08/23/2014 10:52 AM
BIG DREAMS START IN LITTLE LEAGUES
By Sarah Kincart
As the end of summer nears, so do the days of summer baseball. The major league teams still have about two months left, but with the start of school around the corner, now is the time when little league baseball teams are competing to go to the 'ship.
As boys across the country strive to be local champions, they also take the time to turn on the TV and watch in fascination the Little League World Series tournament, where the best in the country face off in Williamsport, PA.
Although it's been about ten years since some of the Cyclone players have played their glory days at their hometown parks, they still carry fond memories of little league with them as they progress on their baseball careers.
Cyclones right-handed pitcher, Gaither Bumgardner remembers watching the Little League World Series on TV and wishing he was there, just like every other 12 year old. “I was always jealous because they got to play on nice fields and go to Williamsport and miss school. That was probably the biggest thing. They got to miss the first two weeks of school and I was always jealous because they were playing baseball.”
However, Bumgardner points out a one particular moment from his 11 year-old little league days, a game that he will always remember. “My favorite memory from little league, we had an early game and my dad couldn’t come to the first three innings, I had never hit a homerun and I hit my first homerun and he wasn’t there to see it. He got there a little later and I came up with the bases loaded, and I hit a grand slam. So, I hit two homeruns in that game and he got to see the second one.”
Growing up in Colorado, Tucker Tharp recalls having to start spring ball in not the most ideal baseball conditions. At the beginning of the season, his little league team would practice in the snow, but says that looking back it was all worth it. “I was ten years old, on the Little League Yankees team for North Boulder League and we practiced in the snow and that was kinda our mantra. And then we ended up making the championship game and we all got t-shirts that said “for this day we practiced in the snow”.”
Little league is also the time when most players really fall in love with the game. Their skills and performances on the field improve and the game starts to become second nature. At this point, the players have played together for a couple of years and coaches start to have more of an influence. Tharp says the influence from his younger coaches is what sparked his love for the game. “They were 22,23 at the time. They just made me fall in love with it.”
For Bumgardner, the love of the game and technique advice from his little league coaches remain with him still to this day. “I had a coach who said I wouldn’t ever want to throw curveballs because it was bad for us, he was right. But I wanted to throw a pitch that moved, so he introduced me to a two seamer, which I still throw. So, him telling me that directly led to me still being able to play now, because that’s my go-to fastball, a two seamer.”
At this young age, coaches may have a big impact as the kids develop, but professional players also act as role models. The little leaguers even start to imitate the batting stances, pitching wind-ups, and even style appearances in hopes to be the next best.
“I didn’t wear any batting gloves. I thought it was cool to spit in my hands and rub dirt. Mark McGwire was pretty big back then and he was always hitting homeruns, so I tried to be like him on the field,” says Tharp.
“I always emulated Chipper Jones, that was my favorite player growing up. I always wore my pants up because he did, early on in his career especially. I played shortstop instead of third, but I still watched him and Derek Jeter.”
Today, little leaguers may not be imitating Mark McGwire or Chipper Jones, but instead they are imitating players like Mike Trout and Yasiel Puig, the stars who Tharp and Bumgardner just may have the opportunity to play aside in the future. One thing that little leaguers and minor league players have in common is the dream of making it to the show. Until then, the cyclones will continue to battle for the wild card spot in the NYPL playoffs and kids will daydream about playing baseball as they go back to school in the next few weeks.