The Whatcom Americans are a powerhouse team, a mixture of the best baseball players under 12 years old from all over Whatcom County and they intend to keep their winning record going into the biggest tournament any of them have ever played — the Cal Ripken World Series.
“I think everyone is a little nervous about it,” said Jacob Kaepernick, a member of the team. “But I think that if we just play our game and don’t stress out, we will do very good.”
The seven-day tournament will be held August 7-14, in Monticello, Arkansas.
It has been a dominating season for the Americans, the second team from Whatcom County to compete in the history of the tournament. They qualified after winning the Pacific Northwest Regional on July 25 in Meridian, Idaho.
The regional championship game was his favorite so far, Kaepernick said. But as big a win as that was, the team is moving on to even stiffer competition, in much hotter weather.
On Friday, when the games begin, the weather is forecast at 99 degrees with over 60 percent humidity.
“It will be good,” Kaepernick said. “For our team, we don’t usually play in that kind of heat. It’ll be a good challenge.”
Whatcom coach Hank Schwarz believes the boys can go all the way and be the first Whatcom team to win the Cal Ripken World Series. If they play at the top of their game and do not lose focus, the weather will be their biggest worry.
“The boys are ready,” Schwarz said. “They’re chomping at the bit, they want to get going, they want to play ball and they want to bring home a trophy. They think they can do it and so do I.”
At the regional championship, Schwarz was surprised with how easily his team got through. He recalls a parent telling him the players are better than he realized, and he admits now that was the case, he said.
The team had four errors in five games, an accomplishment that shows how focused each individual player has been.
Four games ended early because of the 10-run mercy rule.
Kaepernick went 10 for 14 at the plate during the regional. Kobe Sandstrom pitched the championship game and allowed only one hit, no walks and struck out six.
The Americans will be the first on the field at the World Series.
As a group, they have set goals for a clean defense and an overall solid showing in Arkansas, all while not stressing out.
“We have our same routine, every tournament, and it looks like it’s working,” Americans catcher Greg Roberts said. “Look at regionals, we came in relaxed and look what happened when we stayed relaxed, we dominated. So we want to go in relaxed, and stay humble.”
Roberts has been catching for the Americans nearly every game and he looks back on that as the best part of being on this team. He was able to get to know the pitchers better than before and become more confident behind the plate.
Prior to the Americans, Roberts was on Cascade Crush, a joint team of Whatcom and Skagit Counties and British Columbia. It is mindblowing, he said, to see how good the teams in this region are.
On Friday, July 31, the Americans went up against a White Rock, B.C. team that provided them some of the best competition yet before going to the World Series. It was a good game, neither side giving any slack, and the Americans came out victorious by a single run.
It was really great to go up against White Rock, “their brothers to the north,” Roberts said. Some of the players he had known from Cascade Crush, when Schwarz was one of the coaches.
“We called him Hank the tank,” Roberts said. “He was so in your face, woah, awesome baseball coach. When I got to play for him it was a whole different form of coaching.”
Schwarz is dedicated to making sure the opportunity to go to the World Series is not wasted. He wants to give the players like Roberts who dreams of playing in the Major League, the chance to enjoy their successful season.
Monday night was the last team practice and Tuesday is a day of rest for the team. They will all be leaving before sunrise Wednesday morning to fly out of Seattle and arrive in Monticello late that evening.
“It’s going to be hectic,” Schwarz said. “And on top of everything else the competition is just going to be phenomenal.”
A winning season is exciting, but it can also be a drain on the support system of such a young team. Becoming state champions, then regional and now going on to the World Series in the span of a month can be financially tough.
Last week the team put on car washes and raised community support. In six days they raised nearly $22,000 to be divided up among the 13 families of the players to offset costs of flying to Arkansas, lodging and food.
“The entire county has been overwhelming us with their generosity and their donations,” Schwarz said.
The World Series may be the biggest, farthest and toughest competition that anyone on the Whatcom Americans has seen yet.
But, it’s still baseball and as these 13 boys have proved, they know how to play.
Correction: The money raised for the Whatcom Americans to go to the World Cup is actually $22,000.
Cal Ripken World Series
Pool Play: August 7-10
Single Elimination Bracket: August 11-14
Championship: August 14