Some of the players have never been on a plane. Others haven’t been outside of Washington and Oregon. But Kennewick American is excited to embark on its once-in-a-lifetime journey to the Cal Ripken 10-year-old World Series at Joe Mack Campbell Park in Jonesboro, Ark.
“It’s been a bit of a drought,” said KA president Jeff Thomas, who noted the last time the 10s went to the World Series was 2006. “It’s a chance of a lifetime to play on these fields and on this big of a stage. I’m sure the jitters will get to them, but once it starts, it’s just another game.”
KA will play one of two opening games of the World Series at 11 a.m. (PDT) Saturday against Ohio Valley (Janesville, Wis.). The tournament runs through Aug. 15.
“These kids have played five months of baseball,” Thomas said. “They have poured their hearts into this. They will be ready.”
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KA, which is classified as Pacific Northwest, won state and regional titles to advance. It is the top team from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, British Columbia and Alberta.
The Kennewick team is in the National Division, along with Ohio Valley, Southeast (Manatee, Fla.), Pacific Southwest (Visalia, Calif.) and Mountain Home, Ark.
Each team will play four pool-play games, with the top three in each division advancing to single-elimination bracket play.
KA had to overcome adversity to earn a trip to the World Series. They rallied in the state semifinals to beat Kelso in 10 innings, then beat Black Hills to advance to regionals.
West Linn (Ore.) gave KA fits in the regional semis, but the Kennewick squad eked out a 10-9 victory before beating Meridian (Idaho) 16-5 to punch its ticket to Arkansas.
“This is a special group,” KA manager Steve Oldham said. “They eat the pressure up. We had close games at state and regionals, but they are there in the dugout singing songs and having fun. They play well together, but the parents are key too. Their contributions with fundraising, getting the kids to practice and the tournaments ... we are all in this together.”
The team has been able to rely on its hitting and pitching, and Oldham doesn’t see that changing once it gets to Arkansas and plays in front of nearly 1,000 fans per game.
“We are going to go down there, play baseball and win,” Oldham said. “But I also want them to have a good time. Most kids don’t get this kind of opportunity.”
The KA players have gotten a little rock star treatment this week, with Nico Rodriguez of Illusions Salon in Pasco carving baseball designs into their hair, and Global Credit Union giving the boys goodie bags for their trip.
“Aiden (Garcia) is my nephew, and his dad (Adrian Garcia) called me up and asked if I would do a design on his head,” Rodriguez said. “Next thing you know, they are all coming. I did baseballs, bats, the KA logo, stars, flying baseballs, and a baseball field. Whatever they wanted. They were so excited.”
The team also has had support from the community with donations to help pay for their trip. The Cal Ripken organization pays for the team’s airfare, but the rest falls on the KA organization and the parents, who had 12 days from the end of regionals to raise funds for their trip.
“It’s nice to see the community come out and support us,” Oldham said.
The KA team consists of Oldham, assistant coaches Rick Bowe and Pete Salazar, and players Bricen Ostergaard, Kade Smith, Charlie Tipke-Henry, Chance Oldham, Buckley Philmlee, Kyan Bowe, Braxden Salazar, Jonah Gebers, Alex Mendoza, Collin Tiegs, Rylen Blair and Aiden Garcia.