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Cardinals on brink of a perfect season
Two years ago, they win just a single game; now theyre poised for a trophy.
The Cardinals of Bainbridge Islands Little League Majors Baseball Division are having an incredible year.
The team has won all 22 of its games thus far this season, including their divisions championship, and are the prohibitive favorite to win the league championship tonight. More impressively, its been a three-year journey for four team members.
As much fun as were having this year, it may have been even more fun our first year together, one of the veteran players says. An impressive statement coming from a 12-year-old ballplayer, who has embraced BILLs motto to celebrate the experience especially when you consider that the Cardinals won just one of the 21 games they played in 2003.
Somehow, a group of four 10-year-old boys, in concert with manager Jeff Bowman, made it through a challenging 2003 season with flying colors.
No heads down. No disappointment. They just enjoyed playing and learning about baseball with each other.
After that season, there was a debate at the administrative level of the league as to whether all teams should be reshuffled to promote parity.
But it was the Cardinals players who led the charge to stay together, despite winning only one game that year.
The four boys who joined the Cardinals two years ago are now the veterans of this years team: Nick Denney, Jacob Goodman, Henry Indvik and Bowmans son Kevin.
Says Bowman, The nucleus of this years team suffered through a 1-20 season two years ago. Those kids never gave up. They learned to play as a team and support each other, whether they were winning or losing.
An absolute key to their success was outstanding parental support and help. All those things that Bruce Brown (a renowned speaker on the subject of youth and parents in sport) talked about with respect to parental support actually happened with the Cardinal parents.
Despite their perfect season so far in 2005, the great turnaround began last year, when the Cardinals improved to 17-6 while advancing to the division finals. Four players Jeffery Hinman, Eric Raustein, Sean Kennedy and Bobby Griffin were added to the team in 2004.
Ive been asked several times during the last couple of weeks about the secret to the Cardinals success this year, Bowman says. People are surprised when I tell them that the key is, we drafted great parents. Its nice to see a group of parents and kids like this who have learned to keep the game in perspective. After all, it is only 12-year-old baseball.
That was true as much when they were 1-20 as it is now that theyre 22-0.
The team goals included going undefeated and winning the league championship lofty, considering where they were two years ago. But work hard they did. Bowman encouraged the players to participate in an offseason conditioning program that enabled them to enter the season physically and aerobically stronger.
This years perfect season began with the addition of the final four pieces to the puzzle: Lars Nelson, Andrew McCarthy, Max Edinholm and the youngest of them all, Nick Bierly. Each has contributed to the Cardinals success.
With all the negative press you hear regarding youth sports, its nice to see a group of parents and kids like this who have learned what it means to persevere, set goals, work hard as a team, achieve success and have fun doing it, Bowman says.
Cardinal parents are quick to turn the focus back on the players and coaches.
The team is the complete package of super players, coaches and parents, said Bill McCarthy, whose son Andrew joined the team this spring. As newcomers this season, I was really impressed by how quickly we became part of the Cardinals family.
I recall Andrew coming home from one of the first practices completely exhausted and telling me it was the best practice ever. That was pretty much the case all season.
Laura Kennedys son Sean joined the Cardinals in 2004 and was a big contributor to the teams turnaround.
(The Cardinals) have great kids. They work hard, they have a good attitude and they have good sportsmanship, she said.
Pete and Kathy Rausteins son, 11-year-old Eric, has contributed steadily with his bat and heady play in the field.
We have been impressed with the teams focus and identity Jeff refers to it as Cardinal Pride, Pete Raustein says. Jeff expects a lot from the players. He is not warm and fuzzy, but very business-like. The result is the boys know he is the boss and dont question his leadership.
This manifests itself in solid defense, smart baserunning, being aggressive both at the plate and on the base paths and being situationally aware. The team is confident in its abilities and the players are confident in each other. The result is that the Cardinals typically dont beat themselves.
Nick Bierly is the youngest of the four players added to this years Cardinals roster. His mother, Helena, says Nick was selected to play for the Cardinals and he has never had to work so hard or learned so much about baseball (as he has this year).
Nicks perspective is different from that of the 12-year-old who says he may have had even more fun that first year.
Its fun to play on the team to beat, Nick said.
But the resounding sentiment from all comes down to fun. And lest anyone think its easy to have fun when youre winning, recall where this team has come from in only two years. And then let it sink in that the players were having fun even when the victories were sparse.
This is where manager Bowman may have it right when it comes to drafting the parents. As Laura Kennedy notes, when referring to the parents in the stands, that before, during and after games we have a lot of fun together.
Thats certainly what Bainbridge Island Little League had in mind when it invited players and families to come celebrate the experience.
Bill Ackerley is public relations director of Bainbridge Island Little League.