By Barrett Neale
For the second-straight year, the Lutherville Nightmare softball team earned a trip to Disney World.
But instead of visiting the Magic Kingdom, the 13 players and their four coaches were headed to ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex for the United States Specialty Sports Association ESPN Rise Fastpitch World Series.
"Disney has this big field there," head coach Andrew Levine said. "It's a regular stadium where the Atlanta Braves' spring training is. We got to play a full game there in the stadium. They broadcast it live in Baltimore through a Web cam. We were in the dugout. They had access to everything. It was really neat. That was a lot of fun. It made me feel like Earl Weaver."
Levine has coached the Nightmare, an independent travel team, for almost five years. There are eight girls who have been with Levine since the beginning. Levine said he liked being able to develop the same players year after year.
"The first three years they didn't qualify," Levine said, "and they've just been improving and getting better every year -- all the credit to the kids for playing hard. It's a big trip. It is very demanding. The heat is just through the roof."
In addition to dealing with the Florida heat, several players were recovering from injuries suffered earlier this year. Levine added an extra person to his roster so the usual 12 players on the squad could get extra rest of they were hurt or overheated, but it was still a challenging experience for a team playing in the under-16 division for the first year.
"Being in the age group the first year was pretty tough," Levine said. "Down in the World Series, we ended up playing the champion of the tournament, a team from Virginia, in our third game, and they also won the national championship last year. We ended up getting them in the third round. I was proud of the girls. They put in a good effort. We didn't win, but the girls did a great job overall."
The team's summer schedule ended at the World Series, but practice will resume in October so the girls stay in form. Levine holds practice on Sundays, because he and his assistant coaches encourage their players to play other sports.
"They're playing soccer or basketball or volleyball and that's perfect," Levine said. "Some programs just require their kids to play softball only. We want the kids to be more well-rounded and we don't believe in that."
To give players the flexibility to be multi-sport athletes, Levine doesn't register the team for any fall or winter tournaments. The Nightmare played about 10 tournaments this summer, several of which allowed them to qualify for the World Series.
In tournaments, the Nightmare compete at the B level. Although some B-level players seek college scholarships, that is not their main focus, as it is for A-level players. Levine played baseball in college, but did not mention college sports when he explained his reasons for becoming a coach.
"All my kids played (softball) and little by little, as you move up, you grow into that fast-pitch level," Levine said. "I always liked coaching my kids because I always liked being with the kids, spending time with the kids, the teaching."
Levine and his assistants -- Tom Mostyn, Roland Satterfield and Kelly Tyner -- are all volunteers. Though the team name is Lutherville, the players hail from different parts of Maryland, including a pitcher-catcher tandem of twins from the Eastern Shore.
"We're not associated with any other programs," Levine said. "Not that we don't want to -- it's just easier. It cuts back on the parent intervention. We have very good parents on our team. We kind of did it on purpose because traditionally a lot of the programs have issues with parents trying to coach the team too much from their end, so we keep it very small and very select and everyone does their job and cooperates with the coaches."
More Front Row:
• The Bubba Smith That Few Knew
• Nightmare Journeys: Dreams Come True
• Wounded Warriors Get Boost From PING
• 'Rhythm Boys' Recounts Sporting Struggle
• Frazier's Good Luck Rubs Off On Orioles
• From The Cheap Seats
Issue 164: August 2011