And so starts one of the busiest weeks of my working year, because the Ripken World Series kicks off this evening (Friday). From today until the tournament wraps up the following Sunday, I'm pretty much living at the Ripken baseball complex, covering games and running down information for sidebar articles that accompany my game recaps. Since I'm going to be spending a lot of time watching youth baseball over the next week, I've jotted down a wish lists of sorts. Here's what I would like to see at this year's tournament:
1. I want to see a perfect game pitched: I feel like I ask for this same thing before every high school baseball season, and I've actually witnessed one at that level (North Harford's Kevin Mooney tossed one at the 2012 Class 3A state semifinal, which I still hold as the best game I've ever covered, in any sport). But, I have yet to see a pitcher at the Cal Ripken World Series come through with a no-hit, no-walk perfect game (this has happened, I just haven't been there to cover the game). Two years ago the Dominican Republic's Leudy Santana threw a no-hitter and struck out 14 in a 1-0 win over Mexico, and I still think that was the most impressive pitching performance I've seen in-person, but, since he walked a few hitters, it wasn't a perfect game. This year, I want to see one.
2. I want to see an American team win the World Championship game: This might sound a little jingoistic, but that's not what I'm aiming for. I almost always pull for the underdogs, and, let's face it, the U.S. teams that make it to the tournament's World Championship game, where they have to play the winner of the International Division, are just that. This isn't a matter of quality, but quantity, as the international squads pull from much bigger talent pools. That said, an American squad winning the world title wouldn't be an upset on par with, say, the Mets beating the Orioles in the '69 World Series, because it's happened plenty of times over the last decade, with Hawaiian squads winning in 2005 and 2006, and teams from Florida taking the final game in 2008 and 2009.
3. If that American team was the Maryland squad, it would be pretty amazing: The Maryland state champs from Upper Montgomery County won the U.S. title last year, but then were knocked around by Japan in the World Championship game, losing 17-7. So, after just saying that an American team winning the tournament's final game would not be a complete Cinderella story, I'm going to take that back. The Maryland team winning the whole thing is a real long shot, but it's not out of the realm of possibilities (they just need to win the American section of the tournament, again, then catch the International team on a bad day; easy enough, right?).
4. As usual, I want to see less pitchers throwing breaking balls they can't control: I've written a lot of long, preachy columns on this topic, so this year I'm going to limit myself to a few sentences. If you can't throw a pitch for a strike seven or eight times out of 10, you need to work on it some more before using it in a game. If you're ahead of the hitter 0-2 or 1-2, imitating your favorite big league pitcher and spiking a curve in the dirt might get you a strikeout, but if you're throwing that pitch without any idea of where it's going to wind up, other than the dirt, then you're not helping yourself become a better pitcher.
5. If none of these happen, I'll still be pretty pumped if the Japanese team wins its third straight title: No disrespect to any of the other squads, but the Japanese team is always my favorite to watch. Maybe it's their seemingly choreographed pre-game routine. Maybe it's that they wear their uniforms the right way (i.e. pants pulled up to mid calf, a good amount of stirrup showing). It could be that they always have the best and deepest stable of pitchers at every tournament. If they win again, for the third straight time, I'll be fine with that.