“It’s amazing, I mean, I’ve been dreaming of this since I was like six or seven. It’s great for the team, we’ve all wanted this all year and we’ve worked for this really hard,” says Sam Thornton, wide-eyed with anticipation. The dream: playing in the Cal Ripken World Series. The team: our very own Bel Air Braves.
It was an adrenaline-packed, emotionally-charged road for Bel Air as they earned their spot in the series by taking a chunk out of Emmorton’s aspirations to snatch the District V111 tournament. The battle was a nail-biter, but they took it in dramatic fashion, cementing their path on this yellow brick road.
In the best-of-three series, pitcher Eric McDonough was in the zone, throwing a complete game shutout to win 7-0. Emmortonhad other ideas in game two, winning in a tight one, 8-7. Things weren’t looking so good for the Braves in game three. In the bottom of the fifth, they were down by one. But they never gave up. Tyler Woolsey cranked out a triple scoring Trey Hathaway from third to knot it up. Enter Matthew Henigan. It was on for Matthew, he launched one — a two-run shot that ultimately decided the game. Eric came in to close it out and with the tying run on third, struck out the final two batters to seal the deal. Welcome to the dance!
Matthew’s homerun was more than just a momentum changer. It was a moment of pure exhilaration for this team and their family and friends. It was absolute pandemonium, as the team literally piled on Matthew. “My Dad was the first one to pile on,” Grayson Boone said. His Dad: manager Lee Boone.
Lee Boone has been coaching for 11 years now, four of them right here in Bel Air. The Boone family has moved around a few times living in places like Seattle and Boston. The Boone’s have been active in the Cal Ripken World Series, volunteering as a host family. Since the team is in the competition, they had to bow out gracefully. Boone is psyched that the Braves have made it this far: “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime.”
Frank Volpe is definitely down with that. He’s gone from bat boy one year to contender in the next. That’s right, this 12-year old catcher with a rocket of an arm just so happens to have experience with the series also. “It was fun doing the bat boy last year, but now we’re going to be in it and playing it this year – so it’s going to be really fun. I can’t wait!,” he says enthusiastically. Frank’s favorite player is none other than Brian Roberts and his team, of course, is the Orioles.
Grayson, on the other hand, was born in Boston so guess who his team is? No, not our Orioles. It’s the Red Sox. Even a die-hard O’s fan can’t hold that against him especially since his baseball savvy is so apparent, “Well, they [the O’s] started off shaky and then got a little better and now their back to their shaky-self.” Considering that early in the season the O’s were 7-1 in one-run games and going into the All-Star break they hobbled in at 17-18 in one-run games then Grayson was right on the money. And speaking of that, Grayson is also known as “G-money.”
It’s been a memorable season for these Braves, and Sam in particular. His favorite player is none other than New York Yankee third baseman, Alex Rodriguez. Sam got a special treat this year from A-rod. He was there when A-Rod hit his 500th homerun at Yankee Stadium, it was a very special day indeed. “It was my birthday gift,!” he rattled off and his face beaming. Totally cool! Sam had some choice words for A-rod’s lack of participation in the All-Star Home-Run Derby contest: “not cool.”
On the night of the All-Star Homerun Derby the Braves were all business. They came together for practice Monday night to work on some fundamentals. After doing their warm-ups and stretches, they worked on fielding and throwing. They did pop-up drills. “I got it, I got it, I think,” one of them bellowed and, no, he didn’t have it. They worked on communication. There were stations set up for each to take some swings. Some of the Braves even had a chance to meet up with and talk to sports broadcaster Rob Carlin of Channel 2 news, (WMAR) to be aired this coming Sunday on Sports Extra at 11:30 p.m.
Baseball, baseball and more baseball! The team is packing it up and heading to Myrtle Beach for a week-long tournament at the Ripken Experience Baseball Complex. Then after that, they are stopping off at Rocky Mount, North Carolina to take a stab at another weekend tournament.
Hopefully they’ll be able to get some rest before the Cal Ripken World Series. All of the Braves seem pumped to take in a whole other Ripken experience only they’ll get to do it in our backyard – Aberdeen.
But Frank might have summed it up best saying what he’s most looking forward to is “just playing with all the kids from all around the world and getting to play against them.” Is Frank going to be nervous when Cal Ripken calls out his name, as he does for each and every player that competes? “Psst.” He scoffs at the question, “Yeah I’m going to be nervous but it’s going to be the best experience of my life.”
Also working with the Braves are coaches Mike Henigan, Allen Woolsey and Brian Thornton. When asked what their teams record was Boone said “26-11 or something like that,” punctuating the fact that what really matters is not so much wins and losses but rather, how they play and represent and also that they take in every single morsel of these precious moments and have a great time.
We are all Braves fans now!
The ninth annual Cal Ripken World Series is being held in Aberdeen August 8-16. Festivities begin Friday, August 8 at 7 p.m. at Cal Sr.’s Yard and are free to the public. This year you can expect to see something different, in conjunction with the American Flag Foundation, a 2,000-person living American Flag will be featured in the outfield as each and every player is announced to the crowd. Each team will participate in the skills competition which is slated for 8 p.m. There is also a military flyover scheduled to highlight the event.
The Cal Ripken World Series features 10 U.S. teams (two from Maryland – one from Harford County and the other the Maryland State Champion) and six international squads (Australia, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Japan, Mexico and the Republic of Korea) made up of 11- and 12-year olds. The international champion will square off with the U.S. champion in the World Series Championship Game on Saturday, August 16 at 3 p.m.
For those interested in being a host family or volunteering to be a part of the 2,000-person Living American Flag during the Opening Ceremonies please contact Kath Fenzel at 410-823-0808, ext. 131 or visit www.worldseries.ripkenbaseball.com.