FERNDALE - Ferndale Cal Ripken Baseball was sure to make the most of opening day ceremonies as the first Whatcom County host of the 11U Washington State Cal Ripken Tournament.
After teams and players were introduced, the Joint Customs Border Protection Honor Guard presented the flag as a CBP officer sang the national anthem. At the last note, an A-Star helicopter swooped in a flew a slow circle over the ConocoPhillips Sportsplex Baseball Fields.
Ferndale native and Tennessee Titan quarterback Jake Locker threw out the ceremonial first pitch, took pictures and signed autographs amidst a swarm of excited players.
Host Ferndale, the defending state champions, lost in it's A group pool-play opener to Eastmont 5-1, though it is far from elimination as pool-play only determines the seeds for the single-elimination bracket rounds on Saturday, July 12.
Each of the 12 teams in the tournament will make it to bracket play on Saturday, and are seeded based on pool-play record.
Even though Ferndale is the hosting the tournament and are the defending champions, coach Hank Schwartz said there is no pressure on the team to do well.
"The kids know there's a target on their back, but they are up for it," he said.
Bellingham, in group B, was one of six teams to play two games on the day, winning both contests to put them in good position as pool-play continues Friday. Bellingham defeated Othello 9-2 in the first game and starting pitcher Trenton Miller pitched a complete-game shutout to win the second game 1-0 over North Olympic.
Lynden won its C group pool-play opener 4-3 over Moses Lake and will play two games Friday against Forks (0-1) and Wenatchee (1-1).
A five-day tournament requires all hands on deck from Ferndale parent volunteers. Games run for four days, but many families were scheduled to arrive a day early to set up campers in the designated area by the fields and start team practice. While some parents run the concession stand, others take turns as the official team scorers for the games and help set up outfield fences.
Margie Roddel, secretary at Ferndale High School, will be scoring games on Saturday and Sunday. Her grandson, Aidan Roddel, manned center field in Thursday's game. Roddel said she tries to make it to every game to show her support. She was in the stands last year as Roddel's team won state and hopes to see it happen for a second year in a row.
"Whenever he tells me he loves me, I just tell him I've loved him longer," she said.
As relaxed as the atmosphere was on the opening day, tension will increase as the tournament rolls to single-elimination play on Saturday. Bellingham coach Damon Miller said he is already thinking about pitching match-ups for the elimination rounds. Miller, Schwartz and the other coaches are very familiar with each other from regular season and traveling tournament play.
"You'll start to see some personalities," he said.
In past tournaments, Roddel notices the effect the tension and the nerves have on the kids as the pressure and excitement gets more intense.
"The kids basically bounce around in the batter's box and can hardly stand still," she said.
While pressure-filled, the tournament highlights sportsmanship. After each game, the managers present a player-of-the-game pin to a member of the opposite team and congratulate them on their performance. Schwartz said it is important to recognize the kids and keep them motivated.
"This is baseball in its purest form," he said, "just kids playing ball."
Pool play continues with three games at 10 a.m. Friday, July 11, at the ConocoPhillips Sportsplex Baseball Fields. Lynden plays Forks at 10 a.m. and Wenatchee at 3 p.m. Bellingham faces Ellensburg at 12:30 p.m. in its only game of the day, and Ferndale plays Monroe at 10 a.m. and Spokane at 3 p.m.
Single-elimination bracket play starts at 10 a.m. Saturday and continues into the final rounds at 10 a.m. Sunday, July 13.
Reach Jeffrey Graham at Jeffrey.firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2271.