceled. I believe that they canceled it because there were only 4 teams in the tournament. 
  • Nations Baseball Gulfport, MS - Grade B
  • CABA - Grade B
  • AAU Disney Fields - Grade F (I do not remember any skills competitions)
  • Cooperstown Dreams Park - Grade A (Exciting competitions played out in front of a packed stadium)
  • Nations Baseball, Penacola, FL - Grade F
The Fields: The Nations Baseball World Series was suppose to be held at University of West Florida, but was moved to Tate High School. We believe that the event was moved due to the lack of teams in the tournament. Only one field was needed for the entire tournament. 

Tate High School has a great field with a well manicured grass infield, a dirt mound, stadium seating and vast dimensions. The outfield grass was green, freshly cut and fast. The infield is made of a blood red dirt that looked great on the field, but terrible on soiled uniforms. The fences on the fields used for the U14 event were at least 9 feet high, 325 ft down the line and about 375 ft straight away. No home runs were hit during the tournament. 

We had a torrential rain Friday night and Saturday morning, the field was unable to recover quick enough to play any games on Saturday. This made Sunday was a long day of baseball. Fields at Cooperstown and Disney recover much more quickly. Luckily, our team was seeded #1 after pool play so we got bye on Sunday morning. 

Tate High School is where Don Sutton, Hall of Fame Pitcher, and Travis Fryman, Cleveland Indians third baseman, played ball. 

From a spectators standpoint, the Tate HS field had the qualities of a minor league stadium. There was ample seating behind home plate on concrete steps. The concrete was hard and absorbed the Florida sun, so it was hot. The stands did have a roof covering up some of the seats which did provide some protection after 11am.
  • 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.)
  • Nations Baseball, Penacola, FL - Grade B (One great field)

The Concession Stand: Tate High School had a typical HS concession stand. The food was ok, the drinks were cold, the service was friendly and the prices were very cheap.
  • 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)
  • Nations Baseball, Penacola, FL - Grade B
Game Schedule: The games were not too early, nor too late. That was good. The tournament could create a schedule like this because there were only 4 teams in the tournament. Still, Nations Baseball gets an overwhelming F. The tournament started on Thursday and ended Sunday. Why? Why not start Wednesday or Tuesday. Most of the house / condo rentals in Pensacola were Saturday to Saturday. Most of the families came down on the Saturday before the tournament started a full 5 days before the games began. Many families had to check out of their condos on Saturday morning and find a hotel room for Saturday night. The tournament did not schedule a rain out contingency day, so the Saturday games and the scheduled Sunday games were played on Sunday. A lower seeded team could have played 5 games on Sunday if it played out that way. That is unacceptable because it puts young arms at risk.

Furthermore, the World Series happened to be on the biggest weekend of the year for Pensacola. The second weekend of July is the Blue Angels Air Show weekend. It is the most crowded weekend and therefore the most expensive weekend of the year. Nations Baseball missed a great opportunity to use the Blue Angles Air Show as a draw to the tournament. No the short sighted folks at Nations scheduled games during the Air Show each day, so our families paid the extra rent to go to Pensacola on the best weekend of the year, but could not enjoy the show. (NOTE: Folks that stayed on the Pensacola Beach side did get to see the Blue Angels practice. We stayed on the Perdido Key side of Pensacola so we did not see anything.) 

Nations Baseball should start the tournament on Monday and end it on Thursday. If it rains, Nations would have Friday to make up the games. Families than will have an opportunity to see the Air Show on Friday, Saturday and can then drive home on Sunday. News alert for Nations Baseball. People need to get back to work to pay for the rather vast expense of a baseball tournament. The championship game for this tournament ended on Sunday at 7pm. Many families had to drive through the night to get to work. 
  • 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.)
  • Nations Baseball, Penacola, FL - Grade F
The Competition: Nations Baseball only attracted 4 total teams for the U14 tournament so they got an F. There were three very talented teams and one team that was rec level. Nations baseball was desperate for teams so they offered a local team a free entry. The local team had never played on 60/90 fields, so they took the free entry to prepare their kids for the upcoming season on the bigger fields.
  • 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.)
  • Nations Baseball, Penacola, FL - Grade F
Click Read More for Umpire, Competition Format, Destination, Website, Tournament Committee grades

The Umpires: I thought that the umpires at the Nations Baseball World Series Tournament were pretty good. 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. On several occasions the umpires would confer to make sure they got a call right. Typically, umpires do not want to over rule a call and make their partner look bad, but this crew was more interested in getting the calls right.
  • 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, Penacola, FL - Grade B+

The Competition Format: The Nations Baseball World Series had a 5 game guarantee double elimination tournament. Since there were only 4 teams, each team played the other once in pool play to establish the seeding. We won the top seed after pool play and that gave us a bye and a very strong advantage in bracket play. 
  • 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.
  • Nations Baseball, Penacola, FL - Grade B - (More teams would have made the format more exciting)
The Destination: - Pensacola was great. The beaches are as white as can be. The gulf water is warm and inviting. The food in the area is great, especially if you like sea food. The area has many nice golf courses. There are lots of things to do, including the free Navy Aviation Museum, deep sea fishing, putt-putt golf, go carts, Pensacola Boardwalk and the Wheel of Excellence. The baseball tournament was held on the best weekend of the year in Pensacola, the Blue Angels Air Show Weekend.
  • 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.)
  • Nations Baseball, Penacola, FL - Grade A (The Nation Baseball missed a great opportunity to use the Blue Angles Air Show as a draw to the tournament.) 
The Tournament Committee: The tournament committee had more excuses than answers on this weekend so they get an F.
1) The committee lied about the number of teams in the tournament - saying that they had 6 on the website and 2 more unpaid just 7 days before the tournament. Two teams dropped out at the last minute due to low participation in the event. Those two teams went 18 miles up the beach to a USSSA Tournament in Gulf Shores Alabama. The committee unbelievably refunded their money in full. Only 4 teams eventually competed.
2) The parents were particularly mad at the $25 per fan cost to watch the games of a poorly managed tournament. Anyone over 8 had to pay the fee. The committee should not have refunded the money to the teams that dropped out in full and used that money to appease the teams that did stay.
3) It rained like hell on Friday night, but our team was not informed of a delay immediately. We were not sure if it had rained 40 minutes north of where we were staying, so we drove up to the fields at 7:15 for an 9am game. When we arrived at 8am, the fields were completely covered with water and there were no crews working the fields. The team waited for 4 hours until it was finally officially cancelled. 
4) The schedule was terrible - see above. The Committee did not think through the schedule very well at all. They cost families money by ending the tournament on a Sunday (This required an extra day in a hotel after Sat to Sat condo stay was over), they put young pitchers arms at risk by not scheduling a rain contingency day, they put families at risk by setting up a situation where they had to drive home all night on a Sunday to make it to work on Monday.
  • Nations Baseball Gulfport, MS - Grade F
  • CABA - Grade B+  
  • AAU Disney - Grade B+
  • Cooperstown Dreams Park  - Grade A
  • Nations Baseball, Penacola, FL - Grade F
The Main Point

I gave Nations Baseball the benefit of the doubt after the Gulf Port, MS National Championship last year. I thought Nations Baseball was heading in the right direction. Nations Baseball is a part of Cooperstown Dreams Park which sets the gold standard for how to conduct a baseball tournament, so they can turn it around, but they will not do it with my money any more.

Please note that this is only commentary regarding the U14 World Series Championship held in Pensacola, FL. 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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