Sudden stars set for world series ventureAugust 16, 2013
By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor
They’ve been showered with good-luck wishes from every angle, from strangers in church to the lunch lady. They’ve been visited by Scott Rolen. They’ve been sanctified with standing ovations when they walked in the Strassenfest parade.
Yes, the life of a 14-year-old celebrity.
Thirteen youngsters from Jasper and Ireland are experiencing their first major glow in the spotlight, thanks to their berth in the Babe Ruth 14-year-old World Series that kicks off Saturday. They’re en route today from Indiana to Seattle and then on to a three-hour commute to the central Washington town and host site of Moses Lake. For some, the first ride on a plane. For everyone, a long way from the hubbub that cropped up almost instantly when the squad captured the Ohio Valley Regional crown three weekends ago.
Eleven of the team’s 13 players just began their freshman year at Jasper High School last week, and their status as big men on campus has been immediate.
“Even one of the lunch ladies asked if I was Evan, asked if I was excited,” said Evan Aders, who roped a three-run home run in the regional finale. “A lot of people that I didn’t think even cared about baseball were very excited for me and just talking about how great of an experience it’ll be.”
“Everybody’s been congratulating us and wishing us luck up there,” added Reece Kleinhelter, who tossed a shutout in the regional championship. “A lot of people that I haven’t talked to in my life have said ”˜Good job’ and ”˜Good luck up there,’ which is awesome.”
The Jasper all-stars will open world series play at 3 p.m. EDT Saturday against Baxter Springs, Kan., and have four guaranteed games in pool play, including a clash with the team from Bryant, Ark., which won the 13-year-old world series title last year. Six of the 10 teams will advance out of pool play to the single-elimination tournament Thursday through Saturday of next week.
That, of course, means there’s the fringe benefit of missing a week of school. Not that anyone gets to ditch their studies, though, said Aders, who’s towing along a stack of assignments a few inches thick.
“Every book in our locker is going to be going, making the trip with us,” Tanner Egbert assured.
Each player will settle into a home away from home, as part of the Babe Ruth program’s emphasis on the host family experience. Two players are assigned to each host family, which handles everything from laundry to meals to assisting with homework to shuttling them to and from games.
Team bonding time might be at a premium once the boys touch down in Washington, but certain rituals surely won’t die.
Amid their run through the state tournament and regional, the Jasper stars developed the practice of all saying “treasure” at the start of the sixth inning of each game. One day, Egbert started yammering the word nonstop at practice, as the Bruno Mars song “Treasure” inspired the random ramblings.
Now, it’s a treasure trove of parroting among the team.
“They told me to stop and thought it was annoying. So at the game they started doing it,” Egbert explained. “At first it was kind of making fun of me, and then the whole team kind of picked up on it and it became our thing. Everybody enjoys it now.”
The team’s only regret was there weren’t many chances to repeat the buzzword at the regional.
Jasper chewed through its final three regional games with run-rule victories decided in five innings.
By the last game, support sprouted and fans lined the fences at the Jasper Youth Sports Complex.
That sufficiently washed away the memory of last summer, when the same group of Jasper all-stars had a short stay at the regional level, losing two of the three games the team played.
“I’ve been around most of these guys since they were 5, 6 years old playing T-ball. They’re a fun group to be around. Very competitive, but then again they’re very outgoing,” said Jeff Egbert, the team’s head coach. “Good group of kids to be around. I couldn’t be more happy with the group of kids we put on the field. They know how to play the game but they know how to carry themselves off the field also.”
They purported themselves with virtual silence — “lockjaw,” as Jeff Egbert later joked — with the cameo guest at the end of Wednesday’s practice.
While cycling through drills, two visitors ambled onto the field and sparked whispers.
“Is that Scott Rolen?” one player asked.
“That is Scott Rolen,” another affirmed after a few moments of inspection.
The eight-time Gold Glove winner and seven-time MLB All-Star had been in town Wednesday playing golf with friend Cory Lubbehusen, who coached many of the current all-stars back in their primary days with the JCards program.
Rolen doled out a round of handshakes for all. His message was short and sweet. He left the team with one key bullet point.
“The only thing you can control is your effort. Your effort and your attitude when you’re out there,” Rolen told them.
Granted, there are games to win and business to complete. But there’s also plenty to enjoy in the periphery in the first significant trip away from home for many of the players.
Tanner Egbert has never been on an airplane before. Aders has never been farther west than Omaha, Neb. On the team’s off day Tuesday, the hope is to arrange a trip to Seattle, and Tanner Egbert wants to get a glimpse of the famed Pike Place Fish Market, too. That may be the closest to the water he gets.
“I don’t know if I have the guts to go deep-sea fishing and go way out. I don’t know if I could handle that,” he said. “But I kind of want to be there and be able to take some neat things in while I’m out there and have the chance.”
And maybe even take home a neat thing, to boot, with a world series title a bundle of wins away.
“I’m sure it’s going to be breathtaking at first,” Kleinhelter said. “But I think we’re going to settle in, definitely, and play our game and do what we know how to do.”
Jasper Babe Ruth
Coaches: Jeff Egbert, Tom Kleinhelter, Bryan Heeke
SCHEDULE (times EDT)
Jasper vs. Baxter Springs, Kansas (3 p.m.)
Jasper vs. Clifton Park, New York (2 p.m.)
Jasper vs. Bryant, Ark. (5 p.m.)
Jasper vs. Moses Lake, Washington (11 p.m.)
Single-elimination tournament (top six teams from pool play advance)
Baxter Springs, Kan.
Clifton Park, N.Y.
Tualatin Hills, Ore.
Puget Sound, Wash.
Moses Lake, Wash.
Contact Brendan Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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