The West Hartford Youth Baseball League 10U travel team will be among 10 teams from across the country competing in the 2017 Cal Ripken World Series.
By Ronni Newton
Bulldogs Manager Rob Hanawalt knew he had a talented team going into this season, and thought they had a shot at the Cal Ripken District 2 title, but as the 14 boys and their coaches prepare to head to Hammond, IN, for the Cal Ripken World Series, he can’t be prouder of this group of boys and what they have already achieved.
They’re a true team, Hanawalt said, playing “with each other and for each other.” They’re confident and putting a lot of pressure on the teams they face.
“They can’t wait to go,” Hanawalt said.
After a fantastically successful regular season, winning the Cal Ripken District 2 championships in Meriden, winning the Connecticut State Championship in Hebron, CT, and winning the New England Regional Championship in Marlboro, MA, the team is 23-3.
Two of the losses were very early in the season, and the other was an 11-2 loss to Londonderry, NH, in pool play in the New England Championships. That’s the team the Bulldogs came back to beat, 5-0, to take the championship.
The joy after winning that game is clearly evident in the video of the final out.
“The coaches have been instrumental in our success also,” said Hanawalt. Coaches Redden, Tantraporn, and Hebert each bring huge levels of commitment, knowledge and experience. The kids are really drawn to them, too … it’s been a great environment for all of us.”
The team started practicing in May.
“We won our first tournament Memorial Day weekend. We went 5-0,” Hanawalt said. Some of the kids had played together last summer, but there were some new players on the team, but they all just gelled, he said.
Of the 14 players, two are 9U in baseball age, meaning that they turn 10 sometime between May 1, 2017 and April 30, 2018. The remainder are true 10U players, including Hanawalt’s son, Chase, who celebrated his 11th birthday the day the team won the New England Regionals.
“These kids are athletes.” Hanawalt said. Even though the oldest of the players have just finished fifth grade, he said they’re really good at what they do on the baseball diamond.
“Hard, smart, fast,” he said. That’s the way they play and the three words are part of a chant the team says before beginning each game.
Four of the boys have hit home runs this season, and two – Mason Hebert and Tyler Redden – have hit several each. Josh Shemanskis and Hanawalt’s son, Chase, have each hit a home run as well.
In the beginning of the season, when the coaches held a parent meeting, Hanawalt said he laid out the expectations for travel and the schedule for the season. “I said a big deal for us would be getting to states,” he said.
“Then I said, ‘and if we win that’ … and there was a little chuckle in the room,” said Hanawalt.
“Then I joked even more, ‘and when we win that …'” Someone joked that they probably didn’t need to cancel their vacation plans, and Hanawalt replied, “Well we can dream big,” adding that it’s usually safe to plan a vacation for August.
“Did we think we could get here? Sure. Did I really think we could? Not really,” said Hanawalt.
Indeed a few families have had to change their vacation plans to accommodate the World Series, which begins in Hammond, IN, on Aug. 4. The players and coaches fly out on Aug. 3, and the Bulldogs have their first game on Aug. 5, Hanawalt said.
The teams, champions of their regions, come from all over the country, including Hawaii, where KRU won the Pacific Southwest Regional Championship. There are also teams from Alabama, Montana, Colorado, Oregon, and Indiana.
The 10 teams are broken out into two pools of five teams, and after pool play the teams are seeded, with the top three moving into the championship bracket. That’s where Hanawalt is hoping the Bulldogs land.
After pool play, the tournament has single elimination format, and the championship game is Aug. 12.
The Babe Ruth League, of which the Cal Ripken League is a part, requires that the players who live a certain distance from the site of the World Series fly there, and remain for the full 11 days of the tournament. Every kid has at least one person accompanying them, and some have large entourages that include grandparents, cousins, and other relatives.
The cost of traveling to Indiana for the World Series, plus hotel and meals, certainly wasn’t contemplated in the team fees, and to help offset the cost for the players the team has started a GoFundMe campaign through the West Hartford All Sports Council. Donations are tax deductible.
The goal is to raise $15,000 – or about a third of the total cost for the players. As of late Tuesday night, $4,035 has been raised through GoFundMe. Hanawalt said that the team also sat in front of Stop & Shop last weekend asking for donations, and raised $485.
“I can’t tell you how happy our coaches are for these players,” said Hanawalt. “They have worked so hard and played so well … this is a great reward for them.” They have a winning mindset.
In addition to playing well the boys show good sportsmanship on and off the field, Hanawalt said, and will make West Hartford proud.
“These players are in for an experience of a lifetime. We are so excited for them,” said Hanawalt.
The team roster includes:
Coaches: Winnie Tantraporn, Chris Redden, Keven Hebert
Manager: Rob Hanawalt
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