It’s the first time in the last four years since league president Damon O’Connell has been involved in the league that all five age groups won their respective state tournaments. He didn’t know if it had ever happened previously.
“I think it’s stronger as a whole because we’re introducing travel ball out to predominantly our league,” O’Connell said. “Our travel team for all ages, probably 90-95% comes through our league, so they’re getting a lot more games yearly than just from league play.”
The travel teams are competing in an extra 7-10 tournaments per year depending on the age group. The travel seasons starts up as soon as the regional tournaments are over and will continue until the middle of November. Then, it will restart again in April for one tournament a month.
It’s the extra game action that Wayne Smith, the 11-year-old All-Stars manager, believes gives his team a chance at the regional tournament. Historically, the California teams have an edge due to being able to play year-round with their better weather.
“I think it’s a lot of the same teams as last year, so we’re kind of familiar with them,” Smith said. “We’re a better team than we were last year. The boys played baseball clear into December last year. They’ve been together for a long time now. Usually those California teams have an advantage because they play all year long. Last year, we kind of did the same thing and took them to Texas in December. It was a lot of baseball and it has been showing.”
As 10-year-olds, Smith’s squad finished fourth at regionals and went nine innings in its final game. The team from Bakersfield, Calif. that won the region, went on to finish as the runner-up at the World Series.
This year, the 11-year-olds will be competing in Beaver, Utah.
“We’re pretty excited. We’ve got a really good draw. We’ve got Southern Utah, Northern Utah and Oakland in pool play, which is nice to play only one team that can play 12 months a year,” Smith said. “The kids are excited. As long as they keep hitting the ball, they’ll always be alright. We’ll definitely see much better pitching at the next level.”
The local 8- and 9-year-old All-Stars will also be in Utah this week, competing in Riverton and Panguitch respectively. The 10-year-olds check in a day later than anyone else on Tuesday and will be in Bakersfield, Calif.
But it’s the 12-year-olds from Spanish Springs who hit the jackpot, earning a trip to Honolulu, Hawaii for a week.
The 12-year-olds also had the longest break between winning state and heading to regionals. They combined that with the distraction of being in paradise, leaving manager Mark Prizina to pull a little disciplinary act this past week.
“We had a little hardship (Tuesday) night. We got halfway through practice. They were complacent and not performing at the level the coaching staff would like to see,” Prizina said. “After my talk at the end of (Wednesday) night and all the running they did, they should be re-focused.”
Still, how many 12-year-olds get to go to Hawaii to play in a baseball tournament?
“I can’t take away from that it will be a great experience off the field,” Prizina said. “We thought about practicing a couple times, but when they come off the field, we’re going to make this well worthwhile.”
These trips aren’t cheap though, especially the one to Hawaii.
Most of the fundraising done is through donations. However, with the expense of the Hawaii trip, the Spanish Springs 12-year-olds held a fundraising poker tournament and sold things like Aces tickets.
The 12-year-old All-Stars arrive in Hawaii tonight. The skills competition and the banquet is Monday, and they will start competition against a couple California teams in a doubleheader at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Tuesday.
“I can’t complain. This is one of the best groups of kids I’ve seen put together,” Prizina said. “If there’s a true all-star team from our league at this age level, this is the team.”