Baseball players on the Ahwatukee Little League Majors squad are too young to hear a Herb Brooks-type pregame speech.
The former U.S. Hockey coach did whatever he could, like using colorful language, to inspire his team to overcome overwhelming odds to win gold at the 1980 Olympics.
ALL Majors coach Bob Wagner believes this year’s team is at a similar competitive disadvantage (bu not in talent) as the District 13 event gets under way with Thursday’s 5:30 p.m. Opening Ceremonies at Snediger Field in Chandler.
“With Chandler (Little League) getting out of district is like going up against the Russians,” Wagner quipped after a recent practice. “They have their own training facility and it’s just going to be one of those rallying cries. We will do what we can to prepare, have some fun, and see how it goes.”
The tournament has four ages levels (9-10s, 10-11s, Majors and Juniors) and six teams — Chandler American, Chandler National North, Chandler National South, Tempe South, Tempe Guadalupe and ALL — in the event. It is played from Thursday through July 10. The Juniors, ages 12-13, have their championship game on July 6. The other three age groups have their semifinals on July 8 and the finals on July 10 at Snediger.
The ALL Majors (aged 11-12) first game is Friday at 8 p.m. at Snediger, the ALL 10-11s first game is Friday at 6 p.m. at Snediger and the ALL Juniors first game is Saturday at 6 p.m. at Chandler West Fields, 250 S. Kyrene Road.
The focus, fair or not, is always on the Majors simply because of the magical idea of advancing all the way to the Little League World Series.
Wagner took his son, Michael, to the parade in 2006 after the Ahwatukee Dawgs made it all the way to Williamsport, Pa., and watched them be treated like superstars while riding down 48th Street in Corvettes.
“I just remember I wanted to be like them someday,” Michael said.
The roster of 12 boys, including Michael, three coaches, and their parents get that chance starting Friday and it starts with a game against Chandler National South.
Cue the Herb Brooks pregame speech.
“There is no story with this team,” Wagner said. “We don’t have a bunch of superheroes, just all-stars. We have kids who love playing baseball, who have dedicated their summer to trying to get out of districts.”
Eight of the kids played with each other last season as members of the 10-11 team that lost in the District 13 semifinals in 2012.
They’ve grown, matured, refined their skills, and have definitely bonded. An unlike the U.S. Hockey team, they won't need a miracle to reach their destination.
The ALL Majors are poised to make a long run this summer regardless of what competition the team comes across.
It was evident during a recent practice a guest instructor put the team through some hitting drills after splitting the boys into two teams and they were getting after each other.
“We are really close and competitive,” Morrison Dietz said. “We know we can count on each other and that’s just as important as anything we do on the field.”
Wagner said the team has good pitching depth and defense. The hitting is there as well, but there is more of an importance on the first two aspects of the game.
“If you don’t have the arms and the defense gives up extra outs you don’t have a chance,” Wagner said. “We have to get off to a good start, let the kids settle in, and just have fun.”
Andrew Cardellini said the players plan to do just that over the next two weeks.
“It’s very important to communicate and pick each other up,” he said. “It’s a brotherhood. When there is a little bit of pressure we know we will have each other’s back.”
Editor’s note: To see a schedule of all four tournaments, visit www.ahwatukeelittleleague.org.
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