MIAMI -- Riding on the success of the inaugural States Play tournament last season in Arlington, the second annual event began on Friday at Marlins Park.
Last season, Texas took two of three games from California in the first States Play tournament, a showcase that features the best rising high school seniors. This year, Florida and Georgia, hotbeds for rising talent, compete for bragging rights.
“We’re building some momentum,” said Del Matthews, senior director of MLB baseball development. “We started it off with two powerhouses as far as baseball players. And then we brought it to the Southeast. I think we’re picking up momentum [with the tournament].”
Florida took the series opener, 1-0, over Georgia. Left-handed pitcher Nelson Berkwich, a Vanderbilt commit, combined with two others on the three-hit shutout. Berkwich started and worked three innings, striking out nine while allowing one hit. He did not walk a batter.
Left-hander Mason Miller threw two innings of one-hit ball, struck out three and walked one before Mason Manriquez picked up the save with two innings of relief. The right-hander allowed one hit and a walk. He struck out the final batter with the tying run on second base.
“It was really cool to pitch here,” said Miller, who grew up an hour north of Marlins Park. “I grew up a Marlins fan. It’s awesome. I’m just trying to soak everything in.”
Attendance for the three-game rivalry series at Marlins Park is complimentary to the public. Saturday's game, set for 6 p.m. ET, will stream live on MLB.com. The series concludes with an 11 a.m. ET Sunday game.
Players were chosen by MLB and USA Baseball, with several selected following participation in other joint MLB/USA Baseball development-focused events, such as the Breakthrough Series, Hank Aaron Invitational, the DREAM Series and the Prospect Development Pipeline (PDP) League.
“It’s just a great opportunity for these young men,” Matthews said. “It’s a great event. The kids are excited about it. We had a great game tonight; very competitive. I know Georgia and Florida are probably known more for football this time of year, but I think it’s a natural rivalry with the states bordering each other.
“For the kids to come out and play baseball in front of all these scouts in a Major League stadium, I think the opportunity is second to none and the kids really enjoy the experience.”
The development-focused experience for the players also includes former Major Leaguers as team coaches.
Florida coaches include team manager Luis Alicea, a former 13-year MLB infielder, as well as Fred McGriff, a five-time MLB All-Star, 19-year MLB first baseman and 1995 World Series champion. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a former 12-year MLB catcher/infielder, 2013 World Series champion and four-time member of USA Baseball National Team, and Alex Fernandez, a former 10-year MLB pitcher, 1997 World Series champion and three-time member of the USA Baseball National Team.
The Georgia coaching staff is equally impressive starting with manager Marquis Grissom, a two-time MLB All-Star, 17-year MLB center fielder and 1995 World Series champion. Also on the staff are Micah Owings, a former six-year MLB pitcher and member of the USA Baseball National Team, Garey Ingram, a former three-year MLB infielder, and Tommy Thompson, former Minor League catcher and infielder.