While their younger counterparts were back closer to home competing in the NVTBL End of Season Tournament, we had a special tournament experience for our 13U team – one of particular interest to me personally. Allow me to backtrack a bit…
I’m Aidan Edelman. I’ve been coaching with Koa for the past three years and have also been active in our baseball operations department. I’ve been the one bringing you every Around the Horn blog post this fall, including all the game recaps, player shout-outs, and standings updates. I do this because I love Koa – this family has taken me in and allowed me to flourish in numerous different capacities in baseball and beyond. I’m grateful to everything Koa has done for me, but there’s one other baseball organization I hold in equal regard: Ripken Baseball.
I took a sabbatical from Koa from March-June to go work for Ripken Baseball as a baseball instructor on their renowned Chevy Tour. Partnering with Chevrolet, we traveled the country – logging over 20,000 miles on our brand new Chevy Suburbans in the process – and putting on free baseball clinics in communities all over the place. The places we saw, the people we met, and the memories we shared and helped create for ourselves and others is why I chose to step away from Koa, and I’m glad I took the opportunity. Following the four months on tour I stuck with Ripken through July to help run their professional baseball camps, and I still work there part time as a tournament game official up in Aberdeen.
So imagine my surprise when I learned that Koa’s 13U team – a team I coached back when those kids were 12 – would be going up to Aberdeen this weekend to partake in the Walk Off Tournament. Getting the chance to work tournament games for Ripken while seeing my old Koa team play was a good end of season treat, as these Koa and Ripken have allowed me to live out a dream of working in baseball. The experience of playing at the Ripken complex – including two games at Ripken Stadium, home of the Aberdeen Ironbirds – is something we hope these boys remember for the rest of their lives.
The first pool play game of the weekend was bright and early Saturday morning at 8 am at Ripken Stadium. The boys were facing a tough test against the New Jersey Axemen. The team – based out of Williamstown, in Gloucester County, in the southwestern part of the state – was heavy favorites to win the 13U age bracket due in large part to their reputation as a powerhouse within the state and their own previous success at Ripken tournaments. Koa faced the Axemen’s “B” team, but that team still had a handful of “A” team players on it – players who were all named to the National Amateur Baseball Federation’s All-American Team this season. IT was going to be tough sledding against them, but give our guys credit, as all the accolades didn’t faze them.
Koa drew first blood in the top of the first inning, with Andrew P. singling in Patrick B. after the latter stole his way into scoring position. James R. started on the mound for the Green Wave, but struggled to consistently hit the zone, giving up several free baserunners that managed to come around and score. The Axemen put up several big innings en route to a 13-1 win. Not the start our guys had in mind, but perhaps after a lengthy post-game hype speech and some time off to regroup and get some extra reps in from their coaches and me would be what the team needed to get that spark back.
Our second game was at Yankee Stadium – an all-turf, made-to-scale replica of the older version of the stadium in The Bronx – in the early afternoon, and featured another New Jersey opponent, the South Jersey Braves. Unlike their fellow statesmen from earlier, this team did not pose much of a threat to Koa on paper or by watching their warmups. The Green Wave was locked in from the start in this one. Andy S. was the starter, and while it wasn’t his best performance on the mound, he danced into and out of trouble enough to give his team a chance. Devon G. was his catcher and did a masterful job behind the plate, blocking everything in sight and keeping the Braves’ from taking many extra bases. Offensively, Patrick B. tallied three hits from the leadoff spot to lead the team in hits. Patrick, Seth K., and Andrew P. all scored first-inning runs putting the game out of reach early. The team was able to perfectly answer the Braves only rally. After the opponent scored two in the top of the fourth to pull to within one, Koa was able to plate two of their own, with Devon getting to third base on a single and an error to lead off the bottom of the fourth and scoring on a single from Miles K., the next batter. The Green Wave ended up winning 6-2, and finished pool play in the fifth seed out of eight teams.
With the games already over for the day, but the day still far from over, the boys got more of a full Ripken experience by getting to tour the complex. For those unaware, The Ripken Experience in Aberdeen has seven youth ballparks, all replicas of current or former MLB stadiums, plus Ripken Stadium, several training areas, and batting cages. They got to explore the area, see all the different stadiums, and some even got to see me call a game. I had the call on the game at Yankee Stadium immediately after our second game, so a few stuck around and got to hear me put on my best Bob Sheppard impression while hearing about my own Ripken experiences, including my conversations with Cal Ripken Jr. and Billy Ripken. A few got to engage in a Ripken tradition of writing their names into the press box desk at Yankee Stadium! That was topped off with a team dinner at La Tolteca in downtown Aberdeen, which was a great way to end a successful and fun day.
As the fifth seed, the Green Wave had another 8 am start time, this game against the fourth seeded Flemington NJ A’s – the team’s third opponent from New Jersey, and a team I actually played against in my youth baseball days growing up on the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border. This was the one game I missed, unfortunately, as I had game-calling responsibilities at Yankee Stadium at the same time. I’m bummed I missed it, because this seemed like it may have been the best played game of the weekend, the final score notwithstanding.
This one remained scoreless into the fourth inning, as Miles was going toe-to-toe with Flemington’s starter well into the middle innings. Unfortunately, the wheels came off for Miles, as three earned runs were charged to his docket. Having surrendered a devastating triple, he was pulled in favor of Patrick, who bended a little but kept the game within striking distance. We suffered from a frustrating inability to plate runners when we needed to. The only run Koa managed came late in the sixth inning, when Devon plated Seth on an RBI single. Had just a handful of runners we left on managed to cross the plate, we might be talking about a whole different ballgame, and I might have another game to recap. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
Though the results weren’t what we had in mind, the boys enjoyed their time up at The Ripken Experience, and I enjoyed getting to watch them play. This team went undefeated in the NVTBL regular season for a reason – they’re talented, they have their teammates’ backs, and they play not just to have fun, but to show everyone what they’re made of. There’s a grittiness and a swagger to this team that has made them very special to watch, and we hope these boys continue to bring that grit, swag, and determination next season and every season after that!
Until next time, this is Aidan Edelman, signing off.