Sports

Cardinals on brink of a perfect season

The mighty Cardinals are (front row, L-R) Nick Denney, Nick Bierly, Lars Nelson, Eric Raustein, Jacob Goodman, (second row, L-R) Andrew McCarthy, Jeff Hinman, Kevin Bowman, Sean Kennedy, Max Edinholm, Bobby Griffin, (back row L-R) coach Eric Edinholm, manager Jeff Bowman and coach Tom Griffin. Not pictured: Henry Indvik. - Courtesy of Bainbridge Island Little League
The mighty Cardinals are (front row, L-R) Nick Denney, Nick Bierly, Lars Nelson, Eric Raustein, Jacob Goodman, (second row, L-R) Andrew McCarthy, Jeff Hinman, Kevin Bowman, Sean Kennedy, Max Edinholm, Bobby Griffin, (back row L-R) coach Eric Edinholm, manager Jeff Bowman and coach Tom Griffin. Not pictured: Henry Indvik.
— image credit: Courtesy of Bainbridge Island Little League

Two years ago, they win just a single game; now they’re poised for a trophy.

The Cardinals of Bainbridge Island’s 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 division’s championship, and are the prohibitive favorite to win the league championship tonight. More impressively, it’s been a three-year journey for four team members.

“As much fun as we’re 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 BILL’s 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 year’s team: Nick Denney, Jacob Goodman, Henry Indvik and Bowman’s son Kevin.

Says Bowman, “The nucleus of this year’s 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.

“I’ve 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. It’s 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 they’re 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 year’s 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, it’s 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 Kennedy’s son Sean joined the Cardinals in 2004 and was a big contributor to the team’s turnaround.

“(The Cardinals) have great kids. They work hard, they have a good attitude and they have good sportsmanship,” she said.

Pete and Kathy Raustein’s son, 11-year-old Eric, has contributed steadily with his bat and heady play in the field.

“We have been impressed with the team’s 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 don’t 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 don’t beat themselves.”

Nick Bierly is the youngest of the four players added to this year’s 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).”

Nick’s perspective is different from that of the 12-year-old who says he may have had even more fun that first year.

“It’s fun to play on the team to beat,” Nick said.

But the resounding sentiment from all comes down to fun. And lest anyone think it’s easy to have fun when you’re 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.”

That’s 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.

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