When Gainesville High baseball coach Jeremy Kemp asked three of his players if they wanted to play with Team Georgia this summer, the response was unanimous.
“You play high school baseball to get to the next level, and this is a huge opportunity to get looked at,” said Ryan Griffith, who along with teammates David Gonzalez and Stephen Mason, as well as Johnson High’s Trae Wilson, will compete in an eight-day tournament beginning this weekend in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“This is a big chance to get noticed,” Gonzalez said. “We were excited when we first heard about this and it’ll be a nice opportunity to play with those guys.”
Gonzalez, Mason and Wilson will all be on the same team coached by Kemp, Johnson coach Tony Wilson and Lambert coach Jamie Corr, while Griffith will play one of the other two teams representing Team Georgia.
“It’s going to be a great experience for me,” Mason said. “I can’t wait to get down there.”
Aside from Gonzalez, who has family in nearby Miami and Boca Raton and drove down with his mother on Thursday, the rest of the players will depart today with hopes of representing their state and making a name for themselves.
“Being noticed is at the top of my list because I want coaches to come out and see me so I can play college baseball,” Mason said. “But I also want to represent Gainesville too. I want people to know that we can play baseball.”
The three Red Elephants are also entering this 32-team tournament with a bit of a chip on their shoulders after getting eliminated in the Class AAA quarterfinals.
“Our season didn’t end how we wanted,” Griffith said. “We’re all determined to get something.”
Whether or not they get a trophy in Florida will determined on how their teams play, but that doesn’t mean they’ll come home empty handed.
“We still have a chip on our shoulders,” Gonzalez said. “We want to get better for ourselves and for our team at Gainesville.”
Then there’s playing against their talented peers.
“To see kids better than me will boost my competitive nature,” Mason said. “It’ll let me know what it’ll be like to play with tough competition.”
Facing a higher level of opponents could also mean failure, which none of the players want to think about.
“It would be hard to not play well,” Mason said. “But then I would know that I’d have to work harder for baseball.”
“You want to do good,” Griffith added. “If you don’t, you’ll feel like you missed out on an opportunity.”
Since all three players from Gainesville are rising juniors, they know this isn’t the last chance they get.
“It’s a good experience, but not the last opportunity,” Gonzalez said.
The trip means a little more to Gonzalez, who grew up in Orlando and will have several family members and friends in attendance.
“I want to play college baseball in south Florida, so it’ll be good if I can perform down here,” Gonzalez said.
All three players are expecting to play multiple positions throughout the tournament, but seeing how they have never met the majority of their teammates, the trio don’t know what to expect in terms of team success.
“There’s like 30 teams and I have no idea what the team is like,” Griffith said. “We haven’t had a single practice; we’re just going down blind.”
“It’s tough on the kids, but not on the coaches,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve played against some of them, but the coaches know what everyone is capable of.”
The eight-day event features teams from all over the country that will compete in pool play before a double-elimination tournament.
“We know we’re going to see good pitching, and the offenses will be good too,” Mason said. “We’re probably going to see both low scoring and high scoring games.”