SARASOTA – The inaugural season of the Gulf Shores Collegiate Baseball League promises to be a cool experience.
That’s because the six-team summer college baseball league, three of the clubs former members of the Florida Gulf Coast League, will play all its games at CoolToday Park in North Port, the spring-training home of the Atlanta Braves.
“I just can’t believe that (Atlanta vice president of Florida operations) Mike Dunn has gone out of his way to welcome us there,” said Jeff Howard, along with former MLB executive Al Goldis, owner of Sarasota Cat 9, one of the three teams to break off from the FGCL to form the Gulf Shores league. “It’s incredible.
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“We’re the only college summer baseball league in the country (out of 76) that’s on all spring-training fields.”
The move to CoolToday was made possible by former Braves reliever Damian Moss, who owns two of the teams in the Gulf Shores league, as does Howard. Former MLB scout Jim Thrift, commissioner of the league, also owns a team. Howard said he wanted to form a league with a greater emphasis on professionalism.
“We want these kids to see what the professional angle looks like,” he said. “We don’t want to just take their money ($1,700 entry fee) and let them drink beer and chase women. We want to take the kids who really want to be developed into ballplayers.
“All the coaches are professional. We got like 160 years of combined professional experience on the field with these kids.”
Pete Rose Jr., to coach Pete Rose III
One of the Cat 5 coaches is 53-year-old Pete Rose Jr., whose 15-year minor-league career ended in 2009. He’s the team’s roving infield coordinator, and one of the players he’ll be working with is his son, Pete Rose III.
“I would say he probably doesn’t have the tenacity of junior,” Howard said. “He’s a high adrenaline dude.”
Many of the players on the league’s six teams — Sarasota Cat 5, Sarasota Tigers, Bradenton Mafia, Sawx, Knights, and Florida International Baseball Academy (FIBA) — arrived in Florida from the JUCO ranks.
“The kids that have a lot of talent,” Howard said, “go to JUCO. Our season stops five days before the MLB draft. So, this is more of a draft league. We’re not at the level of the Cape Cod League, but that’s what we’re aiming for.”
Howard expects the Gulf Shores league to grow to 10 to 12 teams by next season. Because of the name, Howard said teams from Louisiana and Alabama want to join next season.
Games will be played Monday through Friday on two fields adjacent to CoolToday Park. Two games will start at 8:30 a.m., and one at noon. All games are free and open to the public.
For more information, including a schedule of games, visit gulfshorescollegiateleague.com.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Gulf Shores baseball league to play at Atlanta Braves complex