Tom Raynor says he would have been "tickled pink" at a .500 record for his Royal Sportswear team in its first season in the Baltimore Beltway League's age 9-10 division.

But in a rain-shortened seven-game Beltway League schedule, the Raynor-coached squad from Manchester never lost once.

In addition, Royal swept all five of its games to win a June tournament in Pikesville and threatens to win yet another championship this week.

At press time, it was the only remaining winners' bracketteam in the Manchester Invitational 9-10 tournament, being played atChristmas Tree Park.

Over the weekend, Royal topped Hampstead, 17-9; West Manheim, Pa., 3-1; and Finksburg, 13-1 in its first three tournament games.

Royal Sportswear is thus guaranteed a spot in the finals against whichever team emerges from the losers' bracket in that double-elimination affair.

That team, however, faces the formidable task of winning twice from this group of Manchester-area youngsters which has amassed a record of 17-2 in Beltway League and tournament play.

But whatever happens as the Manchester Tournament reaches its climax, every detail will be chronicled faithfully for local consumption.

You see, Royal Sportswear, which also uses the nickname Panthers, may be the only local youth baseball team with its own newspaper and full-time sportswriter.

The writer is Ruth Harlan of Manchester, and her son, Matt, plays on the team.

She edits "The Panther Press," a weekly newsletter which features game highlights, short biographies of each of the team's 12 players and action photos.

"Iguess I saw the need to (put into words) what they had done -- to give them a memory of what goes on. They get so involved in the game, they lose that picture," said Harlan.

She said the youngsters look forward to each edition.

But those written memories may be even more important to them in coming years as their athletic feats, like old gloves and spikes, gather dust.

Explained Harlan: "Some of them may never play ball or be big in sports again."

Raynor formed the team this spring via tryouts, using players from the Manchester youthbaseball organization's in-house minor league division.

He said he was hoping just to be competitive when the season started in late April.

But contrary to that modest goal, "We started rolling and people were telling us we were beating the cream of the crop (in the Beltway League)," said Raynor.

His Royal Sportswear team's big test came against Loch Raven, a strong opponent it faced in its fourth game of the season.

Harlan's May 24 "Panther Press" described the drama of that fateful meeting:

"(Royal had) a 3-0 record coming into the big game.

"The opponents lead 3-1 in the top of the sixth (andfinal inning) . . .tension mounts."

"The Panthers fight back . . . the tying run scores."

And then, in the top of the 10th frame ofthat extra inning contest: "The sacrifice fly . . . two runs score (for the Panthers)."

And finally: "Bottom of the tenth. The fans are on their feet . . . two outs . . . A strikeout . . . THE PANTHERS WIN!!!!

The "Press" however, never reveals exactly who did what in this game -- or in any other.

That omission is intentional, and isin keeping with the philosophy of Raynor and his coaches, John Etzel, Wayne Bair and Manchester youth baseball president George Suter, that the team get the publicity and not individuals.

"They're super people, man," says Raynor of the coaching staff, which he credits formuch of the team's performance.

He also credited strong defense and the fact that 10 of the 12 players can pitch -- lending new meaning to former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver's now-famous term, "deep depth."

His team will get a chance to extend its winning ways in Hampstead this weekend when it plays in another 9-10 tournament there.

Raynor said he wants to keep the squad together next year.

And Harlan says she plans to bring "The Panther Press" along -- with a new twist.

"Some of the kids are interested in writing. I'll let some of them write for the newsletter next year," she said.

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad