It’s a long stretch of road between Sacramento and Rohnert Park, longer still with a full team in tow, but every trip is made easier when there’s burgers at its end.
At least that’s the way the smiling faces of River Park’s 9U All Star team made it seem last Sat., June 15 at Colegio Vista Park when they faced as part of a double header against Rohnert Park’s Cal Ripken 9U-Red All Stars. As if to say ‘thank you’ for coming, the 9U-Reds laid out a spread of burgers, chips, and soda— a good ol’ fashioned summer cookout after a good ol’ fashioned game of baseball.
It can’t get more traditional than that.
“It’s about giving the kids the biggest experience we can,” River Park’s coach, Jason Lampley, said. “It worked. You can see it on the smiles of all the kids mingling. It’s really what little league and sandlot baseball should be all about.
Yet why drive all the way from Sacramento in the first place? It’s quite a distance, especially for something as small as a scrimmage. Well, for River Park it was purely about the competition. When it comes to the All Star league, preparation is key and both teams took the evening as an opportunity to hone their skills before the season begins proper.
This is because in terms of Cal-Ripken Baseball, the All-Star season is it. It’s the best of one city pitted against the best of another in a two-month contest that can resonate for a team all the way up to the national level. The All-Star season offers its kids to compete along the bleeding edge of their age group’s skill level.
And it’s a contest in which Rohnert Park and Cotati are pretty good. Last year the Cal-Ripken 9U-Blue team took home the California North Bay Championship title, beating out almost two dozen opposing teams and advancing into the regional tournament level.
This year 9U-Red coach, Keith Sherriol, hopes to help his team live up to city’s legacy.
“The whole point of this is to get better, to have a better outcome at state,” Sherriol said. “You want your kids to keep learning. You don’t want them to just stay at that one flat point. Even as a coach, I’m still learning and I’ve been doing this for eight years now.”
The 9U-Reds and River Park played two games Sat. evening, both ending with similar results. The first was a 6-6 tie and the second ended 0-0.
A large portion of the thanks for the Red’s six points in the first game can be laid at the feet of Jackson Valoee. Jackson is a quiet kid who’s pretty new to the sport, but he made himself known in a big way when he smacked the ball far into the outfield, sending River Park scurrying. Jackson rounded first, then second and then third to make it a three-base hit.
When he grows up, Jackson claims that he wants to play professional baseball—for the money, of course. His favorite part of the game is when he gets a chance to hit something.
“I like batting,” Jackson said. “When you hit the ball in the middle of the bat, it makes this little vibration that makes your hands feel good.”
At present, Rohnert Park’s 9U-Reds are practicing five days a week with games on Sat. Their first league games begin in early July.