Devils team soaks in field of dreams

Local baseball players make the most of summer tradition excursion with title run

Earlier this month, the Hinsdale Devils Black 12U travel baseball team rolled in Cooperstown, N.Y., for a 5-day tournament.

Playing in the bucolic upstate New York town at the southern tip of Otsego Lake is a summer rite of passage for hundreds of youth travel programs around the country, not unlike the pilgrimage fans of the sport make to celebrate the icons of the game enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum located there.

Devils team member Ryder McLaurin said just being at such a venerated site was a lifetime moment.

"We were going for the experience and trying to trade pins and stuff like that," he said, referencing the custom of exchanges between the teams from around the country that descend on the Cooperstown Dream Park complex boasting 22 fields. "We weren't thinking that we were going to win the championship."

Think again.

The Devils were one of 54 teams in the mix in their week, June 7-12. After an opening ceremony the first day, the boys demonstrated their diamond skills in the team relay race by throwing the ball to one another around the field as quickly as possible. They clocked in at 19 seconds to win the contest.

The pool play rounds went well, their only blemish coming in a lopsided 19-3 loss to a highly touted side from Sacramento, Calif., and the team earned the ninth seed in the bracket. Team member Fred Sackley felt a special spirit of cohesion take hold as the competition unfolded, with the families and players bunked up in onsite dorms.

"Staying together as a team, that bonding kind of helped us win," Sackley said. "It connected us so we were all locked in at the same time."

In bracket play, that all-for-one mentality led the Devils to one win after another until they found themselves in the title match on June 12. Like a Hollywood screenplay, standing in the way was the team from Sacramento that had humbled them a couple days earlier.

"No one thought we were going to win," team member Kellen Goodwin acknowledged.

Teammate Michael Kipnis said that was just fine.

"We all knew going into the championship we were underdogs and were saying there's no pressure on us. All the pressure's on the other team," he said.

Pressure-free and playing their 11th game in five days, the hardy Hinsdaleans flipped the script and avenged the defeat in a 22-6 rout to capture top honors.

"We came together as a team and we bonded and we went out and had fun. That's why we won," team member Jackson Martin said. "The fields are amazing - it's a huge complex. It's just an overall fun experience."

Head coach Luke Goodwin admitted his surprise at how well disciplined the boys were, particularly in sticking to a reasonable bedtime.

"Every night at 11 p.m. they were lights out," he remarked. "They were just very mentally tough. We played four games on championship day and they were very focused in, which isn't always the case."

Assistant coach Damon Phelan said the boys' championship performance left an impression even on their foe.

"The (Sacramento) coach came over afterwards and said they'd never been beaten like that, ever," he said.

The fireworks during the closing ceremony that night must have sparkled just a little bit brighter for the team. The boys admitted that they had never appreciated their own beds and home cooking as much as they did upon their return.

Each player brought back a T-shirt, a championship ring and a commemorative coin as keepsakes of the special week. Player Matthew Wiskowski said he came away with more than just trinkets.

"It was probably one of the best experiences of my life playing baseball, and then winning it just made it 10 times better," he said.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean