Pitching, cohesion propel Ferndale 10-U

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 23, 2013 

Ferndale 10u Baseball

Carson Peters races to catch a ground ball during the Ferndale 10U team's practice Wednesday, July 18, 2013, on Pioneer Field in Ferndale. The team recently won its state championship and soon will be heading to the regional tournament.

DANIEL PICKARD — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

Molded cleats rouse the dried dirt to a swirl, backlit by the sun suspended just above the horizon at Ferndale's Pioneer Park.

Most of Ferndale's 10-U state championship baseball players called it a night, packing their bags and equipment for a trip home. A few, though, remained on the field, casting a silhouette in the plume of dirt created by an exchange of grounders and throws to first base.

If it were up to them, they would never leave the field.

"This is the purest form of baseball," said coach Hank Schwarz, watching as his team practices against the 11-U team. "No steroids, no drinking and driving."

After winning the 2013 Cal Ripken North Washington State Championships, Schwarz and his team earned a bid to the Pacific Northwest Regional Championships starting July 24 in Helena, Mont. Ferndale will play its first game Thursday, July 25.

Nothing to this point has distracted him and his team from reaching their goals, with only grander ones ahead. Maybe even a trip to Nationals if all goes right, Schwarz said.

His collection of 8, 9, 10 and 11 year olds had little trouble earning their bid, winning all six of their games by a combined run margin of 63-10.

"Pitching, defense and hitting were all working together," Schwarz said.

Pitching, in particular.

In the championship game, Carson Peters and Kobe Sandstrom combined to throw four perfect innings, striking out nine of the 12 batters they faced en route to an 11-0, mercy-rule win over Port Angeles.

Sandstrom, beaming with excitement awaiting the opportunity to play in Helena, knew the game was over far before the final out.

"We knew we had won in the second inning," he said. "It was really exciting."

Sandstrom is the resident flamethrower, at times touching 57 mph from 46 feet, equivalent to 87 or so mph at the major league level, Schwarz said.

"He is usually in there a majority of the game," Schwarz said of how he uses Sandstrom. "A majority of kids can't hit that speed of fastball. When it is down, it is nearly unhittable."

Aiden Roddel and Ryan Pelton round out Ferndale's four-headed pitching monster, with Roddel adding a rarely-scene dimension to the already-potent staff: A knuckleball.

The floating menace of a pitch elicited looks of confusion and frustration from Ferndale's 11-U team, often times finding themselves out in a front and unable to time it.

One particular pitch forced Schwarz to pace up and down the dugout, holding his hat over his face.

"That's R.A. Dickey right there," referring to the 2012 National League Cy Young winner who throws a knuckleball. He even felt compelled to say it again, as if everyone on the field didn't hear him the first time.

Roddel tossed a smile his way before throwing his next pitch.

It's a long ways from a month ago when Roddel wasn't even thought to be a factor in the pitching rotation, Schwarz said.

"He started throwing a knuckleball about a month ago, you know, funny, ha ha, see if you can throw it on a consistent basis," Schwarz said of first seeing the pitch materialize. "Kids couldn't even come close, and we said, 'wow, this might be for real.'"

Turns out it was, and Roddel has been fine-tuning the mechanics of the pitch ever since.

Heading to Helena, though, will bring about an entirely new level of competition, Schwarz said, noting that advancing to nationals is no easy task, but neither was winning the 10-U state championship.

"Can we? Yes," he said. "We definitely can. At state we did that."

This team boasts a different composition than a majority of its competition, Schwarz said. Most of the teams in Helena are all-stars teams that bring together the best baseball players in their respective areas and put them on one team.

Ferndale isn't that way. This team has been together the whole way. No new pieces. No bringing together of kids who have never played before.

"They can really rely on each other," Schwarz said. "The kids that are not as good as the top-notch guys on our team, they know they can do it because the other kids have their back. They smile and go up there and do it."

Some all-star teams do grow together over time, Schwarz said, making those who relish the challenge of molding a cohesive unit together a scary thought.

But these kids do care who they play.

"I just want to be there right now," Roddel said, awaiting the chance to prolong a summer of baseball.

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