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The Finksburg Lions 12-under baseball team has a lot to be proud of this year.

To begin with, the kids had a great season in the Mid-Atlantic Baseball Association. They nearly won it, finishing second in the post season tournament and compiling a 23-5 record. They can also take pride in the fact that they've been invited to the Cooperstown Dreams Park and American Youth Baseball Hall of Fame Invitational Tournament.

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The tournament, which begins Aug. 13, is an exclusive event to which such invitations are extremely hard to come by. Organizations are closely examined and coaches thoroughly screened so tournament officials can determine if they are well run and are competitive on the field.

Well, when it applied last year, this Lions team had proven itself more than competitive on the field in its brief, two-year existence. It won the MABA 10-under title in its first season; last year it was that association's 11-under champion.

The team also had to show that it could meet the heavy expense of participating in that annual youth baseball extravaganza. It did that, too.

After the Finksburg baseball organization decided to try for admission, team officials spelled out the personal commitment the parents might have to make.

"We told the parents they would have to pay for it themselves if the fund raising wasn't successful. They were all willing," coach Joe Griffin said.

Last September, the group learned that it had landed a coveted spot in this year's Hall of Fame Invitational.

"The boys were ecstatic. This is what every 12-year-old boy thinks of getting into," Griffin said, sounding pretty ecstatic himself. "This is the cream of the crop."

But now they had to raise the money. And it was the success of this gigantic fund raising effort that the boys and their parents can be most proud of.

The players' families and others associated with the team had to call for help in raising the $1,000 registration fee needed for each of the 12 players and the coaches. Another $3,200 was needed for team pins that the players will trade with their counterparts on the other teams. Additional hundreds are needed for other expenses.

Altogether, the Lions team would need around $20,000. It would have to be paid in several timely installments with the entire amount due by this mid-April.

The parents and coaches formed a committee to coordinate the effort. They planned to move quickly on raising the money. They decided on a hold a bull roast to raise some of it.

Many businesses contributed cash to the effort. Two of them, Miller, Long and Arnold Concrete Construction and Metro Grounds Management, made substantial contributions. So did the Roaring Run Lions Club.

Those contributing $500 or more got their names displayed on the players' jackets. That turned out to be a lot of patches.

"After awhile, the kids looked as if they were in NASCAR," Griffin said. "Money was coming from all directions in all amounts throughout last fall. Everybody just grabbed hold of the idea. The thing just exploded. It was wonderful the way everybody in the community supported us."

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The roast itself netted $8,000, and the group had the pleasant job of deciding how to spend it. It decided to send 10 of the team's players to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League summer baseball camp.

While the parents and the local community were excelling in raising money, Griffin's kids excelled on the diamonds.

Those two weeks in Williamsport were filled with baseball activities including instruction, drills and actual games. In the games, the Lions handled the teams up there just as they were handling their Mid-Atlantic baseball Association opponents.

Ultimately, six of the 10 players who attended the Williamsport camp would make all-star teams.

This MABA season started as if it would be a repeat of last year's championship run. The Lions opened 9-2. But then they struggled for awhile, losing three games in a row and then having a game rained out.

Times called for some help, and it came in the form of former Orioles bullpen coach Sam Snider. Griffin is acquainted with Snider, who lives in Reisterstown, and he asked him to help out.

"He worked with the boys on batting. He just let them hear things from a different mouth. After that, they came back and started hitting again," Griffin said.

His Lions went on to win their last eight games to finish 23-5, good for third place in the 12-under age group's Piedmont Division. Their five losses came by a total of only ten runs.

The postseason tournament opened June 24 at Finksburg's Roaring Run Park. Finksburg thumped the West Howard County "J" Team 16-8 in that opening game. They clipped Sykesville 11-2 in Game 2.

But the two wins may have made the boys overconfident, because Griffin said they didn't play with a lot of emotion in their third game. They should have. Towsontown thumped them 12-4. The playoff scene now switched to Towson.

However the Lions recovered to beat Frederick 8-7 in a 10-inning thriller. It was tied 5-5 after seven innings. Each team scored a run in the eighth and then in the ninth. Finksburg then scored the winner in the bottom half of the 10th.

The Lions then handled Burtonsville 8-2 to qualify for the championship game.

But the final against the West Howard County "F" Team was another disappointment.

Griffin stressed that the boys had expected to win that one. They had already beaten that opponent twice this year. And they had already doubled the score on the "J" squad, considered Howard's best.

However, this opponent was deadly. The game was close all the way. It was tied 6-6 after six innings, but Howard scored twice in the seventh to win 8-6 and take this year's MABA 12-under championship.

The Lions players took it hard.

"They thought they were the better team and that they hadn't played their best game. I tried to tell them there is nothing wrong with silver, but second place is not where they wanted to be," Griffin said.

Griffin, his assistants Brian O'Donnell, Chris Wooden, and Brian Mount, and the players themselves now look forward to playing some of the best teams in the nation.

"The boys realize that this tournament is really what it's all about," Griffin said.

But they also look toward next year. They will be a 13-under team, and the boys look eagerly ahead. They want another shot at a championship.

"When you lose a championship game, you are driven to come back," Griffin said. "We all want that, and that will keep the flame burning this winter."

410-857-7896

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