On the same week that Babe Ruth made his major league debut 100 years ago, members of Alpena Huron Shore Babe Ruth did the Bambino proud when Alpena swept all three divisions of the 2014 Cal Ripken State Tournament it was hosting last weekend.
Kudos to those young men for their accomplishments. In the cases of the victorious 10U and 12U teams, it's their second straight state championship after they won titles at the 9U and 11U levels last year.
Chemistry is an oft-used word when it comes to sports and when it's mixed with a good deal of talent, the results are usually pretty good. Alpena had a good mix of both last weekend as each local squad had little trouble winning a state championship. The 10U team played a handful of games together last year, but developed further over the winter and it paid off this time around. The same can be said for the 12U and 14U squads, as many of the players have played together for the last several years. Many high school athletes I've interviewed have talked about the chemistry they've built with their teammates, often dating back to when they played together on youth teams.
On that note, the weekend was also exciting because fans got to watch players who will likely be Alpena Wildcats in the future. Coaches talk all the time about the importance of youth programs being vital to the success of high school teams. If this weekend is any indication, Alpena High's program will have a lot of talent coming up in the next several years. I mean, it's pretty exciting to watch a player like 12U pitcher Aidan Goike strike out batters left and right and to think about the possibilities of him doing the same thing for the Wildcats in several years.
As successful as the weekend was, it's a shame that several eligible teams opted not to participate. A common reason given was that some leagues have a hard time juggling kids' commitments to playing travel ball and that it was easier to play in any number of tournaments closer to home rather than coming up to Alpena.
While its somewhat understandable that driving from downstate to somewhere like Alpena can be a bit of a hike, ultimately it probably deprived many kids of the chance to play for a state championship. After all, Alpena sent four teams down to Niles last for the state tournament and Niles is over five hours from Alpena no matter how you slice it. Given that other Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken leagues in the state have known since November when and where the tournament would be played, league administrators could have made up their minds earlier instead of backing out last minute.
During this weekend's tournament, Alpena's 10U team opened tournament play on Friday against a noticeably younger squad from the Central UP. This is a team that had just two 10-year-olds on it and a catcher who was all of seven. The team realistically had no chance of winning the tournament, but the team's scorekeeper said the team showed up because it had made a commitment to AHSBR and intended to keep it. It's quite admirable, especially for a team that took some lumps during the weekend, but kept a promise and will likely improve and be competitive in the years to come.
All in all though, the weekend was a success for Alpena and for AHSBR. When Alpena Huron Shore Little League merged with Alpena Babe Ruth last year, it was with the idea of allowing kids from a wider area to play as well as to create more opportunities for youth baseball and softball players. After two years and five state championships in the Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken model, the future looks bright for AHSBR. In fact the AHSBR did such a good job hosting the state tournament, that the possibility of Alpena hosting a regional in the coming years has been discussed.
"I think it went well and I'm pleased with the amount of community members that came out to support our fans," AHSBR Information Director Malinda Amlotte said. "The state commissioner and assistant commissioner were impressed with the way things were handled and we got a lot of positive comments."
Kudos to everyone who helped make this event a special one and good luck to Alpena's teams in their upcoming regional tournaments.
James Andersen can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.