It wasn’t a grand slam or triple play that carried Rohnert Park’s 9U Blue to victory against Windsor in the championship game of the Cal Ripken Northern California 9U tournament Saturday, July 7, but rather their intense skill with the basics of baseball.
Over a hundred of Rohnert Park and Windsor locals turned out at Benicia Park to watch their boys compete for the first place position in the tournament. Only one team could win though and with a closing score of 9-2, Rohnert Park claimed the honor of the best 9U group in all of Northern California.
“We’re not just a team that comes in and does batting,” said Blue manager, Erik Tucker. “We have a routine—the boys can run the practice themselves. But it’s all based on the fundamentals. When you’re teaching fundamentals, the game comes easy.”
Fundamentals is certainly what Blue does best. The boys and coaches have been, more or less, together for three consecutive years now and in that time they’ve developed a system that has yielded positive results.
“Our practice regiment makes us who we are,” said Blue coach, Dylan McReynolds. “We put them through something similar to what high school and college kids go through, but give them the same expectations and love. We coach them like 9-year-olds, but show them things they’re going learn when they’re older.”
Rohnert Park’s 9U Blue started off strong in the final match against Windsor, scoring three quick runs in the first inning to take an early lead. However, Windsor wasn’t the sort to just let the Blues win that easily. They kept things close with a solid defense and going into the bottom of the fifth with Blue up to bat, it was still anyone’s game.
Then things fell apart.
The Blues filled the bases with a couple of bunts and a solid hit. A ground ball to left field hit by Dylan McReynolds Jr. brought third home and scored the first run of the inning, but it also shattered their opponent’s morale. Windsor went on tilt and Rohnert Park took full advantage, closing out the inning with a total gain of five.
But the effervescent taste of victory could have proven toxic for Rohnert Park. In the final inning, the Blues misplayed with an overthrow at first and an accidental hit by pitch. A double base hit to left field by Windsor’s Gage Skerrett brought a player home and with the bases nearly loaded the roles of the previous inning looked suspiciously reversed.
Despite the difficulties, Rohnert Park held strong and they finished off the game with a double play between first and third that can only be described as professional. The team celebrated their victory with a massive dogpile in right field.
“They’ve been going at it every day for two months and their hard work definitely paid off. Now they’re state champs,” said Blue coach, Jim Lemons.
Hard work is certainly the order of the summer. The Blues practiced five days a week for the six- week season before the championship and with 12 players on the team and nine possible positions on the field, competition for favorable roles was tough; but that same competition bred excellence, according to Tucker.
“We have a hard decision each time we run a lineup,” Tucker said. “Every one of the kids deserves to play in the game, but that’s what you wish for as a coach: the tough decision of who is to sit. It’s a good problem to have.”
With victory now in hand, both Windsor and Rohnert Park progress down to Bakersfield July 16 for the opening day of the Pacific Southwest Regionals Tournament. The boys don’t seem to be sweating the stiff competition, focusing instead on the simple joy of baseball.
Blue catcher, Gauge Cummings, grinned and bobbed his head as he recalled his favorite part of the game. “It’s really amazing because you get to hang out with all your friends and you play hard in games and...and that’s all I’ve got to say.”