Lane Stevenson reckons his fastball tops out at 65 MPH.
“At least that, well maybe 55 MPH,” he re-decided.
Pretty impressive stuff for a recently graduated fourth grader.
Stevenson plays baseball with his fellow Dodgers in the Cody Little League minors division. Most of the youth are 9 and 10 years old, an age range where the speed of play starts to pick up, but learning is still crucial.
“We’re really focused on taking each kid and making them feel they can succeed at the sport,” Dan Dallman said. “Not only in baseball, but all endeavors in life.”
Dallman is coach of the Twins. He said he’ll have no one-trick ponies on his squad.
“We’re trying to teach all the basic aspects of the game,” Dallman said. “Hitting, catching. We don’t go very in-depth with stealing, double and triple plays.”
On June 22 the Twins did turn a double play against the Dodgers.
In an earlier match up the Twins fell to the Dodgers when they played June 4. After the Twins took an early lead, the Dodgers stormed back with a few timely hits and walks. One of the most valuable came when Oscar Henry slapped a big hit to right field to tie the score late in the game.
“If he scores, we’ve got to pat him on the shoulder,” Stevenson said of Henry as he watched from the dugout.
Sure enough, Henry made it across the pentagon, wide smile etched across his face. And just as promised his teammates enveloped him with high-fives and backslaps.
“I’m a winner,” Henry proudly proclaimed among the blue-clad bunch.
His teammate Austin Corbin lists cheering on his teammates as one of his favorite aspects of playing baseball, besides batting. Also a fan of a good swing is Elijah Dallman, 10, a member of the Twins. After getting some assistance from his dad-turned-coach this season, Dallman started cranking dingers.
“When I first started to get my bat a little farther back in my hitting stance it worked,” he explained, “and I smashed it to center field.
Like in any team sport, playing baseball lends itself to a certain amount of down time, whether waiting to bat or taking a turn on the bench while the rest of the team heads out into the field.
Damian Sander, 10, and Tyler Dansie, 9, of the Braves enjoy using this time to chew and spit sunflower seeds. In classic summertime form, they said their favorite flavor is barbecue.
“It’s something to do when you’re on the bench,” Sander said. “It’s fun to spit them out on the field.”
Dansie is in his fifth year playing baseball. Not surprisingly, he said the level of competition has gotten much higher.
“We’d be hitting homers right now if we played T-ball,” Dansie said.
Teams in the minors league were unable to play a few games early in the season due to rampant rain that made play impossible. Nevertheless they battled through and have continued perfecting their craft.
What makes play unique at the minors level is players are being introduced to some of the more advanced concepts of the game for the first time such as pitching and stealing. Also, to their benefit the boys are starting to gain some height and muscle, which can make the outfield feel less like a deep forest than in years previous.
“Earlier this year I threw the ball all the way from the outfield to first,” said Russell Undeberg, a member of the Twins.
But at the end of the day, the boys are still early on in their development, figuring out how to be a successful baseball players – priority above all else. Loving the game is one of the key ingredients.
“We’re trying to develop good habits,” Braves coach Jeremiah Johnston said. “Just teaching them to appreciate the game. The ability stuff will come with time.”
Dallman took his team to left field after their game to have a heart-to-heart with his players. Although no one was in high spirits after their loss, the coach gave them a positive outlook moving forward.
“For a few innings there we were really focused in and playing great,” Dallman told his team. “As you guys continue with the sport and get to those higher levels ... you’ll see how being focused and knowing what you’re doing at all times is necessary.”
Just moments later the Braves and Tigers hit the field at Hugh Smith Park, as twilight started to creep in with a warmer summer glow.
Johnson gathered each member of the Braves to put their hand in a circle before they prepared to bat. No longer hitting balls off tees or receiving pitches from coaches, the minors players are taking the next big step before getting their chance at the majors and beyond.
“One-two-three sticks,” the team yelled out.