Travel baseball organization finds success in games, player development

Success in a recent tournament gives the town a taste of how the organization has evolved, as a whole.

Harrison Heat Blue 11U Travel Team is pictured at the Sports at the Beach Tournament where the team placed second in a pool of 18 teams from different states. From left are, Cameron Drapeau, Braden Reiter, Willie Popoff, Ryan Battista, Giovanni Marinucci, Luca Lentini, Conor O’Mara, Alex Muenzenberger, Chase Brandt, Nick Costa and Van Lefakis. (Linda Money/Special to The Sun).

Since 2013, the Harrison Heat baseball and softball sport organization has been growing exponentially, and a board member said it’s all due to the dedication of the players, families, coaches and the larger community.

Harrison Heat’s 11-Under baseball team placed second in the Sports at the Beach Tournament on Rehoboth Beach in Delaware in late May and won first place in the Colossal Sports Tournament in April. The South Jersey Heat Softball (the organization’s softball team) won the 10-Under Battle of the Bats and Bows tournament in May.

I think our success in town and the growth and development of our kids in terms of their baseball competency and skills have grown,” said vice president and 11-U head coach Barry Brandt. “I think the parents in town have seen that and said ‘this is where we want our kids to play baseball and learn the great game of baseball.’

Brandt added the organization nearly doubled its baseball and softball teams since its inception in 2013. To this day, the organization still has kids from the immediate area on the teams.

“When we take the field, it’s about 10 kids from a three square mile area, and they’re proud to wear [Harrison Heat] on their chest and that they’re playing for their town and community,” he said.

He went on to say that no kid who wants to play, will be turned away for financial reasons. Players are sometimes granted scholarships if they cannot afford to put them on a team or pay for a hotel stay during a tournament.

“We don’t want them to miss the opportunity another player has based on their finances,” he said.

The organization, Brandt added, has been fortunate to not lose players to any regional teams and to have parents and the greater Harrison Township community believe in the kids.

“The way we do it is the investment we make in the kids and their development, training and seeing their skill sets grow is the way we keep them in town,” he said.

Locally, teams in the organization compete against other travel teams in Mantua, East Greenwich and Swedesboro, and also other regional teams.

“We’ve been lucky enough to keep our kids in town and not only compete, but also beat some of the regional teams,” he said. “You don’t see that a lot. Usually, the local towns’ teams are the ones where kids go that they play, compete and have fun, but you don’t see them win.”

With the softball and baseball teams defeating many of the regional organizations in the area, Brandt said it’s given them the opportunity to participate in various Mid-Atlantic and national tournaments.

“We did go to Ripken and we played against teams from Pittsburgh this past weekend (June 2) and a team from Maryland that we beat,” said Brandt. “In two weeks, we’re going to another tournament on Long Island called Baseball Heaven where we’ll compete with teams across the nation. Our success has enabled us to play at a higher level.”

As the teams see constant success from each tournament and game they play, Brandt said it’s a product of the coaches’ commitment to developing the players through “training and additional practices” and through the Harrison Township Little League recreational program.

Brandt added Harrison Heat’s model in developing the players in a competitive, yet friendly environment, also exists in nearby leagues such as Maximum Baseball (Mantua), South Jersey Young Guns (East Greenwich) and South Jersey SandSharks (Galloway).

“We’re developing players and growing passion for the game, but also at the same time, teaching them life skills,” he added. “Being a good teammate, how to hold yourself accountable, how to respect your coaches, time management, how to handle wins and losses – these are things they’ll not only take from the baseball field, but take them forward in life.”