There’ll be no surprises this time around when the Orcutt Babe Ruth All-Star 14-year-old baseball team plays in Surprise, Ariz.
The District 6 and Central California champions will soon be heading to the Pacific Southwest Regional Babe Ruth Tournament.
Orcutt opens play at the City Of Surprise Recreation Campus – the Spring Training home of the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers – on Monday, July 24, at 11 a.m. against Bel-Mateo, the Northern California champions.
Orcutt made its first trip to Surprise last summer, as the District 6 and Central California 13-year-old champions so they know what to expect – Heat and high quality competition.
“They’ll be ready,” said Orcutt assistant coach Joe Adams during Monday’s practice at Morrison Field. “It was hot at the Central California Tournament in Hanford. It will be hot in Arizona but it’s a different kind of heat.”
This was Orcutt’s third practice since it defeated Lodi 10-3 on Tuesday, July 11, in the Central California championship game at John F. Kennedy Junior High in Hanford.
The practice fell into the familiar pattern of warm-ups, fielding, hitting and pitching.
“We’ll have a short toss to get the boys warmed up before we get down to business,” said manager James Steels. “Then we’ll practice defensive situations. It’s all about repetition.”
The players worked on throws to first base, double plays, defending a bunt, cutting down runners at home.
The coaches – Steels, Adams, Pat Crowley and Orcutt Babe Ruth President Bryn Smith – set up countless game situations. They want to make sure that when it’s time to play ball, their team will react instinctively.
“They just have to go out and play ball but it begins with the fundamentals,” said Steels. “If they can do all the little things, they will be competitive. It’s just catch the ball – throw the ball, but the repletion teaches them where they need to throw the ball.”
“Our defense is really good and our outfield is really fast,” said Crowley. “If they just play their game, they’ll be alright.”
In the Central California championship game, Lodi held Orcutt scoreless in the first inning.
“But in the second inning, our first guy got on,” said Steels. “We tried to bunt him over but our batter actually beat out the bunt so, with men on first and second, we bunted again. That got runners on second and third and our next two batters knocked them in. From there, it kind of snowballed. That showed our team that we could score. We played some great small ball, all manufactured by a couple bunts.”
Steels plans to keep the same batting order and pitching rotation in Arizona.
“Our batting order may change a little but it is pretty well set. We have boys up and down the lineup that can hit and they can play situational offense. They know when to bunt, how to move runners along. We won’t be out there relying on home runs to win.
“And we have six quality pitchers. In the last tournament, we were able to pull our pitchers early so they could get some extra rest, which is important especially in that heat, and not hit the maximum number of pitches. It also allowed us to get all of our pitchers some work to keep them all sharp.”
Each of the pitchers spent time in the bullpen Monday, working with Smith – a 13-year veteran pitcher in the Major Leagues.
“These boys are 14-years-old,” said Smith as he worked with Orcutt’s tournament opening starter Isaiah Navarro. “We don’t want them to go out there and just let it rip. We want them to go out there and pitch. They have to have the proper grip, have a feel for the ball but most of all, they need proper balance.”
While the 13-year-old version of this team didn’t bring home a championship, Orcutt had a good showing at last year’s Southwest Regionals.
“Eight of the 12 boys were part of our 13-year-old team that went to Surprise last summer,” said Adams. “We won our first game then lost to Tri-Valley (the Northern California representative), said Adams. “Then we won two more before losing to Oahu,” in the double elimination tournament.
Tri-Valley won’t be back – they were beaten by Bel-Mateo in the Northern California Regionals.
But most of the same Oahu 13-year-olds are back on Hawaii’s 14-year-old squad.
“We don’t know much about Bel-Mateo except that they have good pitching,” said Steels. “They knocked out Tri-Valley 2-1 in the championship game. It was a real pitchers’ duel.”
“I’ve stayed in touch with Oahu’s manager and we’re hoping we get to play them again this year,” said Adams. “But this time, we plan to beat them.”
“We have to play smart to win,” said Crowley. “My job is to study the other team and try to recognize their tendencies, their patterns. We’re always looking at everything. All these teams have kids who are super talented including us – these are all high level teams but I think we are fully capable of winning it.
“We have to stay on top of our game both physically and mentally. And you have to realize, in Orcutt, we had only 20 kids to choose from to make up our 12-player roster. Other teams had hundreds and hundreds of kids to choose from and our kids stack up with their best.”
The coaches will try to keep the boys’ routine as normal as possible while they are on the biggest stage of their young careers.
“We’re staying at the same Hampton Inn, right across from the Arizona Cardinals’ stadium. It’s about a 15 or 20 minute ride to the baseball stadium,” said Steels. “There’s plenty of things for the team to do when we’re not playing and on Monday, after we play our first game, we’re going to the Arizona Diamondbacks’ game and the boys will be introduced on the field – having that opportunity is going to be very special.”
Having experience in last year’s Southwest Regionals should help.
“There won’t be as much of a ‘Wow’ factor for the boys,” said Adams. “I think they’ll act like they’ve been there before because they have.”
“We’re excited to be playing again against the best teams from all over the west,” said Steels. “And the fields – they are better than anything we have around here.”
The Arizona trip isn’t cheap.
There’s travel, hotel and food expense but the community has come through to help the Orcutt 13s.
“Home Motors gave us a generous donation, John Westner and his mom have chipped in and we’ve got some donations through our Facebook page,” said Steels. “We’d really like to thank everybody who has helped us out.”
“These boys have the opportunity to do something special, something nobody else from around here has ever done – get past the Regionals,” said Crowley. “I really believe they can do it.”