The Newark American Little League Majors all-star team will take the field on Monday with home-field advantage for the opening game of the District 2 tournament. For the 12-year-olds on the team, it’s an opportunity to do something that hasn’t happened since they became players in the majors division – win a majors tournament game.
Newark American has lost its first two games of the double-elimination tournament for the past two seasons, quickly ending the dream that every youth baseball player in America has, which is to play in Williamsport as part of the Little League World Series.
“The kids want to be champions,” manager Jeff Pike said.
It’s a lofty goal considering only two other Delaware teams have played in the Little League World Series – Naamans in 2003 and Newark National in 2013. The first step to advance to Williamsport is to win the District 2 tournament, a difficult task considering the population of Newark American.
“Some of the leagues in our district have an enrollment more than double the size of ours,” Pike said.
Pike has coached in the majors division for three years and coached the Brandywine tournament all-star teams. Dennis Garvin and Ryan Zarzycki are rostered as official coaches, and Bruce Thompson is volunteering his time helping run the practices.
“Bruce is an incredible asset to our league and is really teaching the kids great things,” Pike said.
Despite his experience managing all-star teams, Pike admitted this is a little more challenging since there are different expectations at the majors level.
“There’s more emphasis on winning with this team,” Pike said, comparing it to the others he’s been involved with. “With the Brandywine team, we were more concerned about every player getting fair playing time. With this team, there is definitely more emphasis on winning and so decisions are made with regards to that.”
Like most youth baseball all-star teams, this one includes players who were the top players on their regular-season teams. It makes figuring out positions, the batting order and overall playing time even more challenging.
“I have five starting shortstops,” Pike said with a chuckle. “All of them deserve to be on this team. What I do when figuring out the lineup is if they’re equal in the field, I take the player who is the better hitter.”
Tournament rules do require every player to play at least two innings in the field and get one at-bat.
“I’ll make sure everyone gets their two innings and an at-bat and then in innings five and six I’m going to put the stronger fielder in the field and the better hitter is going to get the at-bat,” Pike explained.
Practices began the day after the regular season ended and take place daily for two hours during the week.
“The practice schedule is more intense than the regular season,” Pike said. “But we still try to keep it fun and make sure they are learning along the way. It is great seeing the kids have fun and enjoy it. It’s like bonus baseball for them because it extends their season into the summer.”
Newark American faces Midway in the opening game, and Pike likes his team’s chances of breaking the two-year losing streak in the tournament.
“It’s a favorable matchup,” he said. “I’d like to see us play solid baseball. I think we’re going to play really solid defense because we are solid in the field at all nine spots.
“Hopefully we get a win,” he added. “It’s been fun seeing this team gel and really enjoy playing with each other.”
Players are Zach Brelick, Gavin Comley, Danny Garvin, Alex Hinton, Chase Klockars, Sean Luxton, Shane Nardo, Bradley Newcott, Wayne Pike, Jeff Rostocki, Brady Thompson and Chase Zarzycki.