As a youngster, my son Jordan always dreaded his summer road trip. He lived in Ohio, I lived in Massachusetts and we couldn’t afford plane tickets. The central point of his dread was the six hours it took to cross the state of Pennsylvania. I can hardly wait to tell him what the Bartow AAA All-Stars are facing. They have a seven-hour road trip and they aren’t leaving the state.
The destination is Freeport, a trip of 414 miles one way. It is the site of the 2013 Florida state tournament for this division. It is a long way from home and consequently a little on the expensive side. That financial fact has changed the whole dynamic in a lot of ways. If the players are asked to write an essay on “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” more than one is likely to talk about what they learned about fundraising.
While many teams have been able to concentrate on fielding grounders and hitting the cutoff man, the dozen athletes selected for the AAA squad have spent as much time raising money as they have been raising their hitting prowess.
Last weekend, they gathered at the Bartow Goodyear to wash cars for a donation and welcomed needed funds from the busy passers-by who didn’t have time to stop for a car wash. They have been throughout the community, looking for the spare change that adds up as the means to get to their goal. Parents, grandparents and supporters are doing all they can to allow the players to focus on the opposition when the state tournament starts in just a few days. The long road trip comes tomorrow. Opening ceremonies are Friday. Bartow opens up play on Saturday. Their opponent, Holmes County, will have a 43-mile trip to the state tournament. It may not be home field advantage, but it’s close.
It’s a safe bet that the road trip is not causing as much concern to the players as some might think. These are 9- and 10-year-old boys and they have that youthful resilience that allows them to bounce back quickly. They’ll get what they need, get aboard the transportation to the panhandle and get around to the business of playing baseball. Sure, they want to win, which would mean another round of fundraising to get the resources to get them to Laurel, Miss., next month for the World Series. They play baseball for fun and a long road trip away from home adds another element to the fun. This is an elite group that can claim the distinction of having the experience, win or lose. Few others get to say that.
They earned the right to make the road trip by taking care of business at the district tournament. They showed the area what they can do and the time has come for them to show the state. The double elimination tournament features 16 teams, chock full of perennial contenders including last year’s state champion Sebring. Weather permitting, the state champion will be crowned on July 18. Whoever earns the honor will start the process of representing the state in Mississippi, only 200 miles west of the Freeport diamonds.
Team members making the trip will be Lucas Allbritton, Austin Breeden, Jacob Browder, Noah Jones, Blake Kelley, Rainier McKinzy, Travis Osborne, Dee Robinson, Jason Rolling, Chase Rose, Sammy Sloan, Hector Vargas and Jonathan Vastine. Breeden, Jones, Vargas and Vastine were members of Bartow’s team in the 2012 Dixie Youth Baseball World Series. This year’s team is managed by Phil Sloan with assistant coaches Dustin Breeden and Ray McKinzy.
The Bartow Majors team set out on their quest to become Florida state champion last weekend. Bartow opened the competition with a nail-biting 7-6 win over Bushnell American. The Sunday contest was a blowout as Bartow throttled Brooksville, 15-3. In Monday’s game, Bartow cruised past tournament host DeSoto County, 9-1.
A Monday night deadline prevents me from passing along any more details except to say that, no matter what happened Tuesday, Bartow remains in contention in the tournament action in Arcadia. The scheduled Tuesday game pitted Bartow against a second Bushnell team, Bushnell National. Bushnell National had a bye on Monday after beating Frostproof in the opener, then reducing Mulberry to the loser’s bracket. Frostproof and Mulberry were Bartow opponents during district play with Bartow beating each team twice. As of Monday, Frostproof had been eliminated, but Mulberry was faced with a must win situation on Monday and beat Baker.
Bartow has scored more than
30 runs in its three games while allowing only 10. In its two games, Bushnell National has not allowed a run, outscoring opponents 20-0.