THE COOPERSTOWN EXPERIENCE by Coach Taylor WestbrookCooperstown. The king of 12U baseball and the most famous of the weeklong tournaments among offered in youth travel baseball. Is it worth it? EVERY PENNY. My journey to Cooperstown started at the end of the 11U spring season. Were we going? Were we not going? These questions had teetered in my mind through the summer coming into the 12U tryout. On the day of tryouts, I still had no idea if Cooperstown would be the final destination of the highly anticipated 12U season. As the young men who have worked extremely hard to get to their 12U season nervously stretched and threw, I was introduced and was asked if we would be taking a team to Cooperstown. Without hesitation I rattled off the affirmative. “YES.” At the time I didn’t know it, but that “yes” to the looming Cooperstown question would lead me to my favorite moments in my time coaching.
Fast forward through the next ten months (or should we though) of hard work, fundraising and preparation for our Cooperstown date was set to arrive. I remember vividly the date approaching not knowing what to expect as I had never gotten the chance to go when I was playing for CBC. However, as a baseball junky, a town full of baseball history, beautiful baseball facilities, restaurants named after baseball legends of the past and being in the mountains in some cooler weather (not baking in the Florida heat) was a recipe for excitement. We arrived in Cooperstown June 9th and met together as a group to get our barracks setup for the week. As we filled coolers, made beds, and unpacked suitcases I never could have known that the next five days were going to be a blur.
The excitement started immediately after walking out of our now finished barrack seeing hundreds of kids from all over the country running around trading pins, playing wiffle ball, and bonding over anything and everything. I couldn’t help but to think to myself, I had made the right decision by saying yes in July. I even had to jump into a wiffle ball game to show them how it’s done. After we finished running around the village of barracks looking for the coveted “Pink Show” pin we finally grouped up to go to the cafeteria. In the cafeteria we ate as a team, amongst other teams talking about our seasons, our experiences and making new friends. Day one came to a close with a meeting for the coaches and a party in the community shower for the kids.
The next day started with a bang, opening ceremony and skills competitions watching kids from all over just enjoy sharing the field with one another. Crushing homers in the derby, motoring around the bases in the roadrunner, and drilling a wood target from center field in the golden arm. The kids may have individually been representing their team, but each left with new friends, and memories. This day was also the start of pool play and you could feel the buzz and excitement around the village. It’s almost nostalgic and unreal…kids excited to go play this beautiful game we all love.
Day three and four flew by in a blink of the eye. (In a good way!) Two pool play games each day. As a coach these days were sheer enjoyment watching your kids pour their soul into the game and battle against teams from other states. We had kids who hadn’t hit homeruns pounding balls over the wall left and right, rounding the bases with massive smiles on their faces. Pitchers who hadn’t thrown a ton of innings getting their chance on the bump and shining. It was a true full team effort. As a coach, it was a moment I could never have anticipated and memories I will surely never forget.
Day five started elimination games. Four games for most teams to get to the next day, maybe less if you were highly seeded. This is where the magic started. As mentioned, before I am a baseball junky. A fan of properly played, hard nose, gritty baseball. Elimination games at Cooperstown… This is the definition of it. Every team was competing just to stay alive. We had the pleasure of playing 3 elimination games on the first day of elimination. Two massive walk-off wins to keep us alive and came up just short of surviving and heading to the round of sixteen. As the last out was made and we went to graciously shake hands with the winner, I could see and feel the emotion that the kids had displayed in the last 3 games. As I called the team together to let them know how amazing their accomplishments were over the past few days, all I found was eleven faces, tears rolling down because they knew that their journey had come to an end. As a coach it is hard in those moments to fight back the tears yourself. The ultimate respect a player can pay a coach is to play the game the way it is meant to be played and leave everything they have on the field until the last pitch. They did. Eleven young men emptied their tank for me.
To summarize my Cooperstown experience this season into just a couple paragraphs was extremely difficult. If you are a parent or a coach or a team that has the opportunity to go to Cooperstown. Take my advice from the July tryout, just say “YES!” You will not regret the experiences it brings your child, your family, and your team. It is the best experience from start to finish that I have had in my years coaching and I anxiously await my next opportunity to take another team.
TAYLOR WESTBROOK | CBC Coach