There are players waiting for their turn to take the field, parents seated along the first and third base lines, and there are pro and college scouts.
The scouts are easily recognizable as almost all of them unfailingly are wearing polo shirts with their representative team logos, have either a stopwatch or radar gun in hand, and are often standing directly behind home plate.
Those who attended LakePoint Thursday may have noticed an increased number of polo shirts as the playoffs began in the Perfect Game U17 World Wood Bat Association Tournament, meaning some of the best teams and the best players could be found in Emerson.
“You can go weeks without seeing a guy worth scouting, but today was a good day,” Tim Osborne, head of the MLB scouting bureau, said. “I like the playoff rounds because it means something and your better teams are in it.”
“Both Uptons, Freddie Freeman, Mike Minor, you’re going to see good players out here,” Braves area scout Brian Bridges said. “There’s a lot of first rounders. Jayson Heyward played in this event. The list goes on. All those kids have passed through.”
The WWBA Championship is one of the premier events for scouts in the southeast as several of the best travel ball teams from around the country are among the participants.
“It’s a big week recruiting-wise, exposure-wise. This is the playoffs, so you’ll see a lot of college coaches here. There’s probably 400, 500 college coaches and scouts here this week,” Taylor McCollough, Perfect Game national tournament director, said. “16U, 17U are the big recruitable ages for college coaches and scouts. 17-year-olds are the ones for next year’s draft, so all the major league scouts are out here checking out guys, same with the college guys with recruiting classes coming up.”
The WWBA Championship is one of Perfect Game’s most successful tournaments as 304 teams competed in the tournament, which started on July 4 and will wrap up with the semifinals and finals today. McCollough attributed the tournament’s notoriety to the use of wood bats in the tournament.
“We’ve always done the wood bat tournaments. I think a lot of guys like it because it’s different,” he said. “It’s an equalizer between the pitchers and the hitters.
“This is the most teams we’ve ever had. This event was at 280 last year. The first year was 2002 when we had one event and it had 40 teams in it. Each year we’ve added more age groups and more teams in each age group.”
The tournament also provides pro scouts, like Osborne, the unique opportunity to see players hit with the same bats that are used in the major leagues.
“Wood bats help me a lot,” he said. “It’s just because you can see a guy handle what they are going to be handling at the professional level if they ever get there.”
Osborne was on hand Thursday to watch the 643 DP Athletics 17U Cougars play in the first round of the playoffs against East Cobb Baseball. Osborne was likely paying particularly close attention to East Cobb’s Daz Cameron, former big leaguer Mike Cameron’s son. Daz will graduate from Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy in 2015 and is committed to Florida State. However, the outfielder may opt to go pro and is likely an early-round pick in the 2015 MLB amateur draft.
East Cobb also had players such as Alonzo Jones, who is committed to defending College World Series champion Vanderbilt. Meanwhile, 643 featured Christopher Cullen, who is committed to South Carolina.
Collin Stoecker, who is committed to Notre Dame, got the start for East Cobb during Thursday’s 8:15 a.m. game. 643 designated hitter and Cartersville rising senior Lane Wilson was not intimidated and contributed one of 643’s two hits in the game.
Wilson has gone 4-for-8 in his last three games at the WWBA tournament. He also pitched in relief at the end of the game and stopped the bleeding, coming in to shut down East Cobb for the final out of the seventh inning. East Cobb had already scored three runs in the inning on its way to the 3-0 victory to eliminate the 643 team. Wilson pitched 6 1/3 innings in the tournament and did not allow a run.
As both a hitter and a pitcher, Wilson has a unique perspective on playing with wood bats,
“I like the wood bats. I kind of like it better almost,” he said. “It just feels more comfortable. It allows you to compete more. Especially, I like pitching to wood bats.”
Cartersville relief pitcher Jack Mayo also pitches for 643. He allowed a double in an inning of work Tuesday and attributes the wood bats to keeping the ball in the yard.
“That one I gave up [Tuesday] would have been gone with a metal bat,” he said. “It’s fun to break [the wood bats]. It just makes it a little more interesting.”