By Jill Stern
Last week, a select team of 12-year-olds from the Greenwich Village Little League went to Cooperstown to participate in a weeklong baseball tournament that none of them will soon forget.
Playing on the perfectly manicured
fields in the picturesque Disney-like baseball park against other elite travel teams from around the country, and with the legends of Major League Baseball enshrined close by at the Baseball Hall of Fame, it was an eye-opening experience for both the boys and parents of the Greenwich Village Gladiators.
To get to the next level — as a travel team, a college team, let alone the major leagues and the Hall of Fame — takes serious commitment. Most of the teams the Gladiators faced in this tournament have been together for years playing travel ball and competing in state and regional tournaments. The Gladiators, by contrast, All-Stars from G.V.L.L., have not had the same exposure to the competitive world of travel baseball. Despite this fact, the team handled themselves well on the field, improving in each game. The games were tough and the scores went against them, but all the G.V.L.L.’ers agreed that they had a great time just being there. Seeing these “semi-pro” 12-year-olds gave everyone a glimpse of the state of youth baseball elsewhere in America.
Cooperstown’s All-Star Village is considered “the crown jewel of youth tournament baseball in America.” Under-age-10 and Under-12 teams come to compete from all over the country, and sometimes from as far as Mexico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.
The week started on Saturday with the opening night ceremony and fun competitions, including the home-run derby and base-running race. For the next three days, the teams played double-headers. On Wednesday, the playoffs started in elimination style. The championship game was held Friday, and then the week ended with a closing ceremony in which each boy walked down a red carpet and was “inducted” into the Cooperstown All-Star Village Hall of Fame. Throughout the week between games, the boys got to visit the Hall of Fame with their team, swim in the baseball mitt-shaped pool and play in the arcade room. Coaches and players stayed in air-conditioned bunk houses.
The Gladiators came to Cooperstown looking for adventure and to play a lot of baseball. They found both, and since most of the boys on the team have aged out of the Majors A Division, they will always have the Cooperstown memory. G.V.L.L. is a recreational league where competition is not stressed. But some teams in other leagues practice at least six days a week, 12 months a year. The Simi Valley Predators, the 2007 regional runners-up in the Little League World Series, and the fourth team the Gladiators faced, even had a choreographed, dancelike routine they performed after every out. Gladiators coaches had to stress: “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”
G.V.L.L.’s Max Jens was on the mound during the closest game of the tournament as he pitched his first complete game. The Gladiators had a commanding lead until close to the end of the game when a fouled-up attempt at “the missing ball” trick led to some runs scored by their opponents. Other highlights included homeruns by Zander Ryman and Jens, pitching by Levi Stern and Julien Hitier, and great base-stealing by Ben Sydel.
Ultimately, the trip to the Cooperstown All-Star Village Tournament was not about winning and losing for the Gladiators. It was about learning the game, playing better ball, seeing the world of youth sports beyond J.J. Walker Field and Pier 40 and, finally, about having fun on a weeklong trip with the team. By these standards alone, the trip was a major success.