What a Ride
Well summer is finally over and it’s almost time to watch the legends of the fall on TV. Soon the leaves will change and that’s my sign to head for the woods. Although, there still is some hardball to be found throughout fall leagues and such. I’m certain I’ll catch a few innings here and there but only as an observer. It’s a confusing time for all coaches after a season. You don’t know whether to be glad it’s over or to be excited about what is around the corner.
This summers team (DBAT Mustangs 18U) gathered with much talk and promise. Kind of scares a coach to have so many prospects on paper but I guess that’s a good problem to have. But as good coaches know, prospects on paper don’t translate into championships. So there were many nights I’d lay awake prior to the season trying to decide my game plan with these boys. Not so much worrying about the X’s and O’s, but how would I get 19 kids moving in the right direction towards a common goal. What’s that common goal for this club? We will get to that later.
Anyhow, looking at our schedule, we set our sights on the Phoenix AABC Connie Mack World Series Qualifier. Since this tournament was scheduled for the end of June, we immediately set our pitching rotation up early to be ready for it. We lost in the championship game of the AABC Regional Qualifier the week prior, but I was almost glad (if that’s possible for a coach) knowing that it would serve us well going into Phoenix. And wouldn’t you know it, these boys won that sucker! For anyone who has been to the tournament in Phoenix they will tell you it’s the most grueling/draining/competitive/demanding tournament in the country. 115 degrees at times, playing the best amateur teams the country has to offer. 25 teams playing for one thing…a bid to the Connie Mack World Series in Farmington, New Mexico.
We skated through the tournament undefeated going into the championship. We had to be beat twice by the powerhouse Trombly Braves from California. They beat us in the first game of the set but we rallied to win in the last inning of the second game 3-2. I knew that day we had a special group on our hands. I watched 19 kids battle until there was no more to fight for. It was a neat moment for a coach. Tears of joy filled many eyes. We knew where we were going…Farmington. The greatest show on earth.
So after the celebration, now I’m asking myself…”how am I going to keep this group focused for a month going into the World Series?” As 8 of the 10 teams to make it to Farmington come from regional wins at the end of July. We would have a whole month to wait. I knew this was going to be a challenge but I knew our kids were mature enough and understood to respect the games remaining.
We went to Salt Lake City, Utah in the first part of July to play in the inaugural Gates Field Series. This “Farmington” type tournament was perfect for our group. It simply was one of the best non-qualifying events I’ve ever been a part of as a coach. By far the best amateur stadium and field I’ve ever been to. The field was pristine, the weather was perfect (80 degree highs sure is a nice break from Texas) and the other 8 teams were top-notch organizations. It is a tournament we will always look forward going back to.
So with 3 weeks of our schedule still left in the humid Texas heat, I’m trying to think of ways to keep our kids motivated. But there was something different with this club. We did have some carry over players from our previous team of 16/17 year olds. Maybe it was what they learned the summer prior. Either way, these kids figured it out early. The played the game the right way. Not so much concerned with the final outcome. Pitch to pitch, inning to inning, game to game…they went about their business the right way. The way a “baseball player” does. This made it comforting as a coach watching these kids play down the stretch with no short term “carrots at the end of the stick” to play for.
On the past teams I’ve coached, I’ve been the voice of motivation per se. Not so much this year. I had a tremendous coaching staff. In fact, two coaches actually were players on teams I’ve coached in years past. You talk about proud. Watching two young men you had the opportunity to coach now teaching kids the same things they were taught? Yep, that’s what it’s all about folks. There were many times I’d catch myself sitting back in the dugout just smiling, being quiet. Watching guys you disciplined now instilling the same work ethic in the new generation. Nobody will ever understand how proud I was this summer watching all of this unfold. Another special moment for a baseball guy I guess. Our staff was like a well-oiled machine. From the time we walked in the ballpark our pitching coach nurtured his staff, our defensive coach had them hoping around, and I sat back and smiled from ear to ear.
So now we are going into the last week of preparation before the trip out west. Farmington, New Mexico… Home of the Connie Mack World Series. Our kids were pumped. They knew what was in store as a handful of players went the year previous selected as “pick up” players with other teams. They spread the word to the rest of our bunch. They spent all summer preparing for the dream that was about to all come true.
It’s magical folks. That’s all I can say. If you ever want to witness baseball in it’s most pure form, plan a summer trip in August to Farmington for this event. You have the best amateurs in the world actually competing, playing with a purpose, with conviction, for a championship. You just can’t explain it until you go. There is no player bringing home a paycheck yet. It’s pure. That’s all I can say. The setting is beautiful, a high desert town that pretty much exists for this event. They welcome you with a parade for all the teams. They come from everywhere. Literally, there are thousands and thousands of people that participate in this event.
As teams land at the airport in Albuquerque, there is a charter bus that picks up each team for the journey to Farmington. When you get within 10 miles of the city, a squadron of police officers meets you as they escort you into downtown Farmington. (the kids really got a kick out of this) The AABC World Series committee greets the teams at the convention center with player check in, host families for each player, an agenda for the week, and a meal for the tired travelers. There is large room full of memorabilia that shares the logos of each team to make it to Farmington. It’s amazing. Really…it’s amazing.
As Friday rolls around, the parade kicks off on Main St. just after the coaches meeting. The streets are filled with families waiting to see their summer heroes. Local town organizations and groups build decorated floats for each team to parade on. The school band, town leaders, you name it…the parade has it. These kids were treated like they had won something already. It was a great time for the kids and the town of Farmington to in essence… kick off what the week had in store.
That evening, the first games started with opening ceremonies between games. Teams from Illinois, Louisiana, Ohio, Florida, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, New Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Canada represented the field. Organizations that have a long standing history such as the East Cobb Yankees, Midland Redskins, and our DBAT Mustang organization were back again along with some new faces. Each organization presented with class and a consisted of the best amateur players in the country. I was proud to have our club competing against this group of quality organizations for a championship.
As they announced the staff, umpires, players, and coaches…I was chaperoned by my 4-year-old son Gage in full uniform. It was a blast to watch him interact with the players on the field in front of such a large crowd. As our team marched around the field as we were announced, Gage slid into home spontaneously which made dad proud. The crowd enjoyed that as much as I did too. All things leading up to our first game were great, but I was getting a little anxious and ready to get our group focused. We had a few workouts on local fields that the committee set up for all teams. We were ready.
First game out of the shoot we matched up against Southwest Region foe Bill Hood Broncos. I had a chance to see them here in Dallas so I had a descent idea what we were up against. We jumped out to an unexpected 10 run lead in the first inning and that held for a 10-0 victory. Our horse on the mound, Dylan Bundy, closed the door quickly and we were on our way. We drew a bye in the second round, which matched us up against the host team Strike Zone Cardinals in round 3. To say the evening was electric was an understatement. It was reported that the largest crowd in history was in attendance at over 10,000 people. Archie Bradley wowed the crowd by striking out the first 9 batters, 16 total on the game, hitting 98mph several times, and touching 97mph in the 7th inning. It was by far the best amateur pitching performance I’ve ever witnessed. We won round 3 with a 2-0 score and were to face a dominant Midland Redskins team next.
For those in the circle, most acknowledge the Midland Redskins as being the New York Yankees of amateur baseball. I got to know their coaching staff quite well throughout the week and really enjoyed our times together. We ended up getting it handed to us by them in round 4, which forced a match up against the Florida Legends the next day. Robert Huber and Luis Dejesus combined for a good performance on the mound and we won 4-3 in round 5, which put us in the championship.
Against who? Yep, the Midland Redskins. The scene was grand. The grounds crew painted both teams’ logos in the grass behind home plate just like you would expect for the tremendous event. Each time the National Anthem was played I had to catch myself from getting lost in the moment. Hard to explain unless you’ve been there as a player or coach. Since Midland had no loses on the tournament, we had the challenge of beating them twice. Bundy was on full rest and he started game 1 of the championship. Again, he pitched well and we won 3-1. The final game was tight till the end but we ended up on the short side with a score of 4-3.
We watched the winning team dog pile on the mound. It was all a blur to me as the season of reflection was racing through my head. Our kids handled it well though. You see, when you know you’ve done the best you can, worked as hard as you could, and played the game with passion…it’s hard to get too upset. They were content with their performance. We all knew we gave it our best effort. That’s baseball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes it rains. Which brings us full circle to when we were excited in the spring.
You see the game is more than just a game. It lends so much more than what a box score will read. It allows for a group of young men to work towards a common goal, which is a championship. I suggest there is nothing more fulfilling than accomplishment while being part of a team. The DBAT Mustang group accomplished so much. Yes, we won in Phoenix and other contests. Yes, we made a good showing in Farmington. But in the end it’s about so much more than the wins and losses throughout a season. At least for me and what the game has allowed me to experience. It’s about the subtle things. Like seeing a group of young men get the most out their talents. Watching them play their last games before their next level of baseball. Seeing them hug each other knowing the strong bonds and relationships they’ve built over the summers. And watching the tears fall as they say goodbye. It’s powerful. Hard to explain but those that understand really get it.
I can honestly say this is the best TEAM I’ve ever been involved with as a player or coach. From the manager, to the coaching staff, players, and their families…it was a special group. Everyone committed while working with passion towards a common goal. That goal being Farmington…home of the AABC Connie Mack World Series. Commitment is key in most things in life, but especially in a team atmosphere. None of the success we had would have been possible without total commitment from the players, coaches, and families. Special is the only word I have to describe it.
So as another summer comes to a close for me personally, I have memories that will last forever. I’ll keep images of faces with frustration, hard work, on into the emotions of success. The times spent off the field with the boys are most precious. Eating breakfast with a player on the road discussing what life has in store. Having dinner with a few hitters talking about a game or a pitcher we faced. Hearing those goofy pitchers interact off the field. It’s all part of it… the games are just minor details for me. Who knows, I might have had a chance to help a young man through the game of baseball as he continues in the game of life. As a man I respect did for me, my college coach Pat Malcheski. To him I will always be grateful for molding me.
In closing I want to thank Kermit Dow (manager), Rory Coppinger (pitching coach), and Rance Melton (assistant coach). Cade Griffis and Shayne Currin, thanks for the opportunity. And to all the parents involved. What a great group. You had the “answers”. And thank you players for letting us be a part of your journey. When you broke from every huddle shouting “FAMILY” you meant it. You are a special group that we will all remember for times to come.
Oh, I almost forgot. (well not really. Haha!) Roberto Gallegos…words cannot explain how proud I am to have had you by my side. You will never know man. I love you. Thank you.
Last I want to thank my wife Becky and my son Gage for allowing me to do what I love so much. I love you both.
Baseball…what a game…and oh what a ride!
Just a boy with a dream regards,
DBAT Mustangs Head Coach
2010 Connie Mack World Series Runner-Up