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Have you ever felt like all the odds were against you? Or that you had no chance of accomplishing something? My baseball team was in a situation like this in Cooperstown, New York. We were at Dreams Park, where 104 teams from across the country came to compete in a tournament in the town where baseball was invented. Dreams Park didn’t get its name for no reason. It was every baseball player's dream: 22 pristine baseball fields, concession stands at every corner, three games a day, living with your teammates in the barracks. We were nothing special; just a town team of small twelve-year-olds up against club teams of thirteen-year-olds. This made us even happier to be there. Although we lacked talent, we had a blast bonding and playing together. Working together and having fun helped my team to stay determined and subjugate our opponents.
Arriving at Cooperstown was magical. After a five and a half hour drive to central New York State, I finally caught a glimpse of the light poles in the distance. Something about the atmosphere suddenly changed. I felt a slight tug in my stomach, and I could tell I was living amongst the Greats. My team met up at Maskot’s Pizza and Grill, a restaurant just across the street from Dreams Park’s entrance. There were a few other teams in there so we traded pins with them. One thing that made Dreams Park so special was its signature trading pins. Each team had its own set or sets of pins. The purpose was to trade to get as many pins as you can. There were some really rare pins called “Family Pins.” These pins represented a member of the family that founded Dreams Park. There were some rules on how to get certain pins; like only one player on each team can get this one, or you have to find a specific person to get this one.
After we ate and met as a team, we entered the park for the very first time to settle in at our barrack. We strolled through merchandise shops, blaring pop music, and summer scents permeating the air. Once we got settled into our bunk, we exchanged pins with other teams, and it started to rain. One thing about Cooperstown was that there were a ton of thunder and lightning storms that came with dekaliters upon dekaliters of rain. As it turned to night, we all found our way to our barracks to sleep through the storm.
In the morning, we had orientation and breakfast where we were told certain rules: everyone must wear their team hat at all times outside their barrack, everyone must wear knee-high pants along with belts for games, etc. After orientation, we did some pin-trading, hitting in the cages, and practicing fielding. One man with a wrinkly face and balding black hair told us that he came here when he was our age, and he’s come every year since. He tried to get every team pin every year to add to his massive collection of over 10 pin books. He loved watching the kids play and keeping track of the best teams. Back at our bunk, we got dressed in our red Cooperstown uniforms. Each team was supplied with red and blue jerseys. Each of us grabbed our bags from the bag bin and, as a team, marched to field 11 for our first game.
We started off the tournament on a high note taking an early lead to win. Our two home runs and uncountable doubles were just a part of our unstoppable offense. On our way back to the barrack, we stopped at a concession stand for lunch. I got a pulled pork sandwich with chips and ate at a picnic table with a few of my teammates.
We rested at our barrack for a while playing Baseball Superstars. A few kids were playing it, and before you knew it, everyone downloaded the game and was playing together. We had one more game that day right before dinner. After the last win, everyone was eager to get another one. Heart rates were jumpin’, deep breaths were taken, and shoulders were bobbin’. We were up against this club team from Colorado. We warmed up all ready to play, flashing the leather during Infield/Outfield, hitting bombs in BP.
They absolutely demolished us. The game ended after just the fourth inning due to the mercy rule. We hadn’t scored a single run and were losing by over 15 runs. All the confidence going into the game quickly ran away after that.
Dinner had a lot of sighing, playing with food, and yawning. No one was in the mood for talking. Coach told us to keep our hopes up and that tomorrow was a fresh start.
We woke up early that morning for a chaotic day three at Dreams Park. Two morning games were scheduled for us: one at 8:00 and one at 10:30. The plan was that our team was going to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and eat lunch together after our second game. The skills competitions were also to take place that day, so we had to get back to our barrack in uniform by 4:30 p.m.
We finished off a 1-1 split that day with a close win over a New York team. Thankfully, this eventuated in a lunch full of laughing and positive conversation. After lunch, we got our tickets and entered the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Golden chandeliers and unraveled red carpets welcomed us in the lobby. I was eyes-wide-open, jaw-dropped swiveling my head to every detail. There were posters of Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones, Trevor Hoffman, Jack Morris, Jim Thone, and Alan Trammel as they were recently inducted just a few weeks ago. After walking around the museum part for about 45 minutes which had statues, statistics, and unique artifacts, we entered the hall with all the players’ plaques. I searched for a few names like Ted Williams, Pedro Martinez, and Jim Rice. After scouring the gift shop, we exited the hall at 3:30.
My team raced back to Dreams Park, got dressed in our blue uniforms, and took to Little Majors Stadium for the skills competitions. Three kids on our team were selected to do individual skills competitions, but most of the team, including me, did the “around the horn” competition. None of our teammates placed in their individual competitions, but our team did decently in the “around the horn.” Our time placed in the top 30 which was pretty good considering that there were 104 teams.
Day four was the last day of the regular season. We lost both of our games; one we got blown out, and the other we lost by one run to a Pennsylvania team after a late push in the last inning. That night, Coach made us get to bed early so we were well rested for the playoffs.
Our record was 2-4, so we had a low seed in the playoffs. This meant that we didn’t get any buys, so we would have to play back-to-back games as long as we kept winning. Our first game was at 9:00 in the morning, so we had to wake up early to get breakfast and prepare. Dressed in our red uniforms, we were off to field 13 and ready to win. We won the first game in a pitching duel by a couple runs, so our next one was in a half-hour. Pumped, We quickly got our stuff and moved to another field. In our second game, we were up against the Pennsylvania team that beat us the day prior. This time the outcome was a different story. We won by two and ended the game on a double play which I turned at second base. The team was jumping with excitement. After that, we had to lug our stuff to the third field in the pouring rain. As it downpoured and thundered, we went under a tent to eat lunch hoping the field would be okay to play on.
After about 20 minutes, the rain and thunder suddenly stopped, and it was sunny. The grounds crew quickly got the field in great condition, and we played one of the top 20 teams in the tournament. We got down quickly and were losing by eight going into the fifth out of six innings. We rallied, hit three homers, and took the lead by one. The dugout has never been more tense. Our defense held the other team to scoreless fifth and sixth innings, and we won making us one of the last 30 teams standing. It was a late-game thriller that had everyone on the edge of their seat. That was our third playoff win which passed Wilmington’s record of two. We trudged to the next field to play our fourth back-to-back game where our underdog story officially ended.
Our barrack was filled with mixed emotions. We were bummed that we didn’t have enough to keep going, but at the same time, we beat Wilmington’s record for playoff games won. No one ever thought a bunch of scrawny 12-year-olds from a small town would get this far in a tournament of the country’s finest young stars.
To celebrate the team’s success, we went out for dinner at a barbeque restaurant. I was relieved because my stomach has been rumbling since the start of our last game. The evening was filled with laughs and playing arcade games.
On the last day of Cooperstown, the top 16 teams battled it out for the title. We hopped around from game to game catching foul balls and turning them in for pins. I also traded some of my team’s more rare pins for some really cool ones. One had two separate parts that, when together, formed an outline of Minnesota with a sliding leprechaun’s head down the border. After lunch, we watched one of the close semi-finals games where Florida Select outlasted a California team to move on to the finals.
The Championship game at Little Majors Stadium was set with Florida Select up against the Pine Bush Bombers. In a full-on slugfest, Florida Select wound up being the ultimate champions of this 5-day dogfight.
I had an unforgettable experience at Dreams Park bonding with my teammates, trading pins, and playing baseball. I learned what working as a team is crucial, and having fun will always make you perform better. I also learned to cherish experiences like these because they are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.