A sojourn to the Sunshine State

The Jefferson City baseball team finished with a 4-1 record in Florida.

Wanna get away?

The Jefferson City Jays did, and their timing couldn't have been better.

While we "enjoyed" about a 10 inches of snow last week --- were you dreaming of a White Easter? --- the Jays baseball team enjoyed the green grass, blue skies and warmth of sunny Florida.

Timing really is everything.

"It was a coincidence, obviously," Jays coach Brian Ash said with a chuckle. "This trip was planned long ago, last fall."

Neither Ash, nor his players, felt our white pain.

"We laughed daily," Ash said. "Here we were down there in the nice weather, playing baseball and doing the things we enjoy, and everybody back here was digging themselves out."

Said senior catcher Sam Atkinson: "It was pretty funny. I remember we were getting ready to play our first game, and coach Ash's wife was sending him pictures of all the snow."

Added senior pitcher/infielder Corey Beard: "I kind of felt bad," he said, "but not that bad."

Weather or not, this was a great trip --- both on and off the field --- to Ft. Pierce, a city located on the Central East Coast of Florida. Most important, these games may prove to be quite valuable for the Jays, both in the short- and long-term.

"We got five games in, while people up here were practicing in the gym," Ash said. "You can't ever replace the work you can get done on the field.

"We're going to have a lot more games under our belts than other teams. We found out a lot about ourselves and our players and what they can do in certain situations, and that should help us the rest of the season."

The Jays went 4-1 on this sojourn, defeating teams from Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Florida and Missouri (John Burroughs) --- by a combined 48-14, no less. They lost a 9-7 decision to a team from New York.

One other game was canceled by poor weather --- rain, not snow.

"We played well," Ash said "We just wanted to play the kind of baseball we can play, and if we did the little things right and competed well, we were going to be happy, win or lose.

"A lot of good things came out of it."

Like seeing fresh faces and fresh teams.

"There were some teams that were extremely chatty, and other teams weren't at all," Atkinson said. "It was really interesting to see how people all over the United States play baseball."

But when you stick 17 teen-age boys on an airplane and take them to sunny Florida during spring break, well ...

No worries. These young men were as good off the field as they were on it.

"They were unbelievable," Ash said. "The kids were great, respectful ... top to bottom, they handled themselves with a lot of class. It made me proud and I certainly know it made their parents proud.

"It's a big undertaking, just getting things organized --- all the little things you don't think about when you're planning something like this. But as you go through the process, you learn real quick.

"But it was well, well worth it."

The Jays played at a four-field complex that was originally scheduled to be the spring training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"It's a top-notch facility," Ash said. "They have everything you could ever want; it was built for the Pirates. But now, high school and college teams get to go there and enjoy the luxuries, and what if feels like, to play at a major league venue."

The Jays did have some time away from this venue. Not much, but some.

"We got them up at 7 one morning, ate breakfast, and went to the beach," Ash said. "We did a lot of conditioning/competitive type workouts, Navy Seal stuff, where they were competing against each other.

"They were having so much fun, they didn't even realize how hard they were working. It was a blast."

There was also a trip to a Cardinals-Mets spring training game, where Jefferson City players hauled in "at least" eight home run balls during batting practice.

"It was really cool," Atkinson said. "I've been to a lot of Cardinal games (at Busch Stadium), but I've never experienced anything like that.

"It's a different atmosphere, it's really personal."

Back in Missouri --- and after Tuesday's 5-2 win at Pacific --- the Jays are now 8-1 heading into this weekend's Capital City Invitational at Vivion Field and the Legion Complex.

Jefferson City will open the event against Eureka at noon Friday at Vivion Field. In their opener, the Helias Crusaders will face Blue Springs at 2:30 p.m. Friday at the Legion Complex.

The tournament will have a heavy local flavor, as it also features Blair Oaks and Fatima.(The complete tournament bracket is below).

"We have a lot of really, really good teams, like we always do," Ash said. "We just hope that due to the experience we had in Florida, it can carry over and we can continue to play well."

The Jays haven't won this event in a long time --- as in, this century.

"We played really well (in Florida)," Beard said, "so I'm confident we can come back and do well. We want to win our own tournament, for once. It's been so long."

By the way, there is no snow in the forecast.



(Games will be played at Vivion (V) and Legion (L) fields

First Round

Game 1 --- Jefferson City vs. Eureka, noon (V)

Game 2 --- Fatima vs. Hickman, noon (L)

Game 3 --- Helias vs. Blue Springs, 2:30 p.m. (L)

Game 4 --- Blair Oaks vs. Rockhurst, 2:30 p.m. (V)
Winner's Bracket Semifinals

Game 5 --- Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 5 p.m. (V)

Game 6 --- Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 7:30 p.m. (V)
Loser's Bracket Semifinals

Game 7 --- Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 5 p.m. (L)

Game 8 --- Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 7:30 p.m. (L)

Game 9 (Third place) --- Game 5 loser vs. Game 6 loser, 10 a.m. (V)

Game 10 (Seventh place) --- Game 7 loser vs. Game 8 loser, 10 a.m. (L)

Game 11 (Championship) --- Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 12:30 p.m. (V)

Game 12 (Fifth place) --- Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 12:30 p.m. (V)