Focusing on the Approach to the Game and How it Should be Played
Sandlot Baseball is less than 10 years old, a relative new kid on the block in the world of travel baseball. But the Phoenix-based organization has quickly established itself as one of the country’s premier organization, going toe-to-toe with the best on the diamond and producing elite-level players, behind a philosophy on how baseball should be played.
“It’s a fast, aggressive, aware style of play for Sandlot Baseball, said executive director Rob Gorrell. “We built a program around a style of play, we built the players around that style.”
Sandlot was founded in the fall of 2008 when former Arizona State head coach, current Milwaukee Brewers bench coach, Pat Murphy and Gorrell, a former Arizona State baseball player, came together to create a team of nine-year-old players for their sons to play on. The goal wasn’t to create a program known throughout the country, but simply to bring together kids from Phoenix to play baseball under quality instruction and instill a sense of how to play the game.
“We were looking for the kids that could play at a certain speed, but have a little baseball IQ to go with it,” Gorrell said. “If they were small, that was ok, it wasn't a big deal. Those kids are now 16, 17U kids and they still play like that. Some are big, some still stayed small, but whatever, we built in that fast, aggressive and aware approach to the game.”
In focusing on the approach to the game, and how it should be played, Sandlot quickly differentiated itself within travel baseball.
The focus wasn’t to build a team around who could hit the ball the farthest or throw it the farthest, nor to assemble a collection of all-stars from all over the desert. Having a fast, aggressive and aware style, Gorrell says lets everyone's own skill take over, with the players giving it their all, the results speak for itself on the field. While the organization may not boast and crow, Sandlot’s reputation grew like an Arizona brush fire.
“When we first started, we didn't see this being more than one team,” Gorrell said. “That first team had so much success that there was a little popularity around here that other people wanted to play in the Sandlot. We started a second team.
“But the vision wasn't to have the big program that we have now, it just kind of became that because we got so much attention on how we did that we wanted to open it up to other kids and there was so much interest in the program that we did.”
One team turned to two, and now eight years later Sandlot will field 14 teams in 2017, from a nine-year-old team to a two 17u teams. Along with seeing Sandlot grow into a club that can hold their own against any in the country, Gorrell has been able to watch his son and the original team develop into top prospects, taken a bit back at how quickly the players and programs have blossomed.
“That's hitting right now for me because we are a relatively new program,” Gorrell said. “Now, even this last weekend, going out to see a high school game, I can't watch any high school game having three, four, sometimes up to seven guys on a team that have played in my program or been around. It's just amazing how quickly this grew.”
With the first wave of recruitable players going through the process, Gorrell’s focus on the style of play and development of a compatible skillset is bearing the fruits of its labor. Sandlot’s class of 2017 graduating class is composed of players committed to Arizona, Arizona State, Gonzaga, Oregon State, Stanford and UNLV among others. That’s quite the roster, and now, from one team eight years ago, to one of being a DeMarini Gold program, Sandlot deserves the recognition it’s quickly-developing reputation merits.
“We're just younger than other programs, we're not going to have the same reputation,” Gorrell said. “But then we go play in the tournaments we're right there. We beat those teams, get beat by those teams. We can play with all of those teams.”
That doesn’t sound like a new kid on the block, that’s an established premier program.