A team of 12-year old Martha’s Vineyard Little League all-stars is livin’ the baseball dream this week while competing in a Maryland all-star tournament against 16 other squads from Canada, Michigan, and other eastern seaboard states.
Reporting Tuesday evening from the fabled Ripken baseball complex in Aberdeen, Md., coach Phil Regan was thrilled with the experience his players are having and with their poise and high performance levels playing against the “big guys.”
The “home crowd” Island contingent includes two dozen parents, including four who drove to the event, providing shuttle service to the complex and to special events like Vineyard player Owen Bresnick’s 13th birthday, celebrated this week at a local restaurant.
Mr. Regan was astonished at the physical size of tournament teams. “I’m 6′ 1” and there are 12-year-olds here who are taller than me. I’m not used to seeing 12-year olds with mustaches,” he chuckled. “We are definitely the smallest team in the tournament. When we went to pick up our tournament shirts, we learned that sizes began with men’s small. So that’s what we got and most of the kids are swimming in them.”
On the field, it’s a different matter. Call it the Pedroia Effect, but while the Vineyarders are still looking for their first win after four games, they have been in every game, leading in two contests and taking a one-run lead into the last inning of one game before dropping a squeaker. In the highly-competitive skills competition, the Island kids have finished third and fifth in two double-bracket events.
“They have a double-play competition in which ground balls are hit to each infield position. They have to complete the double-play flawlessly and the shortest elapsed time to complete four double-plays wins. We won our bracket and finished less than three seconds behind the overall winner in the finals,” he said.
The Vineyarders are playing under Little League tournaments rules which call for a larger field, longer base paths and pitching mounds and outfield fences farther from the plate than they have ever played on. The rules allow base-stealing, and balks are called on pitchers.
“The baseball is going great,” Mr. Regan said, noting that the other tournament teams are experienced with the larger field and new rules. “We struggle with stolen bases, we’ve never done it, but we haven’t had any balks called, either. Our kids are adapting quickly.”
A highlight of the week has been the appearance of Tad Gold who plays for the minor league Class A Aberdeen Iron Birds at the complex. A 2010 graduate of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and a 2014 graduate of Endicott College, Mr. Gold was named 2014 national division 3 college baseball player of the year before signing with the Baltimore Oriole affiliate last month. Mr. Gold is the first product of Island Little League to sign a professional contract.
“The kids all know Tad,” Mr. Regan said. “He sat in the dugout and brought a teammate, Steve Wilkerson, to cheer us on. We were scheduled to go to one of Tad’s games, but a tornado alert canceled it. We’ll try to get to Lowell in August when they play the Spinners.”
This complex is incredible. There are seven fields, including replicas of Fenway Park with a Green Monster, Wrigley Field (Chicago) with the brick and ivy, and Memorial Stadium, the former Baltimore stadium. We didn’t get a game in Fenway but on Saturday we play on the signature field. It’s a stadium, really, with three or four thousand seats. Jake Howell will start that game.” Jake was the winning pitcher for the Red Sox in the 2014 Island Little League championship game last month.
“The Island community made this happen for the kids,” Mr. Regan said. “The support we have received makes you grateful to be part of this. All these people who took time off during the busiest time of year to come is terrific.” Offering kudos to his employer, Hutker Architects in Vineyard Haven, Mr. Regan added, “Mark (Hutker) has been completely supportive of our involvement in Island Little League.”
Team chemistry is strong, Mr. Regan said, noting that all-star Miles Sidoti is on the DL with a broken hand but made the trip anyway.
Wait ’til next year? “We’ll see. It’s expensive. There is another great tournament in Pittsfield that we’re considering as well.” That camp is operated by western Mass. native Dan Duquette, former general manager of the Boston Red Sox and current general manager and executive vice president of the Baltimore Orioles.