Playing on all-stars is more than winning
Becoming an all-star is a rite of passage for any young boy or girl.
Regardless of the sport, when you see your name listed on the back of someone’s T-shirt at the tournament, a sense of pride and accomplishment surrounds you and your family. You finally did it, satisfying that season-long goal of being one of the best players in your age group. You get to represent your hometown with the new goal of winning the tournament and advancing to the next stage.
Whether it’s moving onto the regional tournament — the last stop before a World Series, for example — or falling just short in the state tournament or qualifier, it doesn’t get any better than playing on an all-star team during the summer.
Fallon hosts the Cal Ripken state baseball tournament this weekend at the regional park after previous stints were held at Oats Park northeast of town. For four days, teams from outside the Reno-Sparks area and Fallon compete against each other in the youth tournament with the winner advancing to the regional tournament next month. Fallon’s no stranger to regional tournaments but has never advanced to the Cal Ripken World Series.
For the youngsters coming from north Reno (Silver State and Sun Valley), Spanish Springs and Fallon, this weekend provides an opportunity to shine in front of their friends and family. It comes at a time when these tournaments are not as popular as 10 years ago when the state’s division included Silver Springs and even Pahrump at one time. Things have changed with travel ball occupying the scene and presenting decisions to families whether their child should play recreational sports or travel ball, or even both.
While participation may have dipped in the last decade when programs were able to fill all age groups, the importance of these tournaments hasn’t lost its luster. All-star tournaments, this weekend in particular, give the youth more time to enjoy one of their favorite sports with the friends they’ll grow with for the rest of their childhood. Not everyone is cut out for certain sports and you see that especially in high school. But the memories are not lost.
In Fallon’s last year in Little League, I was fortunate to make the 11- to 12-year-old all-star team. Hearing my name announced over the PA system at Oats Park is something I’ll never forget. The weeks of preparation for the tournament included morning and afternoon practices if you pitched or caught, but it was fun. Not only was playing baseball a great way to spend the early part of the summer, it was also a fun experience to become friends with players you fought against during the season.
Our regular season team, the Orioles, was an unlikely contender and we played well with the better teams. Alvin Santiago and Tanner Smart were our aces on the hill and I caught throughout the season. My dad helped coached and we surprised some teams in the league. The league was loaded with talent, which you saw escalate through high school when Fallon was in the 4A.
Ron Lincoln was a sight to behold at Oats Park. He was the Mark McGuire of Little League. It was an anomaly when Ron didn’t hit a home run. Owen Mackedon, Tony Billett, Ryan Garrett, Sean Smith, Justin Cole, Anthony Rodriguez and Andrew Loveless were among the top players in Fallon and used to the all-star spotlight when I was selected. After spending two months playing against these guys, it was quite the experience to play with them during all-stars.
The district tournament was played in Winnemucca and we camped at the Holiday Inn Express for the week. After a loss to Elko, we had to battle through the consolation bracket for most of the tournament. There were many great plays and moments during that week, including Tony’s leaping grab in the outfield and the group of us eating at Denny’s and playing in the hotel pool. We lost to Elko in the championship game where we needed to win twice to advance to state.
I played on the all-star team two more times (14-under and 15-under) with the same group of players and some new additions. It wasn’t quite like the 1997 experience. The 14-under tournament was in Reno and we were done in two days and the 15-under tournament was held in Fallon and had a similar fate. We didn’t spend as much time together in the 1997 club but each experience was good in its own way. Bruce Lewis helmed the 1999 team and played everyone equally while Jim Rodriguez, who coached the 1997 team, returned to lead the 2000 squad in Fallon, hoping to avenge Fallon’s exit in the Little League tournament.
Everyone wants to win. Everyone wants to be a competitor on the field. It’s in your DNA once you step onto the field or court. Becoming an all-star is a unique and necessary experience as a youth but it’s more than winning and trying to advance to the next stage. It’s about the friendships you build and the respect you gain from your teammates, peers and the other teams.
Good luck to this weekend’s all-star teams and cherish every moment.
Thomas Ranson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.