Most kids, no matter how tall, short, big or small, have dreamed at least once in their lives about making it to the big leagues. For most, this dream goes unrealized and it passes as adulthood comes closer into view. What if you were to learn, that for just one day—and as a kid for that matter, while that dream is still alive—you could have the chance to experience the big leagues for just one day?
One group of local little league players has gotten that chance, thanks to a very special partnership with the city of Tempe.
Every season teams from Tempe South Little League and others from the surrounding area get the chance to play at Tempe Diablo Stadium, the spring training home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The Tempe Bees and Chandler Angels, both juniors teams (ages 13-14), met at Diablo on April 27 for one of both teams’ many scheduled matchups at the big league park.
“Just standing up in the dugout is amazing,” said Nick Tupy, who pitches for the Chandler Angels. “You feel like a pro leaning over the fence in the dugout like you see on TV.”
Covering home for the Angels, Dillon Sherrill said that it’s a proud feeling to get to catch from the same plate as some of the Major League’s best. “You feel like you’re in the pros, behind the plate and looking at such a big field. It’s amazing,” said Nick.
Both players are midway through their first season with the Chandler Nationals Little League team, and plan to attend Hamilton High School—but still want to play with the Angels.
There’s something extraordinary about baseball that has helped it stand the test of time. Perhaps the greatest reason is that it’s a game of everyday men. It’s not a game of abnormally tall people, who weigh close to 300 pounds or could run through brick walls. It’s a game that, from the outside, tricks you into thinking that just maybe you could do it yourself. You can realize just by watching an NBA game that most people couldn’t jump over a 6-foot-5 guy and put a basketball through a 10-foot hoop at the same time.
A 3-6-3 double play, however, seems like a realistic feat. So does finding that perfect sweet spot on a bat, and hearing it crack; lots of us have done it at least once. It’s a game made for everyone. And playing in a big league park is an experience one would be lucky to achieve.
“It’s an awesome experience,” said Tempe Bees outfielder Ryan Capeloto. “You get to play on a great field, and get to have the lights all on you. It feels like the whole stadium is watching.”
League Coordinator Mark Gordon knows just how special the opportunity is. “You’re close to great players here. Albert Pujols was running around here just months ago,” Gordon said. “That’s so much fun. It brings you closer to baseball, I think. It ties it in, so it’s not so far away and just on TV all the time.”
The game welcomes everyone with its seemingly simplistic play. But with a closer look, it takes a great amount of hard work and repetition to master.
“It’s not just one of those sports you can walk into and say you’re the best right away,” Ryan said. “You have to have the natural talent to play, with good focus and concentration.”
The Bees, (named after the single A Burlington Bees fromIowa) and the Angels squared off for a great matchup, one that went back and forth through the innings. The game was tied 5-5 headed into the last inning, but the Angels were able to go up 7-5. The Bees managed to load the bases with timely hitting and aggressive base running, but with a 2-2 count and 2 outs the final batter of the game struck out, giving the Angels the win.
“Obviously, we were disappointed but it was short-lived,” said Bees Coach Bill Ottinger. “We enjoyed a great night of baseball with lots of fun moments inside the game, and we got to play where the pros play, inside Diablo Stadium.”
What the city of Tempe and the many people involved in the leagues have done is something very special. To get to play in arguably the best spring training stadium there is, and share a field with some of the greatest the game has seen is remarkable.
In a generation filled with computers, game systems, movies and television, baseball takes you back to a simpler time.
“The team I’m on now is the best. We may not win every game, we may not play the best every game, but we have something no other team has, in a connection,” said Ryan Capeloto.
“Most of our team is from one school and we know each other well. We get to joke around and have a good time.”
After all, isn’t that what being a kid is all about?