12U Longhorns Walk Off the All-Star State Championship and the Summer Season

12U Longhorns Walk Off the All-Star State Championship and the Summer Season

[Editor’s Note:  This week’s summary is going old-school with endnotes; for the time-crunched readers and those with short attention spans, however……TL;DR – Longhorns win last summer tournament in epic fashion, Sonic earnings are going to skyrocket, stopped-up drains and related infrastructure issues in Buckhead directly attributable to motivational challenge; thank you to the players, parents and, most importantly, coaches.]

As the summer baseball season winds down for most of NYO’s teams, it seems appropriate to remember how, in theory, the players got to where they are and why, conceptually, they play at NYO(1).  NYO’s mission statement is to be “a premier youth athletic program where young people learn life and athletic skills through team sports that emphasize character building, sportsmanship, healthy competition, and positive coaching as part of a family friendly and safe community(2).”  It would be easy enough to “mail in” another bandwidth-sucking column replete with typical alliterative summer summaries(3) such as:  game schedules requiring work-week rush-hour Interstate commutes (true); the omnipresent specter Mother Nature’s sense of humor at work and dumping sheets of rain on the team only after all the families fought their way through a brutal commute (also true); one broken down coach’s car (true); tournament directors from OTP seemingly having it in for ITP teams and all but putting the kibosh on the best laid plans of a wonderful coaching staff trying to add a social aspect to his team’s last tournament (possibly true, but no need to cast stones, right?); a bunch of scrappy 12 year olds, some of whom were fighting the summer flu, and others who were fighting thoughts of impending vacations and endless days floating in the pool or at the beach, playing six games in about 30 hours (VERY true); and sugar consumption that would make even the most money-hungry endocrinologist cringe(4) (unbelievably true).

There could be another rehash solely of the weekend’s games played that could be eerily similar to prior recaps, with only a few changes to the data points.  This could include, among many others:

– a weekend opening tilt against school, neighborhood and NYO friends is never easy.  It tests mental mettle much more than the physical, which challenge in the instant case was exacerbated by the loss of two Longhorns to illness.  In no great surprise, the second-to-none Longhorn coaching staff had the shorthanded ‘Horns up to the task, led by stellar pitching from Both Berry Brothers (now I don’t feel as bad for having mixed them up on the mound) keeping the Indians off balance, and error free defense behind the twins.  And while the hits may not have been aplenty due in part to strong opposition pitching and the challenge of playing long-time compatriots, in no great surprise to anyone, and in an effort to give me carpal tunnel from typing the same thing every week – but ensuring his grandparents put me on the Christmas card list – Justin Early put bat on ball over and over to lead the Horns in RBIs and give them just enough offense to overcome the Indians.

– Pool game 2 against the battle-tested Sandy Springs Storm was Vintage Longhorns – taxing the coaching staff more than anyone else (except perhaps the parents forced to sit idly and watch) and forcing them to wring out every last bit of heart and fight out of the still shorthanded and sore-armed Longhorns.  Despite some early miscues, the Longhorns never gave up, clawing their way back into the game, possibly to the delight of no one more than a certain former Storm player who had seen the light and defected to NYO. A late comeback was keyed by baserunners aplenty including rally-starter Brooks Beach, a 2-run double by Emma Simon(5) followed by defensive stalwart Noah Glenn contributing a run-scoring triple and Ayden Long, still smiling after showing his best “sun’s out, guns out” arm in shutting down a potential key base stealer,  showing more disdain for former stablemates with a fence shaking double.  Late inning drama ensued, as the ‘Horns put themselves in walk-off position with RISP in the last inning, but couldn’t plate a late run and had to settle for a tie which, as the coaches would learn, had the potential to monkey-wrench Sunday.

– Before Sunday, however, there was still work to do in the form of a third pool game.  Fueled by Dacula’s Best Cheesemuffins(6), Head Coach Brad Glenn and Assistant Head Coaches Lee Caswell and Michael Thorne pulled out their protractors and TI calculators and did the math to maximize the opportunities for additional sleep and a beneficial Sunday draw, thus avoiding the dreaded monkey wrench!  And as it turns out, these guys ready for AP calculus!  Needing to keep the Parkview Panthers off the board in order to avoid an early wake up call, Noah Glenn was up to the task on the mound, rifling an 8 strikeout complete game one-hitter(7), and offensively providing a huge spark as well.  Not to be outdone, the defense backed him up, with another error free effort, and the team offered enough offensive production to avoid any late inning drama.  With some extra sleep confirmed, it was off for a late-night Sonic run, under the guise of “due diligence” for potential investment.

– Sunday dawning with players and coaches looking to make one final deep tournament run.  But it would require all sorts of magic – the type that the coaching staff has preached from Day 1 that would come from heart, commitment, support of each other, belief and, just maybe, more sugar.  Coaching strategery(8)  was going to be critical to manage The Process, and senior management did not disappoint.  Buoyed by the return of missing teammates, the Longhorns made quick work of Mill Creek, anchored by a complete game, two-hitter from Emma Simon.  She was helped all around, as the defense was stellar, including both Ayden Long and Justin Early throwing out baserunners in a redux of Saturday.  The bats came alive, with multi-hit games from just-over his-sickness Brayden Bassett, Aiden Berry and (again, really????) Justin Early.  Logan Lutz’s commitment to team, solid defense and smooth swing were finally rewarded as his RBI double(9) keyed a big inning to all but put the game out of reach.  At this point, it must be mentioned that, in a true testament to NYO and its Mission, after a frustrating at-bat for a certain Longhorn, a non-coach-father-of-player-on-another-NYO-team-playing-the-tournment (phew!), sensed the frustration and had an in-game chat with said player(10).  What happened next was the only thing to be expected – Elliot Stewart proved Michael Raponi a seer, and hit his first bomb of the season, and the day, securing the victory.

– Ace and possessor of quite possibly the sweetest ever pickoff move to first Brayden Bassett toeing the rubber for the Longhorns’ semifinal matchup, eager to match his teammates prior pitching successes and help the Longhorns avenge an early season defeat.  Adding to the Team First concept, the Longhorns sensed “good vibes” from the outset as Matias Raponi’s flu returned and felled him, but he insisted on sticking it out to provide moral support for the team for the remaining games (11)  .  The once again shorthanded Longhorns didn’t disappoint.   With Brayden on the bump and Mattias’ support, the Longhorn bats got to work quickly.  Elliot Stewart made it clear he used the between game break to watch old YouTube videos(12), and he cranked his second homer of the day, in back-to-back plate appearances.  Also contributing multi-hit games to the offensive outburst were Aiden Berry, Ayden Long and Justin Early(13), with Brooks Beach adding a big 3 RBI double for good measure, ensuring the Blue Devils hopes were dashed.

– With the Longhorns securing a place in the tournament finals, everyone knew the next step wouldn’t be easy.  The ‘Horns had earned a rematch with the tournament-tough, just back from a successful run at Cooperstown, Sandy Springs Storm.   But to steal from Chris Berman –  nobody circles the wagons like the Brad Glenn-led Longhorns!  Facing the Storm’s ace, the ‘Horns coaches knew they would have to draw the best out of the team.  Ice-in-his-veins Alex Berry took the hill for the Longhorns, and kept the Storm off-balance for the full 6 innings.  Pitching masterfully and allowing only 2 runs over the course of the complete game, Alex also led the team with 2 hits – a true yeoman’s effort.  But runs were at a premium on both sides of the ball as the Storm wouldn’t relent, and the entire Longhorn team knew the drill – back up solid pitching with good defense.  Brooks Beach’s unassisted DP was bested only by another diving catch by Noah Glenn in center field, and Aiden Berry ruling right field.  Offensively, Logan Lutz proving the old adage of “patience young grasshopper”  will sometimes ring true laced a key double and worked his way home for the ‘Horns only early run.  And with the Longhorns down one run going into the home half of the last inning, never had Coach Glenn’s approach been more prescient.  Working with a scrappy team of both players and rookie coaches, his philosophical ideal was that all should grow personally and assume more responsibility as the season progressed.  And with three outs left in the season, Assistant Head Coach Thorne stepped up into a key role and dropped the motivational hammer(14)!

– With the Storm looking to ride their ace through a complete game, the Longhorns responded!  Alex Berry helped himself with a single, and Brooks Beach quickly said “me too” with a hard hit single.  Justin Early gave himself up for the better of the team, doing a phenomenal job of taking an outside pitch and putting it in play to the right side to advance the runners into scoring position.  In a bit of Reverse Mark Fidrych, the baseball told the pitcher that it was scared, and to not to give Elliot Stewart anything to hit, preferring to take their chances further down the lineup.  With that walk and the bases loaded and one out, and trailing by one, Emma Simon stepped to the plate.  Still harboring some anger over not being able to bring the winning run home in the pool round against the Storm, she ran the count to 2-2.  Undaunted, she then fouled off a barrage of pitches – inside, outside and off speed –  to extend the AB.  After nine pitches and a few collective deep breaths (and possibly some screaming) by everyone in the stands, she dug in one last time and sent a high fastball to straight away center field.  Alex Berry trotted home, and Brooks Beach chased after him, beating the throw with a great slide befitting one of the smartest baserunners on the team to give the Longhorns a truly team-earned walk off tournament win.  While the ensuing on field celebration would have made the Braves proud, the real celebration was reserved for another post-game Sonic run.

But like I said, as an era comes to a close, it doesn’t seem right to focus solely on the scores of the games.  Assistant Head Coach Caswell summed it up wonderfully – “success” is much more than just about the score of the game; it’s learning from the overall experience: calls will sometimes go your way, and other times they won’t; you may have a “bad day at the plate” but you fight through the adversity to become stronger; your “teammate” may need someone to pick them up when they are down – and when you are that person, you all become better; you should surround yourself with people who will do the same for you; believe in yourself; act in a way to make yourself and others better, and you will be a success.

The 11 players on the 2018 NYO 12U Longhorns likely don’t yet realize how lucky they were to be surrounded by the coaches they had – and I hope the parents of the kids do.  While the kids’ successes will be judged in the future, these men are truly successes in every sense of the word, and embody the Mission of NYO.  Head Coach Brad Glenn has been giving of his time, efforts and energy to NYO for 20-some odd years now.  Rookie summer baseball Assistant Head Coaches Lee Caswell and Michael Thorne grew up at NYO and just sacrificed half of their summer for 11 kids whom they had not met prior to the first day of practice(15), serving as coaches, mentors, motivators joke tellers, and at times babysitters.  If, in 15 years, we as parents can look at our children and say “they are doing things that Coach Caswell and Coach Thorne would do” – or possibly even serve as an assistant coach to either of them, then I think it would be a “success.” Perhaps it was fitting that the 12U Longhorn summer season seemingly kicked off on a bit of a rocky road, given the coaches’ penchant for sweets.  But by the end of the summer, no one would question that it was as sweet and satisfyingly smooth as that Strawberry Limeade with Nerds that the coaches were guzzling.

On behalf of the players and their families, thank you to the coaches for everything you did this summer(16).

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(1).  For many Longhorns, and their families, they have been playing, and learning fundamentals of, baseball, and life, at NYO for 5-7 years, for 2-3 seasons a year.  Some of the parents are old!

(2).  Query whether the NYO founding fathers considered the right to an intruder-free hotel stay in crafting this language.  If so, the Organization has a long way to go to in working with parents to fulfill its mission.

(3).  I originally typed “vignettes” here, but then realized I could work the alliteration angle a bit more with “summaries.”  Thanks for your understanding.

(4).  Yes, I know there is no study directly linking sugar intake with increased risk of diabetes, but needed to use some poetic license to tie this out.  Please don’t start sending PubMed or other articles to debunk, or call me a truther working for Big Sugar.

(5)   We may hear about this again.

(6)   Capital letters since I’m absolutely using that name for all future fantasy sports and slow-pitch softball teams.

(7).  Not to pick on anyone here, but air traffic control just called, and they think the one hit given up is almost about to come back to earth.

(8).  Please, please do not consider this a political statement at all.  It’s simply taken from the SNL satire.  Again, no political statements are made or implied, and NYO does not endorse any such statements.

(9).  TBD whether coaching decision leading to substitute runner for the catcher of record cost Lutz an RBI here.  The League is reviewing.

(10).  Ignore for a second the coaches don’t want parental involvement during the game.  It ruins the narrative.  Can someone ensure that Greg Binney sees this before he leaves for Alaska – just in case he gets eaten by a grizzly bear while there?

(11).  Reports that if he would have gone home early that his mom would have cancelled his fishing trip are still unconfirmed.  Have fun Matty!

(12).  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLECMCargd8

(13).  I’m going to expect a check in the mail from the grandparents.

(14).  We defer to Coach Thorne on whether the “speech” is for public consumption or was a private team matter.  But if you see him, and he kept his word, you’ll quickly know.

(15).  With these guys so committed to Longhorn baseball on the weekends, I’m surprised The Ivy was even able to stay in business.

(16).  I fully intended to thank the parents, by name, for the official (and unofficial) Longhorn jobs they did this summer.  But I’m getting charged by the page.

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