When they slipped the jerseys over their heads, that’s when it finally felt real – tangible proof that the 12-year-old White Rock Selects would soon be representing their country at the Cal Ripken World Series.
And once the red-and-white jerseys had been handed out, none of the 14 young ball players wanted to take them off.
“We gave out the jerseys to the kids, took a team photo, and then had a practice with them on,” explained White Rock head coach Ed McLaughlin.
“Then we had a practice the next day, and everybody showed up wearing their jerseys again. They didn’t want to take them off.”
“Everything has started getting real pretty quick.”
The team of ball players – the majority of whom have played together the last three summers – coaches and parents left Wednesday for Aberdeen, Maryland, host site of the Cal Ripken World Series. The tournament, which features some of the top youth players from across the globe, begins with opening ceremonies Aug. 12 – “Each country parades in with their flag, sort of a mini Olympic ceremonies,” McLaughlin said – and the games wrap up Aug. 21.
White Rock earned the right to represent Canada at the event after defeating the Calgary Coyotes in a best-of-three series last month.
McLaughlin’s group has been together since June, when the Little League regular season ended, and though they usually spend their summer playing in tournaments throughout the Pacific Northwest, this year’s eastward journey is a welcome change of pace.
“Oh yeah, this is the biggest thing we’ve done, for sure,” McLaughlin said. “This is the chance of a lifetime for these boys, and I’m very excited about taking them.”
Cal Ripken Baseball differs from the Little League variety in a handful of ways – base-paths are 50 feet rather than 40, pitchers pitch from further away and base-runners are allowed lead-offs on the bases.
While in Aberdeen, just northeast of Baltimore, team members will stay with host families, and in addition to playing games – they begin with a a five-games-in-five-nights stretch – the team will also have time for day trips, including one planned for nearby Washington, DC.
On the field, McLaughlin is expecting some very stiff competition – White Rock will play Japan, Mexico, Korea, Australia and the Dominican Republic. In preparation for the challenge, the Selects have been practising and playing against older competition.
“We’ve heard that the Dominican team, and Mexico, have pitchers that can throw 80 (mph), so that’s going to be a real tough challenge,” McLaughlin said, adding that the average 12-year-old hurler hits between 55 and 60 mph on the radar gun.
But no matter the opposition, McLaughlin insisted his squad will compete hard.
“That’s our philosophy – we never give up, no matter what inning it is, or what the score is, we just keep going,” he said.
“As coaches, we’ve realized that in Little League or Cal Ripken baseball, scores can get lopsided pretty quick, but they can also come back quickly the other way – we’ve had games where we’re down 5-1 and then won 10-5.”
More than anything, McLaughlin said, the coaches have stressed to their young charges the importance of savouring the moment.
“You have to keep in mind that the boys are only 12, and they’re going to make mistakes out there, but the important thing is that they get to have a great international experience like this.
“For most of these guys, this will be the highest level of ball they’ll ever play in their life, so we’ve just told them that being nervous is normal, but they need to just take a deep breath, don’t squeeze the bat so tight, and just give it your best and have a good time.”
To follow the White Rock Selects’ progress in Aberdeen, visit the Cal Ripken World Series website, http://crws.ripkenbaseball.com