There are just some places in the sports world that as a fan or player you are required to go. For a football nut, there is the great Lambeau field where the Green Bay Packers play. There is South Bend, Indiana where ‘Touchdown Jesus’ watches over the Notre Dame Stadium. Basketball fans have Madison Square Garden where it is home to the ‘Madness before the Madness’ also known as the Big East tournament. Right here in the state of Kentucky there is Rupp Arena where one of the historically great college basketball team the Wildcats call home. Racing fans have Indianapolis Motor Speedway where the open wheel racers blast around the track at over 200 mph while screaming their highly tuned songs. For the baseball fans there is Saint Louis’ Busch Stadium, self titled ‘Baseball Heaven.’
But there is place that is so immortalized in sports fans hearts that it transcends all the others with just a mere mention of it’s name.
The first week of June saw a group of supremely talented baseball players from our own back yards go to that legendary place. The Western Kentucky Aces, formerly known as the Southern Kentucky Sluggers, went off to Cooperstown to participate in the American Youth Baseball Hall of Fame Invitational tournament.
“Just a great experience overall,” head coach of the Aces Kyle Wall said. “I really enjoyed playing everyone that we played, coaches were great the players were great.”
The Aces already having gone through the season showcasing their talents to other travel teams around the area, but this was a big change to the parks around here. This was up in championship crazy state known as New York. The lights were brighter, the fans a little louder, and the teams were in a different league.
“It didn’t affect them at all, it was like they were playing in Hoptown or Bowling Green,” coach Wall said. “I thought maybe the first day, that first inning we had little jitters there. But other than that, they are 12 year old baseball players and that’s all they care about. Honest to God, if they were scared or intimidated they sure didn’t show it.”
They came out and took out their first two opponents pretty convincingly winning 5-0 and 9-0. Both wins got the attention of the other coaches and people who controlled the ranking cause the Aces flew up the rankings and sat at third out of 104 teams.
“At that point we still knew there were four more games to play and we were playing teams from California, Florida, and Georgia where they can play year round,” coach Wall said. “We knew we had our work cut out for us, I don’t think the boys knew, I think when we played our 3rd game the next day the parents came up to us and said hey we’re ranked third. We got great pitching pretty much all week, for the most part.”
In one of the games they played a team called Mac&Seitz from Kansas and pitcher Nick Wooden decided it was a perfect time to set some records. Wooden through a complete game shut out in the 12-0 victory but it was how efficient he was that was the record. In the complete game win Wooden only tossed 36 pitches to set the record. They stumbled against their next team but still went into the end of the invitational with a ranking of 27 out of the 104 teams. They would wait and see that their opponent would be the team from Hawai’i called the ‘GoNuts!.’ With the ‘GoNuts!’ holding a lower ranking it looked like perhaps the Aces would advance to take on a top 10 team in the next round.
But the defense fell apart and then the floodgates opened for the ‘GoNuts!’ as they knocked the Aces out of the tournament earlier than expected, but the kids kept digging and kept fighting until the last out of the game.
“The good thing about these boys is that never think they are beat. They never worship the scoreboard,” coach Wall said. “It could be 22-0 and even with two outs left in the game, they still think they can come back and win. That’s just their mentality, they are a great bunch of kids they really are.”
The Cooperstown trip was a culmination of a two year journey for the Aces. They had tons of help from the community when they sold rib-eye sandwiches and other fund raisers.
“I just would like to thank the people of Logan County that came out and bought things from us and purchased all those rib-eyes. Without them we wouldn’t have gone,” coach Wall said. “For the kids and the coaches to go up there and play, I think it was pretty remarkable that this county supported us and the kids and I think that’s great.”
The Aces have returned home and will look to get back to their winning ways with All Star games for their little league. They they will get back together for a few state tournaments and then perhaps a World Series tournament in Chattanooga. The season is only a third of the way through and the Aces are loving every minute of it.