Imagine being an 8- to 10-year-old kid and having a chance to shake Hall of Fame shortstop Cal Ripken's hand and get your picture taken with him.
That could be a bonus for members of the Pepsi Twins traveling team of Baxter for qualifying to play in the Cal Ripken Baseball World Series in Vincennes, Ind., Saturday through Aug. 14.
Baxter earned a trip to Indiana by capturing the Midwest Plains Cal Ripken 10-under regional championship July 28 at Iowa City, Iowa. The Twins won four of five games at the regional, outscoring the opposition 45-21.
"Through all of this we've tried to keep it in perspective, that the kids are first," Baxter coach Joe Pohlkamp said. "We've always been that way. We're not looking ahead at all, just play the next game and have fun.
Baxter's Pepsi Twins 10 and under baseball coach Joe Pohlkamp instructed T.J. Perpich on the finer points of bunting in preparation for the Cal Ripken Baseball World Series tournament in Vincennes, Ind., starting Saturday. Dispatch Photo/Steve Kohls
"Now we're off to the World Series, something I thought was never possible."
Cal Ripken Baseball, at its expense, will fly the Baxter players and coaches to and from Indianapolis. Once Baxter arrives in Indianapolis, the organization will pay for a bus to transport the team to Vincennes. It also will provide Baxter coaches with a rental car. Baxter will only have to pay for lodging, food and entertainment.
Parents will carpool and meet the team Friday in Vincennes for a banquet where former Baltimore Orioles pitcher Scott McGregor will speak.
Cal Ripken and his brother, Billy, another former major-league player, usually attend the tournament.
Baxter began its odyssey by winning the state tournament July 16-18 at Chaska. It won all four of its games by a combined 43-17 margin.
World Series bound
What: Cal Ripken Baseball 10-year-old World Series
When: Aug. 7-14
Where: Vincennes, Ind.
Next up was the Midwest Plains Regional July 24-28. Baxter opened with a 12-5 win over Nebraska.
"Matt Doss started pitching, he threw strikes, we played good defense, we hit the ball, and all of a sudden we have a 9-run lead," Pohlkamp said.
Baxter followed with a 3-0 shutout against a Missouri team that had a 6-foot, 200-pound pitcher, who Pohlkamp said, "comes out throwing gas. But we were able to walk, get a couple base hits and a passed ball and all of a sudden we're up 3-0.
"Matt Pikula pitched a great game. He threw strikes, kept the ball down, we played very good defense, defense I never thought we could play."
Colorado was the next foe to fall, by a 6-3 score, in the winners' bracket game. Mitchell McLain was the winning pitcher.
"Now Colorado has to come through the losers' bracket, they had to burn up some pitching," Pohlkamp said. "Colorado was a very good team. When you think of the City of Denver, and all the kids they can draw from, it's pretty awesome for the little town of Baxter to go up against them."
Colorado won its losers' bracket game and earned a rematch against Baxter, which Colorado won 12-4.
"We came out flat," Pohlkamp said. "We were just not the exciting team we had been. I don't know if it was nerves or what it was.
"After that game I pulled the kids into the outfield and said, 'Just sit down, or lay down in the grass, look up at the sky, and look at what you've accomplished."
Baxter regrouped to accomplish a 12-9 victory against Colorado, capturing the title and a trip to Indiana. McLain started for Baxter and Pikula finished.
"We were more aggressive at the plate, hitting the ball, running the bases," Pohlkamp said.
"I think we shocked Colorado. Missouri had played around 30 games, and hadn't lost a game all year long. Colorado plays a bunch of games. When you come in unbeaten I think there's more pressure on them. We're just there to play, have fun, and whatever happens, happens."
On its way to a 14-1-1 record, Baxter has relied on solid defense and baserunning.
"These kids have just been getting better and better and it's unbelievable the plays they've made," Pohlkamp said. "We have good speed. Kids like Cole Smith, Zach Holmen, T.J. Perpich are fast kids who get on base and they're running. If they're not going to throw the ball, we're running, force (the other team) to make plays, get their kids rattled up, and good things happen."
A once-in-a-lifetime trip is what has happened for a group of Baxter 8-10-year-olds.
Mike Bialka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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