Story: JEFF DAHN
Published: Saturday, May 28, 2016
GLENDALE, Ariz. – The late May desert sun beat down on Dodgers Field 5 at the Camelback Ranch MLB spring training complex Saturday afternoon, but Wilson Sandlot slugger Nolan Gorman paid it no mind. He had played in countless games in the searing heat offered up from Arizona desert and the suffocating heat and humidity on the menu in Southwest Florida.
The only thing Gorman was focused on was the situation at hand. It was the top of the first inning in Sandlot’s pool-play game against an outfit called the Wolverines at the 16u PG WWBA West Memorial Day Classic, and the left-handed hitting Gorman could turn to look down the line and see his teammate Jacob Henderson leading off of first after reaching on an error. There was one out.
With a 1-0 count, Gorman drove a pitch to the far depths of right-center field, well beyond the reach of the chasing Wolverine centerfielder and all the way to the fence. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Gorman jumped on his horse and went to the whip, circling the bases for a stand-up RBI triple. He momentarily rounded the bag while a few of his teammates yelled “Four! Four!” from the dugout, looking for an inside-the-park home run (it might have been close).
Gorman later scored on a passed ball in what would become a three-run first for Wilson Sandlot. The Wolverines, a team based in Moreno Valley, Calif. (Wilson Sandlot operates out of Chandler, Ariz.), answered with five runs in the bottom of first but Sandlot rallied for a 6-5 victory. That left the team 2-0 heading into Sunday’s final pool-play against the G1 Diplomats (Riverside, Calif.), also 2-0.
Regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s game – or, at least, how it was ultimately decided – Gorman had once again set the tone for a game in its early innings, something that seems to be expected more and more from a young man who just celebrated his 16th birthday on May 10.
A resident of Glendale, he is just a little over two weeks removed from helping Sandra Day O’Connor High School to a third-place finish at the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) Division I State Tournament – the Eagles finished the season 30-7 – but was more than ready to get back at it this weekend.
“We know this is really a big event and a lot of scouts come out to watch this team,” Gorman told PG before Saturday’s game with the Wolverines. “Our coach (Rob Gorrell) is pretty good about knowing everyone (in the scouting community) and he helps with getting people noticed. And Perfect Game does a good job of getting scouts out here to watch all these kids.”
The 2016 O’Connor team was led by a group of 12 seniors that will be sorely missed in 2017 but with some juniors returning for their senior seasons and sophomores like Gorman looking forward to their junior seasons, there shouldn’t be much drop off. A very unofficial survey found at least 17 O’Connor players from the classes of 2016, ’17, ’18, ‘19 and ’20 playing on 10 different teams in this weekend’s 16u and 18u PG WWBA West Memorial Day Classics.
Gorman enjoyed a terrific sophomore season at O’Connor, likely one of the best of any 10th-grader in Arizona. Playing in all 37 games, the left-side infielder slashed a team-high .490/.579/.980 with team highs of 11 home runs, 14 doubles, 49 RBI and 41 runs scored; he stole nine bases in 10 attempts. Playing third base for the Eagles – he is listed as a primary shortstop on his PG Player Profile – he also handled himself more than adequately in the field.
The somewhat soft-spoken Gorman was pleased to report that he stayed 100 percent healthy throughout the high school season which left him in good spirits heading into his summer season. He was quick to point out that making the transition from the spring high school season to the summer travel ball season really wasn’t anything to get all worked up about.
“It’s not too much different because in the spring we’re playing with and against seniors and in the summer it’s mostly just guys our age,” he said. “But even then, in tournaments like this the kids our age are just as good as the seniors (we played in the spring). It’s not really that much different.”
In reality, the schedule Gorman followed last summer and the one he has in front of him again this summer borders on epic. During the summer months he hooks up with a prominent travel ball organization based in Altamonte Springs, Fla., called the Central Florida Gators and it’s an association that has allowed him to thrive.
He heads into this summer ranked as PG’s No. 116 overall national prospect in the class of 2018 and No. 1 in the state of the Arizona, and has already accepted a scholarship offer from the University of Arizona. The young man always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
Gorman started playing with the Central Florida Gators in 2012 at a national tournament held in Cooperstown, N.Y., and has continued the association ever since; his Perfect Game debut with the group came at the 2013 14u PG BCS Finals in Fort Myers, Fla. He played in a couple of PG Arizona 14u tournaments in 2014 with the Stetson Hills Stealth and was named to his first all-tournament team at the 2014 14u PG WWBA West Memorial Day Classic playing with the Stealth.
In January 2015, Gorman made his debut with Sandlot Baseball AZ at the 14u Perfect Game MLK Championship here in Glendale and was named to yet another all-tournament team; there would be many more to come. He fit right in with the Sandlot group because he’s exactly the type of player Sandlot is always looking for.
Sandlot was started by former Arizona State head coach Pat Murphy in 2004 and in 2008 he handed the reigns to the former ASU player and minor-leaguer Gorrell, who continues to run the organization. Gorrell wasn’t able to be in attendance at the 16u PG WWBA West Memorial Day on Saturday, and his capable assistant Brian Rice was filling in as head coach. Rice explained why a player as talented and humble as Gorman is a welcomed addition to the program.
“At Sandlot Baseball, they just stress playing the game the right way,” he said. “That’s just the way it’s always been and that’s why the kids are attracted to (the organization). Coach Gorrell expects you to play the game right way, to hustle on and off the field and to respect the game. If they don’t play the game the right way, then they don’t play with Sandlot; that’s pretty much it.”
Added Gorman: “I’ve really liked playing with Sandlot. They really helped me with my connections to the U of A and even some of the other schools I was looking at.” His connection with the Central Florida Gators and head coach Joe Mertadante has been helpful as well, especially with everything that transpired last summer.
Gorman played in three PG national championship events with the Gators in 2015, and was named all-tournament at all three. And not only was he good, but the Gators were outstanding as well. They finished in third place with a 7-2-0 record after a semifinal loss at the 15u PG BCS Finals in Fort Myers; in the top-16 with a 6-1-2 record after a second-round playoff loss at the 15u PG WWBA National Championship in Cartersville, Ga.; and as runner-up with a 7-1 record after a stinging loss to the Houston Banditos in the championship game at the 15u PG World Series, also played at LakePoint in Cartersville.
That Central Florida Gators team was a melting pot, with players – like Gorman – from several different states joining a core group of Floridians. Mertadante told PG at the 15u PGWS last July that the Florida kids formed friendships with the out-of-state kids when they were much younger – like Gorman did in 2012 in Cooperstown – and those friendships have remained in place.
“It’s really cool because they keep in touch with each other throughout the year and when the summertime comes it’s like a big reunion,” he said. “When they’re min-between games they’re always hanging out and going to do things together. It’s always fun to see them get back together because they really are friends away from the field.”
Gorman has already committed to playing with the Gators at the 2016 17u PG WWBA National Championship July 1-8 at LakePoint and then at the 2016 16u PG WWBA National Championship the following week, also at LakePoint. He has also accepted an invitation to attend the prestigious Perfect Game Junior National Showcase at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers June 11-14.
Before all of that happens, Gorman is hoping spend Sunday and Monday helping Wilson Sandlot win the championship at the 16u PG WWBA West Memorial Day Classic. He’s done his part so far by batting 3-for-6 (.500) with the triple a team-high three RBI. Rice firmly believes the whole team will come together to make sure the weekend ends on a positive note.
“A lot of these kids have played against each other for a long time as they were growing up, and now as they get older the kids start playing together,” Rice said. “The better kids stick with it and they’re still playing, and now they’re really coming together. A lot of these kids play in good high school programs and they want to continue to play competitive baseball.