Evergreen Park’s 10U Cal Ripken team celebrates its state championship on June 9 and is eyeing a World Series bid if it wins the regional tournament this weekend.
At first, I was a little disappointed that none of the area’s high school summer league baseball teams were able to make it to regional semifinal action.
But summer baseball is what it is – a watered-down product because of travel teams. Wins and losses don’t matter much. It helps some improve on fundamentals. It benefits some players who are trying to catch their coaches’ attention, but that’s about it.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t any good baseball stories out there this summer. I have two that are pretty cool.
Norris Field in Evergreen Park and the John Humphrey Sports Complex in Orland Park are about as far apart, distance-wise, as you can get in the Regional/Reporter coverage area yet a couple of terrific stories have developed at those two places courtesy of the Evergreen Park Boys Club 10U team and Orland Park resident Zachary Stack.
In Evergreen Park, Norris Field helped spawn a team that won the Illinois Cal Ripken State Tournament on June 9 and Wednesday night were scheduled to leave for Vincennes, Ind., for Ohio Valley Regional competition this week and weekend. And if these guys get through that, a bid to the World Series in Hammond, Indiana, is in order.
The roster of Max Bilas, Quinn Botta, Vinnie Burchett, Brendan Doran, Billy Duffner, Grady Elwood, Nik Hall, Billy Jacobsen, Caleb Keyser, Tyler Kummer, Joey Lombardo, Quinn Lyons, JD Maloney, Kevin Tomkins and coaches Terry Doran, Jim Hall, Jeff Keyser and Dave Kummer has no idea what to expect in Indiana with state champs from Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia competing.
“We’ll show up and play and play hard,” coach Jeff Keyser said. “There are teams from seven states and we have no idea how good they are. But if they all won their state tournaments, they have to be pretty good.’’
Evergreen Park is pretty good itself after dropping its first state tournament game in Mattoon, 5-4 in seven innings (10U regulation games go six innings) to Rosemoor, climbing back out of the loser’s bracket and beating Rosemoor 5-4 in seven innings and 10-1, according to Keyser.
After a couple hours of riding back home, Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton and some of his board members set up a parade for the state champs.
“We had a police escort and there was a fire truck and an ambulance,” the coach said. “People gathered on 95th Street and met us up at the park. It was a great community experience.’’
In Orland Park, Stack, a Marist student, stopped by a recent village board meeting to talk about his goals for raising money for a Challenger field to be built at the Humphrey Complex. Challenger fields are modified diamonds which help individuals with physical or intellectual challenges.
“One of my sister’s friends at Cardinal Bernardin School told me that he played a baseball game at a challenger’s field. I had played ball at that complex and was somewhat familiar with the field,” Stack explained. “When I found out that Orland Park didn’t have something like this, I knew that I wanted to change that.”
“I’ve played baseball most of my life and I think it would be really cool if I could help make it possible for everyone to play ball in Orland Park.”
The cost to build the field will be in the $500,000 range and some village officials are getting behind the project.
“When Zach brought his proposal to the village, we were immediately interested,” said trustee Pat Gira, chair of the village’s Recreation and Parks Committee. “Orland Park has a very active, long running special recreation program with many Special Olympians but we’ve never had a challenger ballfield.”
“I’m very proud of Zach and the initiative he’s shown,” added trustee Dan Calandriello. “Adding a challenger field for our athletes with special needs is huge. This opens up a whole new world for the village’s special recreation program.”
Village officials said that Stack is reaching out to other young athletes from Marist and Carl Sandburg High Schools asking for their help to raise funds for the project.
“We’re thinking of a walk or a run, some type of kickoff celebration and reaching out to local foundations and businesses,” Stack said. “Our first event will be hosting a booth at the Taste of Orland Park (Aug. 4-6) where we will accept donations and spread the word about what we’re doing.”
These are two great stories and they are far from over.