The Southwest Nationals (Scottsdale, Arizona) were started in 2016 by retired MLB pitcher Scott Elbert, a former Seneca High two-sport standout.
The Nationals are the southwest version of the Midwest Nationals (Springfield) and their slogan will remind one of Seneca's "Pride. Tradition. Class."
The Southwest Nationals believe in "Character. Commitment. Competition."
The Southwest Nationals played in the Premier Baseball Junior Championship and that afforded Elbert the opportunity to return close to home. Elbert was born in Joplin on August 13, 1985.
“It’s always great,” Elbert said. “It’s great to come back to where you were born and raised, and bringing a team back here and letting them see where I was born and raised and how small it is around here and where a guy that made it to the big leagues can be from small towns and still make something happen. It gives them a little different perspective on things.
“How I was coached by not only Mike Yust at Seneca but going on with Randy Merryman and the Midwest Nationals. We go by C3, it’s character, commitment, and competition. I believe in all those aspects of life, not just baseball, you can be successful. That’s why I go by it.
“We can go on endless things that the Midwest Nationals did for me. Not only on the baseball side, but then actually going to my mom and dad and giving me an opportunity being from Seneca whenever they had a lot of options around, maybe Springfield, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, there’s a lot of good ball players out there. No. 1, giving me the opportunity to go to the next level and travel ball.
“It’s tough, man. This club scene is big and there’s a lot of good teams out there. There’s a lot of good players and I want these guys to have a perspective on things. The pool that you’re in is a lot bigger than Arizona. There’s 50 states out there, so there’s some options for these schools to go after.”
Since making the transition from player to coach, Elbert has taken on a mentor role.
“That’s the name of the game,” he said. “That’s all I try to do. Whenever we are at practice, whether we’re sitting in the dugout, whatever I’m talking about is to critique their game, critique my game, my struggles, my arm injuries, and I know at some point, knock on wood it never happens but it will, somebody will get hurt under my supervision. That’s one thing I’m very cautious on. Make sure we do our arm care, ice, run, condition very well, because at the end of the day my goal is to get them beyond high school. Next level, play into your 20s, however you can get it done, whether it’s college or pro ball, you want to play into your 20s and that’s my goal.”
The Southwest Nationals have expanded operations from one to 10 teams now and Elbert joked that he may have “accidentally” found a career as coach.
“It’s still growing,” he said. “Arizona is a hub that’s baseball hungry all year around. If the kids continue showing up, I’ll continue showing up. I still got my family at home. My wife and my four daughters, they understand that when daddy’s at work, he’s at the baseball field. Whether it’s playing or coaching, I’m always around baseball.”
Elbert said that he finds coaching to be even more rewarding than being a player.
“I think what I’m doing now,” he said. “Granted, playing at the highest level, playing in big league stadiums in front of 50,000 people love you or hate you, it’s obviously a rush, but seeing a kid go to college. We brought the two teams last year and three of those four seniors are in the Midwest playing college this year, so that’s just huge to me. Whenever I have these meetings with parents, that’s the emotional side of it, it’s seeing a guy do that (go to college) not the guy that throws 95 miles a hour.”
Elbert lives in Buckeye, Arizona (within the Phoenix metropolitan area with a population of 62,582 in 2015), one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation. It’s nearly 18 hours to drive from Seneca to Buckeye and the tournament gave Elbert a chance to spend time with family and friends.
“As long as Premier keeps inviting us, we’ll keep coming back,” Elbert said. “I’ll tell you that.”
Elbert’s Playing Days
Elbert excelled at both football and baseball at Seneca and he led the state in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns his junior year. He decided to focus his energies on baseball his senior year.
On the diamond, the left-handed Elbert excelled both on the mound and at the plate during his career. In his senior season, Elbert finished 6-2 with an 0.52 ERA and he struck out 114 and walked 14 over 54 innings. Elbert allowed only 13 hits all season and pitched one-hitters in both losses.
The hallowed Los Angeles Dodgers made Elbert the 17th overall pick in the 2004 draft and nine days later, on June 16, he signed his professional contract.
Elbert appeared in 127 games for the Dodgers from 2008 through 2014, all in relief. He recorded a 4-3 overall mark with a 3.54 ERA and he struck out 94 and walked 42 over 96 2/3 innings.
Elbert said his fondest professional memory was getting the call that he was headed to the big leagues. It’s that call that every MLB player remembers — whether they play just one game or 25 seasons — and Elbert’s no different.
“Not really in tears,” Elbert said, “but just really happy and going ‘OK, it’s about time.’ It’s harder to stay than it is to get there.”
Like every other player, Elbert can remember his exact location when he got the call.
“I was in a Double-A clubhouse,” Elbert said. “I was with the (Jacksonville) Suns. We were at the home of the Biscuits (Montgomery). I get the call and I’m like, ‘Shoot, I’m outta here.’ It’s part of it. That’s what it’s about.”
Elbert made his MLB debut August 29, 2008 against the Arizona Diamondbacks and he pitched 2/3 inning in relief. In 10 games that season, Elbert finished 0-1 with a 12.00 ERA.
Arguably, Elbert’s best season in the pros was 2009, where he earned the Dodgers’ minor league pitcher of the year honors for his work at Triple-A Albuquerque and Double-A Chattanooga. Elbert made it back to the majors that season and posted a 2-0 mark with a 5.03 ERA.
Elbert made a relief appearance in the 2009 National League Championship Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. He threw only 1/3 inning in Game 3, a game Philadelphia won 11-0 en route to a 4-1 series victory and a return trip to the World Series.
Elbert replaced Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda in the second inning and walked his first two batters Shane Victorino and Chase Utley. Elbert left the game after Phillies slugger Ryan Howard grounded out to first unassisted.
Elbert then appeared in 90 combined games for the Dodgers in 2011 and 2012.
His pitches were a four-seam fastball and a slider.
Elbert’s Pro Woes
Elbert pitched in his final professional game June 6, 2015 for the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas (San Diego) against the Las Vegas 51s (New York Mets).
El Paso released Elbert 11 days later and that put an end to an once-promising career curtailed by arm injuries.
Just a look at the transactions on his MiLB profile page from 2012 through 2014 provides a synopsis of his woes.
July 27, 2012: "Los Angeles Dodgers placed LHP Scott Elbert on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to July 26, 2012. Left elbow inflammation."
August 14, 2012: "Sent LHP Scott Elbert on a rehab assignment to Chattanooga Lookouts."
August 29, 2012: "Los Angeles Dodgers placed LHP Scott Elbert on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to August 27, 2012. Left elbow inflammation."
That goes on, but in summary, Elbert had Tommy John surgery on his left elbow in June 2013 (his third surgery in less than a year) and then he embarked on a series of rehab assignments in 2014 at Triple-A Albuquerque, Single-A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga, and rookie Odgen (where Elbert's pro career began in 2004).
A July 2014 story in the Los Angeles Times started, "How do you not feel for Scott Elbert? The Dodgers' former No. 1 draft pick was designated for assignment, unable to return this season after a third elbow operation."
Elbert was the seventh high school player, the fourth left-handed pitcher, and the 12th pitcher taken.
Notable selections among the first 30 were RHP Justin Verlander (Detroit) at No. 2, RHP Jered Weaver (Anaheim) No. 12, 3B Billy Butler (Kansas City) No. 14, LHP Glen Perkins (Minnesota) No. 22, and RHP Phil Hughes (New York Yankees) No. 23.
Other notables selected that year were LHP Gio Gonzalez, RHP Huston Street, OF Hunter Pence, and SS Dustin Pedroia.