After a harrowing run in the Massachusetts Babe Ruth state tournament and a comeback win in regional competition, a group of teens from Westfield will fly across the country Monday to play in the Babe Ruth World Series for 13-year-olds.
The Greater Westfield Babe Ruth All-Stars are the first team from the city in roughly two decades to reach the national level, drawing serious support from local businesses.
“These kids have a never-say-die attitude,” said Mike Smith, team manager. “It’s totally unexpected for us to be flying out to the World Series.”
So unexpected, Smith said, that his team had to do some speedy fund-raising to pay for the expedition. But businesses, parents, and residents stepped up.
“In one week they came through with about $16,500,” Smith said. “The town has come together to really help us.”
Westfield, located about 10 miles west of Springfield, is one of only nine communities in the nation to win the right to send a team to Kitsap County, Wash. As host, Kitsap County also fields a team.
The team’s 15 players, all of whom are 13 years old, are expected to play their first game of the tournament Wednesday. The 10 teams first play a short series for seeding, then compete in a single-elimination tournament.
Christina Gezotis, whose husband, Curt, coaches the team, said planning for the trip began immediately after the team’s Aug. 2 win against New Milford, Conn., which sent them to the World Series.
Players in uniform fanned out across the town, set up with donation buckets at coffee shops, grocery stores, and traffic lights, asking for change.
Parents chipped in by working the phones, Gezotis said.
“Word of mouth just kind of spread like wildfire,” she said. “Every parent made three or four phone calls, and the corporate money started rolling in.”
Not all donations came from big sponsors. Dan Welch, president of the Greater Westfield Babe Ruth League, said that one player’s fourth-grade teacher sent in a check for $10 after seeing the former student’s name in a local news report.
Once they land in the Pacific Northwest, the players expect to face fierce competition, Smith said. Westfield’s first opponent, from Waite Park, Minn., is a serious team with a robust program, at least according to some scouting reports from friends of Smith who live in the St. Paul area.
“They have gone to three consecutive World Series, so we might be running into a buzz-saw,” Smith joked.
As they have since June, the players will rely on teamwork and their familiarity with each other to carry them through, Welch said. Many of the boys have been playing baseball together for four years or more.
”They’re really supportive, and cheer for each other, in good times and bad,” Welch said. “They should go out and have fun; that’s number one. If they win, that’s a bonus.”