By Ryan Butler
The newly-formed Westhore Pizza TPS Elite U-9 baseball team is learning that doing things the right way off the field can lead to great results on the field.
Entering its first season of competitive travel play, the team is currently ranked No. 1 in the United States Specialty Sports Association’s power rankings for U-9 teams in the AAA class. They are coming off a win in the Toys for Tots Baseball Tournament in Lakewood Ranch to cap off the winter season, and a first-place effort in the USSSA Spring Warm-Up Tournament in Progress Village to start the spring season. The team has finished first or second in three of the five tournaments it has played in.
“It’s a result-driven team, but I wanted to have a team that wasn’t so much based on the results as it was the whole atmosphere for the team,” said head coach Steve Montgomery. “I don’t want the 12 best kids in the area. I want 12 right kids who fit into the system and do what we’re trying to do.”
The idea for the league began in 2012 after several parents of area players began looking for a new, local, privately-run option for competitive travel baseball. Montgomery, a former professional baseball player, was approached to head up the team. He then worked with Brad Hulett and Bobby Vasatero of Westshore Pizza to sponsor the team. Hulett, as well as Scott Blakey and Ed Diaz rounded out the coaching staff. Along with securing fellow sponsor TPS, parent company of iconic baseball brand Louisville Slugger, and nearly six months of preparation and hard work, the new team was formed.
Practicing at Pinecrest Little League, the team is made up entirely of players from the Lithia area. The squad traveled all over the Suncoast, competing in tournaments during the winter,and Montgomery said he is hoping to take his team to bigger tournaments in locations as far away as Georgia and Ohio during the spring.
The U-9 squad is currently the only team for Westshore TPS, but Montgomery is hoping to find the resources and extra coaches to expand to U-8 and U-10 squads in the future. For now, Montgomery and his team are happy playing and winning high-level baseball games in front of friends and family.
“If anybody has ever watched us play, we play with a high energy. The kids like each other, the parents like each other and they buy into what we do,” Montgomery said. “At the end of the season, if I can look at my kids and I know they gave 100 percent and they can look at me and say they gave 100 percent, I’m going to be happy.”
For more information, please visit www.usssa.com/sports.