Though watching some of the best 12-year-old baseball players in the world is not too bad a way to earn a paycheck, especially when the weather cooperates like it did on Wednesday and it's 82 degrees all afternoon, the pool play section of the Cal Ripken World Series always leaves me pretty drained. There's just too much going on each day, and by the end of the tournament's first round, I'm happy to move on to the elimination games, which start Friday.
In digging back through the notebook I kept for stray observations during the opening stage of the series, I found these gems (or tidbits, or whatever you want to call them):
Geographical headache: Identifying the teams at the Ripken Series can be a challenge, because they're identified by both the town/city they come from and by the region they represent (i.e. the Midwest Plains team from Mineral Area, Mo.). This might not sound so tough, but in this year's National Division bracket, which I was in charge of covering, the Southeast team was from West Raleigh, N.C., and the Ohio Valley team was from Southeast Lexington, Ky. I had a very tough time with that.
Many, many Kims: Kim is a common surname in Korea; that's a fact, and it was proven to me quite succinctly on Monday, when the Republic of Korea beat the Canadian squad, 10-3, at Cal Sr.'s Yard. The three Korean pitchers who played in that game, as shown in the box score I retrieved afterward, were J. Kim, J. Kim and J. Kim.
Another name game: One time, long ago, when some musical friends and I were trying to come up with a name for our new band, somebody among the group blurted out, "Matt Damon Wayans," which, though funny, was immediately vetoed. Fast forward 13 years and I am sitting in the press box watching the Hickory Hornets play the Ohio Valley team from Southeast Lexington, Ky. (not the Southeast team from West Raleigh, N.C.). That game ended when the Hornets' Spencer Sanza hit a walk-off, two-run homer in the seventh. Who was on base? Sanza's teammate, Steven Spencer. Steve Spencer Sanza. I've already copyrighted that as a band name, so don't try to steal it, or I'll sue you.
Harford County stepping up big: Hysterical name games done with for now, let me say that the Hornets, this year's Harford County host team, played really well. How well? They finished pool play with a 2-2 record and almost beat the only undefeated American team in the tournament opener last Friday (the Hornets lost that one, 1-0, to Piedmont, Del., and a win in that game probably would have put them in the elimination round). The first few years I covered this tournament, the Harford County team got knocked around really good, losing most of its games by 10 or more runs. If you need proof that that's changed, beyond what I've already told you, consider this: the Hornets closed out their pool play schedule with a 13-3 win over Mineral Area, Mo. If you're coming through with four-inning, mercy-rule wins over any team in the Cal Ripken World Series, you're doing OK. Well done, Hornets.
Rheault, again, is very tall: I've already written about IronBirds' pitcher Dylan Rheault in this column, and have pointed out that he's 6 feet, nine inches tall. Well, Rheault, a native Canadian from Garson, Ontario, took time to hang out with team Canada this week. Dressed in a pair of cargo shorts and a T-shirt, he wasn't immediately recognizable when standing in the Canadian squad's dugout. Someone in the press box at Cal Sr.'s Yard, not aware that the large man was also the Orioles' 19th-round pick of this year's draft, said, "dang that dude is tall." I agree.
The Dominican team is a wild card, again: Every year the Dominican Republic team comes to Aberdeen with two or three of the best players in the tournament, and every year they fail to do what I expect them to. This year, they almost lost to Canada, which finished 1-4, then the very next day beat two-time defending champ Japan, which had not lost a pool play game to that point.