COOPERSTOWN,NY --Twelve local little-leaguers made the three-and-a-half-hour trip North that many baseball fans and players dream of making.
The Harvard Hit Dogs participated in the Cooperstown Little League Invitational Tournament, where they finished with a 4-2 record against teams from as far west as Irvine, California.
"It's a parent's dream for their kids, it couldn't have been better," said head coach Joe Jarosz. "We had never taken a team to Cooperstown. The idea got planted a year-and-a-half ago. We had a tight group of nine Harvard kids who have played baseball since they were six-years-old together and a bunch of parents who were willing to sacrifice part of their summer to make it happen."
Back in January, Harvard youth baseball held a fundraiser at Billiards Cafe in downtown Ayer called "Cooperstown or Bust." The parents and players worked hard to raise the necessary funds to send the Hit Dogs to the hallowed Cooperstown grounds.
Harvard played in what was regarded as the intermediate tournament, which was held in the Cooperstown All-Star Village.
On the Hit Dogs' first day in Cooperstown, they were asked to nominate players to compete in the skills competition. A quiet, unassuming Andrew Hill stepped into the batter's box for the homerun-derby with cool and calm confidence. Hill slapped five home-runs in the derby and finished third out of 32 participants. Unfortunately, only the top two competitors advance to the finals.
The All-Star Village features eight playing fields situated in a manner where spectators can watch multiple games at one viewing angle. Harvard was one of 32 teams and in its first game, they trailed by 15 runs in the first inning against Irvine.
No, Harvard did not mount a historic comeback, but they still managed to plate seven runs in its 20-7 loss to the Irvine Diamondbacks.
"Our first game was Sunday early afternoon and an hour into the game, we were down 15-0 to the Irvine Diamondbacks in the top of the first," the coach said. "At that point, the four coaches looked at each other and said "maybe this is going to be a long week," but the kids rebounded and played well the rest of the game. We ended up losing that first game and ended up getting on a bit of a roll."
A roll indeed, as the Hit Dogs won four out of their five remaining games. Harvard's second loss came in their fourth game against Saginaw, Michigan, who would later advance to the quarterfinals of the tournament along with Irvine.
"The four games we won were come-from-behind victories," he said. "Both of the teams that we lost to made it to the quarterfinals, so I think we overachieved in a lot of ways.
A lot of those teams were groups of kids who play together year-round. "Though most of our kids are from Harvard, there was never a time when they were on the same team. They were always competing against each other."
The Harvard coaches and players stayed in a dorm that Jarosz described as a "garage with bunk beds" for a total of nine days. It was baseball all the time, but the team did get the chance to view the storied Baseball Hall of Fame.
"We spent three to four hours in the hall itself," the coach said. "Each group sort of went their own way. It's bigger than you can do in the afternoon that we were there. For 12-year-olds and some of them are 11, hours in a museum, even though it is a baseball museum, is a lot. Everybody got a piece of Cooperstown to take home with them."
Jarosz had never visited Cooperstown until this summer's trip with the Hit Dogs. His favorite part was not seeing Hank Aaron's 715th home run bat or any of the other relics. No, it was the smiles and joy of the 12 young men and coaches that accompanied him.
"I think that my favorite part was seeing the kid's awe at some of the stats and players," said Jarosz. "Everybody has a favorite player. There is a current part of the hall that has artifacts from recent games, etc. Watching old films of Babe Ruth trot around the bases doesn't necessarily excite them."
Jarosz hopes to bring the Hit Dogs back to Cooperstown next summer for the tournament. Out of the 12 kids on the team, eight belted homeruns.
"I think it is something that we have definitely thought about bringing the next team together," the coach said. "Everybody contributed. It wasn't one of those things where you have three studs that sort of dominate what happens on the field.
"Every kid on the team pitched at some point, they all hit and fielded well. They were never up-tight or nervous, they always played pretty loose. It seems like it was a long time ago, but it was just last week."