The Sparks Centennial 9-10-year-old All-Stars recently competed at the state tournament for the first time in about a decade, losing to District 2 champion Silverado 4-1 in the opener before eliminating Silverada (District 3) with a 5-0 win in the losers’ bracket. Silverado had the Centennials’ number again, beating Sparks 10-8 in a game that would have sent the local squad to the championship game.
This week, four Spanish Springs Cal Ripken baseball All-Star squads have been taking on the best teams from the Pacific Southwest Regional in tournaments in California and Utah. The 12- and the 11-year-olds are still alive.
But that’s not all. Starting Wednesday, the Sparks 13-year-old Babe Ruth All-Stars will have their hands full at the Pacific Southwest Regional tournament in Surprise, Ariz. The tournament begins Tuesday, but Sparks is the only team not playing on the first day of the double-elimination tournament.
Sparks will take on the winner of an opening round game between El Segundo (Southern California) and host Surprise (Arizona).
Sparks got to this point by winning the state tournament in Yerington. The way Sparks won state has the team confident about going down to Arizona.
Sparks had to best seven other teams to earn the right to represent the Silver State next week, but if you ask the players, they expected to make it this far.
“We stayed together as a team. We didn’t get down, and we helped pick each other back up. I knew we had a great team,” Anthony Messenger, the nephew of former Sparks High standout Randy Messenger, said.
This is new territory for many of the Sparks players, so they’re going to need that confidence they developed by sweeping through the state tournament with four straight victories, including two over perennial favorite South Reno.
“We’re pretty excited. Some of us haven’t been to a big tournament like this,” Vinnie Fillipone said. “We’re kind of confident because we went 4-0. But we haven’t seen any of these teams yet.”
“It’s a whole new level,” Messenger added.
Sparks showed its perseverance at state, earning a pair of one-run wins to reach the championship game, only to have to battle from behind to beat South Reno for the title.
“The biggest strength is our hitting and right up there with it is our speed on the bases. I honestly believe they play with a lot of heart,” Sparks 13-year-olds manager Ed Thompson said. “I’ve done All-Stars in Sparks, this is my fifth year. And to have this talented of a team is just a pleasure to coach these kids. There are no egos. There are no meltdowns. They just want to play baseball. Not to take anything away from those other teams. You would think with 13-year-old boys, you would have to keep them tied down. But there are no egos or superstars, just a bunch of guys who want to play baseball.”
Sparks didn’t have time to do any formal fundraising for the trip. Instead, they sought out donations and corporate sponsorships, invoking the help of local businesses like Nevada Blue, Kei-Kernan Electrical Inc and ITS Logistics.
At this point of the summer, kids might be itching to wrap up the baseball season so they can go on vacations and spend time just being a typical kid. Besides one practice after a short break, Thompson has seen his players remained focused on the latest goal. It also helps knowing they will be playing at Major League Baseball spring training facilities, and not many kids have that opportunity.
“We took five days off, so (Monday) I wouldn’t say rough, but it took some time getting back into baseball shape,” Thompson said. “It’s good to have them back on the field, throwing the ball. We’re going to take some batting practice this week. I think they’re all focused. They realize a Sparks team hasn’t gone this far in a very long time at this level. At the 13-year-olds level, I bet it’s been a good 12-15 years.”