COVENTRY — The Coventry Babe Ruth 13-year-old all-star team is about to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime road trip full of fun and sightseeing, but the main point of the trip to Williston, N.D. isn’t lost on the players and the coach.
“This is vey exciting. We wanted to do it last year, but now we get to go to North Dakota,” centerfielder Nick D’Ambra said. “We’re nervous and excited. We know all the teams are going to be good, but we also know that we’re good.”
“We’re going up there not knowing anything about the teams we are playing. We’re just going to play to our fullest potential,” catcher Cam Reid said. “We have a good team and we have the potential to go far in this tournament.”
“If they go up and have fun and play baseball the way they can, we’re going to be successful,” Coventry coach Mark Barter said after Tuesday night’s practice.
The 13 players and four coaches depart for Williston Thursday morning and won’t be back in the Ocean State until Sunday, Aug. 25. In the 11 days in between, the Coventry kids will be staying with host families, listening to NBA coaching legend Phil Jackson at a banquet and playing baseball – lots of baseball.
Coventry is one of 10 teams headed to the oil town looking to win the World Series title. Coventry is in the American Division along with El Segundo, Calif., Tri-Counties, Texas, North Dakota state champion Fargo and Tulitan Hills, Oregon.
Barter said he’s done some reconnaissance work on Coventry’s opponents and has discovered the two west coast teams have played plenty of baseball together this summer.
Barter said the El Segundo team has played over 40 games together, while Coventry has only played 10.
Coventry and El Segundo will be the first teams to play at Aafedt Stadium when the tournament starts Saturday morning at 11:00 a.m. Barter said he likes playing in the opening game.
“I don’t mind playing the first game at all,” Barter said. “The way I look at it, let’s get on the field quick. If you watch the first few games you can almost start psyching yourself out. Let’s go on the field, let’s play and let’s have teams thinking about us.”
Coventry will take Sunday off before returning to the field Monday night at 5:30 p.m. to face Tri-Counties. Tuesday Coventry will face Tuliton Hills before facing off with Fargo in the pool-play final Wednesday morning.
If Coventry is going to advance deep into the tournament, the players and coaches acknowledged it will be because of their bats. After a slow start in the state tournament, Coventry’s offense exploded in Manchester as the New England champions scored 50 runs in its last three wins.
Manny Bjorklund hit two runs in the two titles games, while Joey Barter, D’Ambra, Reid, Jarrad Grossguth and Kyle Brown all pounded the ball against Westfield, Mass. and Plymouth, Mass.
“We just have to go out there and play our game,” Grossguth said. “If we play our game we’re capable of doing very well.”
“We’ve been doing a lot of hitting,” Joey Barter said. “Our defense has been doing pretty well, but our offense needs to keep coming around because we’re going to see some pretty good pitching. We don’t need to hit bombs every time, we just need to get hits.”
Coventry’s defense has been steady during the all-star season, but the pitching will need to improve if Coventry is going to hang with the best teams in the country. Coventry gave up at least seven runs in its last five New England tournament games.
Bjorklund only threw two innings in the first title game before arm trouble took him off the mound. Grossguth has dealt with arm issues, while Barter, Brown, Brendan Organ, Josh Andrade and Colin Sutyla will all be needed to throw innings in Williston.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience,” Bjorklund said. “I get to play the sport that I love and I’m just going to have fun and play baseball.”
The National Division features tournament host Williston, along with Grand Forks, N.D., Niskayuna, N.Y., Guernsey Valley, Ohio and Lawrenceburg, Tenn.
The winner of both divisions will receive a bye into next Friday’s semifinals, while the teams which finish second and third will play in the quarterfinals Thursday.
“This is something these kids should be talking about for the next 50 years,” Barter said. “They’re 13 years old, representing New England and Coventry in the World Series and there are only eight regional champions. There are thousands and thousands of teams, so this is special.”