Locals live out Cooperstown ‘dream’
BY KEVIN WOODRUFF
Last week a group of area athletes had the opportunity of a lifetime as they headed toCooperstown,N.Y., to compete in a baseball tournament atCooperstownDreamsPark.
Nestled in theMeccaof baseball, theDreamsParkplayed host to the Endless Mountains Bullets, coached byElkLakeHigh Schoolvarsity coach Jim Phillips.
The team, comprised of 11 and 12 year-old Little League players from Susquehanna andWyomingCounty, got a chance to play against some of the best teams from around the country in their age group.
Although the Bullets finished up the tournament with a 1-6 record, coach Phillips said it was a valuable experience for all.
“Even if they went 0-7 every year I brought them up here it would still be worth it,” Phillips said. “Just to see them smile and have fun playing.”
This is Phillips’ 10th year bringing the Bullets team toCooperstown, ninth as head coach.
He said the team is comprised of elite baseball players from the area.
“I talk to all the Little League coaches in the area,” Phillips said. “And since I’ve been doing it for so long it’s pretty easy to compile a team.”
The team meets for a few times throughout the winter months at Elk Lake to get to know one another, and practice a few times before the tournament inCooperstowngets started.
Phillips said it’s a great opportunity for the players because it gives them an opportunity to bridge the gap between playing Little League and moving up to junior high teams.
“They play by high school rules,” Phillips said. “So it makes it a little easier when they come out for high school ball in the spring.”
It’s also a good opportunity because it gives the players a chance to see what a wide variety of competition looks like.
“We didn’t play aPennsylvaniateam until the last day,” Phillips said.
He noted that the level of competition is head and shoulders above what they are used to seeing while playing in District 15 Little League.
“We played against a team fromLos Angeleson the first day,” Phillips said. “And the kids kind of had that deer in the headlights look.”
Even though the Bullets didn’t fare as well this year, Phillips said that’s not always the case.
“It rides waves,” Phillips said. “Sometimes we’ll come up and do well, other times we won’t.”
Given that some teams that compete at theDreamsParkare baseball academy teams from across the country that live baseball all year round, there is sure to be a few mismatches here and there.
But theDreamsParkorganizers do their best to give players a fair shake.
“They try to keep teams of similar skill levels together,” Phillips said. “Each year before the tournament you have to fill out a form that gives them your skill level.”
This year, the Bullets were in the “Travel team” division, even though theDreamsParktournament is the team’s only action of the year.
“Since we’ve been coming here for so long, we get bumped up into the travel team division,” Phillips said.
Even though that translated to being romped by a few teams throughout the week, Phillips said the team kept smiling and played great baseball.
“We were told by a lot of people that if there was a sportsmanship award, we’d be the team to get it,” Phillips said.
Zeb Feduchak, 12, of Lenox, a rising seventh grader atMountain View, is in his second year of attending the tournament and said that he enjoys it because it gives him another opportunity to play baseball.
“It’s nice to get to play after Little League,” Feduchak said. “The teams are really good.”
Evan Turner, 12, of Tunkhannock, also in his second year, said his highlight of the week was getting to pitch two innings.
He plans on moving on to play in high school at Tunkhannock Area.
Another second-year Bullet Bryden Jerauld, of Montrose, who played shortstop and pitched said his highlight of the week was getting to hit some homeruns.
“I had three homeruns,” Jerauld said. “Two of them were in the same game.”
The Bullet team is comprised of Feduchak, Turner, Jerauld, Keith Ely, Jack Waldenberger, Conner Hulslander, Zeb Swartley, Dylan Fernald, Matt Lavin, Derek Stento and Sean Harder.
Although Phillips serves as the head coach, he has help from assistants Guy Ely, Bob Fernald, Pete Waldenberger and Adam Phillips.
Also representing the county atCooperstownDreamsParklast week was Willie Wehler, who for the second consecutive year, served as an umpire for the weeklong tournament.