Friday night, Red Land Little League team gets back to baseball
The Red Land Little League team arrived at Williamsport around 1 p.m. Monday — one of the last teams to do so.
By the time it takes the field at 8 p.m. Friday — this time with Mid-Atlantic stitched across its uniforms — it will be one of the last teams to begin action in the Little League World Series.
Over the past few days, Red Land got a taste of what life is like as one of 16 teams to make it to youth baseball's grandest stage.
There was a 2 1/2-hour meeting with ESPN.
There was a workout with Baseball Factory — which is similar to the GoWags baseball facility that the team practices out of at home, according to head coach Tom Peifer.
There was the uniform pickup.
Lastly, on Wednesday night, there a parade through the town of Williamsport for all the teams.
The kids have been kept busy and on a tight schedule, which, surprisingly enough, doesn't leave a whole lot of time for practice.
"Honestly, the first time we got to practice was (Wednesday) afternoon," Peifer said. "From one thing to the next ... it's been non-stop, non-baseball stuff."
Meeting new people: While any coach would prefer an ample amount of time to practice — which was limited again on Thursday because of substantial rain in the area — the best thing for the wide-eyed Little Leaguers is to stay busy and keep their minds free of any thoughts about the pressure of actual competition. Fortunately, outside of all the arranged events that the team had to attend, the Little League complex offers the players even more alternatives that aren't baseball related.
When the players have had down time, it's been spent within the International Grove, the living area for the players where all 16 teams mingle with each other. This year, Red Land is living next to the team from Japan, sharing a bathroom with them and getting a unique opportunity to interact with other kids from a different culture. They go swimming in the pool, play ping-pong and video games and in general, get to meet new people from around the world.
"My son (Kaden Peifer), the other night, got two T-shirts that say 'Team Japan' on them," Peifer said. "So, they're trading pins, they're interacting. The Australian team has boomerangs that (our players) got from them and are just doing a bunch of cool things that most kids would never get the chance to do."
Local superstars: But, come Friday night, when the lights are at their brightest, it'll be back to business for the team from northern York County. It's been more than two weeks since the players were back home and, by the time Red Land's tournament run ends, it'll be nearly a month. That time away from the area has allowed the players, for the most part, to stay somewhat oblivious to their growing rock-star status in southcentral Pennsylvania, but they're getting a growing sense of how much attention and support they're generating. It's no longer just people from their hometowns either. Surrounding areas all across the midstate are throwing their support behind the team. That support has even crossed into Maryland. Thursday, Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter, pitcher Kevin Gausman and infielder Jonathan Schoop took to social media to wish Red Land good luck.
"I think social media definitely makes us aware, and also all the phone calls the coaches are receiving from different media outlets and things like that," Peifer said. "We know it's huge and we love it. It's unbelievable the support we've received and the people that are calling and saying that they want to take care of the team when we get back, but we're well aware of it."
Exceeding expectations: Peifer admitted that when he and the rest of the coaches — J.K. Kolmansberger and Bret Wagner — put together the team at the beginning of the summer, that Williamsport truly never crossed his mind. His primary goal was to win states, which it did for the first time since 1974. All the players selected had previous tournament experience, with three members from last year's team that finished third in the state returning — Cole Wagner, Chayton Krauss and Jaden Henline. The rest of team was part of the younger team that finished second in the state in 2014.
That experience has shown. The team has gone a perfect 16-0 in its run through districts, sectionals, states and, most recently, regionals. In the process, Red Land has outscored its opponents 244-13 and hasn't won a game by fewer than seven runs. They've also started to receive a reputation for hitting the long ball, crushing 80 home runs, or five per game, during this run.
"I think they all raised their game when they're playing with other good players," Peifer said. "They know they have to perform and there's competition amongst the team and they excel with that."
'Why not us': After winning the state tournament, Peifer mentioned to his coaching staff three simple words — "Why not us?" — and the slogan has stuck for the team ever since. The team accomplished the goal it set for itself at the beginning of the summer, but with baseball still to be played, it wasn't satisfied. So, the team entered the Mid-Atlantic Regional in Bristol, Connecticut, with that thought in mind and went out and dominated its opponents, winning its three games by a combined score of 36-5.
"The first practice we had after the state championship, we all got together and the message to the kids was 'Hey, why not us be the one to go to Williamsport,'" Peifer said. "I tell them all the time that, us as coaches — and I think that's what makes them so good is that we're never satisfied — we're always asking for more from them. And they're always giving it to us. Believe me, we're so proud of that. So, that was the first message to them after we won the state championship. 'We're not just happy to go to the Mid-Atlantic Regional. Let's try to go to Williamsport.'"
Now, after several thousands of tournament games have been played worldwide, Red Land is in Williamsport as one of the final 16 teams. It hasn't been tested all summer long, but will now face teams that are just as strong. Red Land will need at least five more wins to be the best team in the world and it must do so before it loses two games.
Red Land's first game is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday against the Midwest team, Webb-City Little League from Missouri. The game can be seen on ESPN.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @P_Strohecker