The Keystone State Games are a bit unusual.
The annual "Festival of Sports," as it's known, attracts athletes of all age groups from across the state and region to compete for medals. This year's games are being held in York County, with York College as the presenting sponsor.
But, what makes the Keystone Games different from most other, similar games, are some of the sports in which the athletes compete. Events such as bocce, pickleball, horseshoes and shuffleboard are just some of the "different" events that are part of the games.
However, even in the more common sports, such as baseball, ice hockey and basketball, the five-day event, which began Wednesday, presents the athletes with a new opportunity.
For many of the competitors who are in high school, they're used to playing with the same kids for years, while also going up against the same opponents during the season. But, in the Keystone State Games, those opponents become teammates. The event also brings in a new crop of competition from other regions within Pennsylvania.
For a handful of York County baseball players, they're getting a taste of some of the differences of the Keystone State Games.
"It means a lot to me because I feel honored, really, to be a part of this team, the best players in the region," said Roberto Barranca, who will be a 10th grader this fall at Dallastown. "To go against the other best teams and players around the state, it's really an honor to play for this team and I'm glad I'm a part of it."
Local flavor: Barranca is a member of the Capital junior team, which consists of players who will be entering the ninth or 10th grades in the fall. Along with Barranca, there are five other kids from York County playing on the team. Dover's Alan Hansel and Central York's Brandon Walters will both be sophomores this fall, while Northeastern's Robert Elzinga is entering his freshman year. Meanwhile, York City resident Juan Lopez commutes north during the school year to attend Bishop McDevitt, and Joey Cotto goes to Red Land.
For some of the kids on the team, playing alongside new teammates and unfamiliar faces isn't hard to adjust to. But, for others, like Elzinga, it's proving to be a learning experience.
"Some of them, I haven't played with before, so it's new to play with them," Elzinga said. "But, it's good to play with new people."
Individually, a few of the York County products have fared well in the team's first two games. Central York's Walters and Red Land's Cotto both recorded singles in the Capital team's second game on Thursday against the Delaware Valley team, while Elzinga pitched three scoreless innings without allowing a hit.
However, not all the pieces have clicked for the team yet. It lost both games on Thursday, the second one a 4-1 defeat where it was plagued by a four-run second inning by Delaware Valley.
Using lumber, not aluminum: On top of that, the Keystone State Games replace the "ping" of aluminum bats with the "crack" of wood ones. Just another difference in this event that the kids have to adapt to.
For most of them, this will be the first tournament they'll compete in where they have to use wooden bats. It's definitely created a different game, where several hard-hit balls in Thursday afternoon's game went from sure-fire hits to loud outs.
Barranca is feeling the wrath of wooden bats in a different way, however. In the first two games of the tournament, he's broken two bats. Still, he likes the fact that the young guys are being forced to use wood because it separates the men from the boys, so to speak.
"I actually like playing with wood bats," he said. "Sometimes I feel like certain wood bats are better than BBCOR (aluminum) bats and it also gets you to see who are the real hitters because anyone can hit with a metal bat, but not everyone can hit with a wood bat."
Despite being 0-2 after the first day of play, the Capital junior team still is guaranteed at least three more games. It'll play two more on Friday and, while it's probably out of the running for a gold medal, will still get at least one game in the knockout round.
The team's first game on Friday is at 10:30 p.m. at Central York and then it will play later in the afternoon to determine its placing for its final game.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @P_Strohecker