Early in the summer of 2020, Wilson Premier Baseball made the decision to cancel its summer events. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, there were plenty of questions about public safety and what the landscape of travel baseball would look like.
With those questions, and without an ability to provide high-quality event activation like glove and bat launches at tournaments, the Wilson Premier team opted to shut things down.
“We just felt like with the landscape of travel baseball, it wasn’t going to be to the standard of what we expect from a Wilson Premier Tournament,” said Wilson Premier Baseball National Director Matthew Bliven. “That’s not to say we felt like travel baseball shouldn’t have been happening or kids shouldn’t be playing or anything like that. We just felt Wilson Premier events, we just have a higher standard of what our events are and so there were multiple reasons we decided to pull the plug…
“That being said, it did give us the opportunity to sort of go 100 percent on our fall events.”
That extra focus and preparation time helped usher in the fifth-annual Wilson Premier Classic (WPC) in the middle of September at the LakePoint Sports Complex in Atlanta. Despite the challenges of 2020, it was the best ever year for the tournament.
The WPC featured teams made up of 2021, 2022 and 2023 graduates playing against each other in separate brackets, but two key changes to the format allowed the tournament to reach greater heights than it has in its previous four years.
The first change was bringing teams who weren’t Wilson Premier partners into the fold.
“When we first started, the Wilson Premier Classic was exclusive to some of our Wilson Premier partners,” Bliven said. “It was an invite only depending on your partnership with Wilson. That was how you were able to get an invitation to the Classic. In theory it was a really good idea at the beginning.
“But what we learned is that there were a lot of teams and parents and players who had heard great things about the classic and wanted to participate and unfortunately we were keeping people out. It wasn’t fair to some teams and some players who wanted to participate.”
A merit-based invitation process was created to help identify and select teams who would compete in the tournament and elevate the competition for everyone involved. Non Wilson partnered teams like the FTB/San Francisco Giants Scout Team, Richmond Braves and Top Tier Roos were among the field of teams.
An event that previously had around 40-to-50 teams now had 88 and with those additional teams came more highly-regarded prospects. Top 100 high school prospects like C Harry Ford (23), SS Cody Schrier (41), SS Michael Braswell (42) and SS Daniel Corona (58) were some of the top names participating.
The second change to the event involved getting more aggressive with the Wilson Premier scout team opportunities. While the WPC has been doing scout teams at the event since its inaugural year, the teams were beefed up for 2020. Two full scout team rosters (the Evoshield Generals and Wilson Lacers) were included in each age bracket, which brought in players like 2022 graduates OF Andruw Jones and 1B/3B Carsten Sabathia and 2023 graduate 3B/RHP Cam Collier.
“We were able to get some really talented players to participate in the event as a member of those teams,” Bliven said. “That was a change for this year that boosted the event itself. We felt good about the rosters we put together… boosting that scout team opportunity, injecting that with steroids basically and allowing some of our non-Wilson partnered organizations to participate were two of the key factors of the event growing and being the best yet.”
Admittedly for the Wilson team, one of the concerns about inviting non-Wilson partners was that those teams would win each of the championships.
That didn’t turn out to be the case, as Wilson partners BPA won the 2021 championship and Canes National won the 2020 championship. The Top Tier Roos did win the 2023 championship over partnered Power Baseball, but the additional competition with the unaffiliated teams was seen as a success for the WPC as a whole.
“While 2020 was kind of a mess for everyone, our Wilson Premier Classic was the biggest that we’ve ever had,” Bliven said. “We doubled in size, we were able to put some scout teams together of our own in the events, we were able to invite some players who wouldn’t have had an opportunity to play in the event. And those teams were very strong so we were able to get some of the top prospects from the country to participate in the event.
“It was a huge success. Teams really seemed to enjoy it, the players seemed to enjoy it. We were just really excited to give them a baseball experience they truly enjoyed. They needed a break…This summer was so frustrating for so many people and it was nice to know we were able to give them that Wilson Premier, premium experience this fall.”
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2021 Graduates (BPA Champions)
Co-MVPs: Colby Wallace (Rancho Santa Margarita, CA), BPA 2021 – 7 hits, 2 2B, 7 Runs, 4 RBI, 5 IP, 8 K & Harrison Owen (Aliso Viejo, CA), BPA 2021 –- 9 hits, 2 HR, 5 RBI
MVPitcher: Gage Jump (Aliso Viejo, CA) Canes National 2021 – 5 IP, 9 K’s
2022 Graduates (Canes National Champions)
MVP: AJ Shepard (Manassas, VA), Canes National 2022 – 7 hits, 2 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 5 RBI
MVPitcher: AJ Shepard (Manassas, VA), Canes National 2022 – 7 hits, 2 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 5 RBI
2023 Graduates (Top Tier Roos Champions)
MVP: Chase Kieck (Jacksonville, FL), Top Tier Roos 2023 – 8 hits, 3 2B, 1 3B, 7 RBI
MVPitcher: Aidan Miller (Trinity, FL) Top Tier Roos 2023 – 8 IP, 12 K’s