By Shaiah McLain, Special to the AFRO
Most are familiar with the song, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” which is typically sung by fans during the 7th inning stretch at major league baseball games all over the country. Well, recently 12-year old baseball players from Maryland could have sang “take me out to Cooperstown.”
Members of the Howard County Youth Program (HCYP), Raiders Black baseball team attended the All-Star Village in Cooperstown, NY., to compete against other little league teams from all over the country. Players received a major league experience at a state-of-the-art facility, which also provided housing for teams and coaches. They were given new uniforms and jackets, and the opportunity to play on 12 well manicured fields.
During Opening Ceremonies, 60 teams walked onto the field and were introduced as thousands of spectators cheered. On the first day, teams chose players who participated in skills challenges including the Home Run Derby, Fastest Runner, Fastest Double Play, and the Team Relay. In the final round of the Home Run Derby, Luis Mendoza, a player from California shattered the record by hitting 28 home runs! This was a great start to a week of baseball.
The HCYP Raiders Black was one of five teams from the Baltimore/ D.C. area. They played a total of nine exciting games against teams from California, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Wisconsin over five days. Screams and cheers could be heard as Ryan Davis, Xavier Gilliam, and Issa Mansour each hit a home run out of the park. Center fielder and pitcher Collin McLain hit three home runs in two of the games. The Raiders Black had several defensive plays which made teams think twice about stealing bases and scoring runs. Pitchers Andrew Choi, Ben Fichter, Noah Murdock, and James Wescott struck out players from opposing teams and helped lead the team defensively. Head Coach Anthony Kerere continued to encourage the Raiders Black players to do their best and “be a bulldog.” Coach Kalen and Coach Mike took turns being base coaches and keeping the players together as they traveled around the complex.
As another perk, the players went to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. While there, they saw the bronze plaques that included the stats from baseball’s greatest players, including those that played in The Negro League; umpires, managers, and executives. There were special exhibits that included “Diamond Dreams,” about women who impacted baseball on the field, as executives, and commentators; while “Viva Baseball!” showed artifacts of how Caribbean countries and Latin players impacted baseball today.
One of the favorite activities at Cooperstown was trading baseball pins. Teams designed pins, which represented their mascot or state and players. The objective of the week was to collect pins from all of the teams and umpires as keepsakes. Most players pinned them to a towel or kept them in a case. Even though the HCYP Raiders Black didn’t come home with the championship, they had a wonderful experience and made their families and coaches proud. The Cooperstown experience was certainly a 12 year old’s dream and one that will be treasured for a lifetime.