By Charlie Vascellaro
More than 15,000 youth baseball fans descended upon the Ripken Baseball Complex in Aberdeen last week where 15 teams comprised of 11 and 12-year-old players, including five international squads, competed in the Cal Ripken World Series.
With a 5-2 victory over Mexico at Cal Sr.'s Field, the team from Hilo, Hawaii emerged as champions from the 36-game round robin tournament. It marked the second year in a row a team from Hawaii defeated a team from Mexico to win the Ripken Series and the third time in four years the two teams have squared off for the championship.
Cal Ripken Jr. presents the trophy at the Ripken World Series.
Edson Blanco came on to pitch for Mexico in the second inning and held Hilo scoreless the rest of the way retiring 11 of the 13 batters he faced, yielding but two walks and no hits with five strikeouts.
Kean Wong relieved Martins in the fourth and retired nine of the 10 batters he faced to earn the victory for Hilo.
Pruett threw 14.2 innings, compiling a 1-1 record with a 0.82 ERA while pitching in four of Hilo's (6-1) seven tournament games. Pruett's .650 batting average was second best in the tournament topped only by Southeast Lexington Kentucky's Travis Murray who hit an astonishing .778. Pruett hit one home run and led the tournament with three doubles, three triples and eight RBIs.
After the game Pruett said that despite the workload which included five innings two days before, he was prepared to go the six-inning distance if necessary. "My arm is good," Pruett said.
Performances like Pruett's and many of what executive vice president of Ripken Baseball Bill Ripken calls the "elite 12-year-olds" that play in the Cal Ripken Division of the Babe Ruth League and the Cal Ripken World Series, leave Ripken in awe.
"Their talent alone is tremendous," Ripken said. "There's a couple of things that happen. They wow you because you say 'that kid can't be 12 and throw like that or hit like that,' but if something goes wrong that kid can remind you that he's certainly 12 and maybe younger sometimes because you'll see the emotion come into play. But their physical ability and what they can do on the field wows me because I could not do that when I was 12 years old."
Fans showed support for their teams in different ways.
Mexico qualified for the championship game in controversial fashion defeating the Dominican Republic 2-1 with both runs scoring after an umpire decided that a Dominican Republic passed ball did not hit a batter who had already began taking his base. The Dominican Republic finished tournament play with a 1.32 ERA and nearly reached the championship game despite hitting only .225 as a team.
A well-rounded Hilo reached the finals with a team batting average of .366 and defeated Bryant, Ark. 8-1 in its semi-final contest.
The team with the highest batting average, Southeast Lexington Kentucky, (.485) was defeated in its first playoff game by Bryant on the heels of stellar pitching performances by Blake Davidson and Landon Pickett who combined for 12 strikeouts while surrendering three runs in an exciting eight-inning contest.
The games became even more dominated by pitching as tournament play progressed and regulations regarding maximum innings pitched were relaxed during the playoff rounds.
Bryant relied heavily on its workhorse starter Davidson who led the tournament with 18.1 innings pitched and struck out 25 batters with a 0.98 ERA in three games.
Canada's Jeremiah Wood led the tournament with 30 strikeouts in 16 innings over three games.
Cal Ripken Jr. addressed the use of pitchers and tournament rules in a post game conversation with reporters at the conclusion of the Series.
"Philosophically, Babe Ruth as a league wants to give the control to the coaches and control to the parents and the accountability for their arms," he said. "I think sometimes in tournaments you can make an argument in the case for both sides but generally you let the coaches look after their own players. We've found in our own tournaments that sometimes you can put in too many layers of rules and protections. Sometimes abuses can take place within those protections, for example, it might be better for a kid to throw six continuous innings as opposed to throwing four straight days of two innings because he has to warm up and throw more baseballs. Philosophically I believe the accountability should remain in the coaches' hands and in the parents' hands to watch and make sure you look out for the kids."
Babe Ruth League Commissioner Robert Faherty Jr. also provided an explanation for the change of rules in the playoff rounds of competition.
"The kids have competed all summer long," Faherty said. "They've played numerous games and the coaches know them as well as anyone else. We really felt like if you get to the biggest stage, the biggest game, they would be able to adjust their team and pitching to have their best players ready to go. Our rules allow everyone to pitch and the re-entry rule gets everyone in the game. We encourage participation but ultimately you have to let the coaching staff coach be able to coach the games and to try and win the games."
In its seventh season, the Cal Ripken World Series has continued to grow by leaps and bounds. Although it may not receive the type of recognition as the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., this year seven Ripken Series games were broadcast nationally on cable television's Outdoor Living Network.
"People came out strong. It was an enthusiastic crowd," Cal Ripken said. "We had a great final game. So I think as the years go on we're building a little momentum and this year it seemed like we grew exponentially a little bit more than we had in previous years. We would really like to expand the international teams and look closer at some of the rules of the tournament. We'd like to continue the momentum bring some more international teams in and what we'd really like to be able do is seed back to the international areas and start to have tournaments within the international communities for the right to come here."
While some Orioles fans may have expected to see one or both Ripken brothers in major or minor league coaches' uniforms by now, clearly their interests are founded in youth baseball and instruction.
"Everything that we have has come through baseball," Bill Ripken said. "We have a love for the game that was passed on to us through our dad. It seems a shame to waste such a passion. When you look at the game of baseball, the major league game has certain issues that are hanging over it's head right now but when you watch a game like you just watched…there's nothing wrong with the game of baseball. This is a celebration of baseball and we like to do that. We want to bring the positive shadow on the game let other people figure out that mess that's going up there. If we can impact this game and make the right decisions and have the kids make the right choices down here that's going to make them better the older they get."
Issue 1.18: August 24, 2006