It’s not exactly a short drive from the City of Bridges to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
Just over 957 miles of mostly eastern directional driving will get you there. Another 25 miles will put you in our nation’s capital, Washington D.C.
But that road to Fireman’s Field, the home of the Babe Ruth Baseball 13-15 World Series, seems like a fairly short one to travel compared to the road already taken by the Ottumwa 15-year-old Babe Ruth squad. From multiple comeback victories already in this postseason, including a final-inning rally to win the Midwest Plains regional championship in Booneville, Mo., to the incredible fundraising efforts of the past couple weeks to make sure the team had the financial ability to make the trip they earned on the field.
Nothing about getting to the Babe Ruth World Series has been easy for the Ottumwa 15-year-olds so far. Actually making the nearly 1,000-mile trek to Virginia, at this point, is a journey everyone involved with the Ottumwa team is certainly excited to make.
“Over the past couple of weeks, the kids have been on a real emotional high. We’ve been doing a lot of practicing and a lot fundraising together as a team,” Ottumwa 15-year-old Babe Ruth manager Tom Mitchell said. “At this point, we’re all one big family now. All the families of all the players and of all the coaches have come together to make this happen. We’ve all got great chemistry working among everyone. Everybody has pulled together and has worked to make this a really enjoyable experience for the kids.”
Once those very talented Ottumwa kids finally set foot in the Loundon County community and hit the diamond at Fireman’s Field, it will be time to get down to business. This isn’t a sight-seeing tour for the Ottumwa 15-year-old Babe Ruth All-stars this week as they participate in the 13-15 year-old World Series.
When they open pool play action against Virginia’s Babe Ruth state champ, Greater Vienna on Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m., Ottumwa is going to be turning their east coast trip into a business trip. The business will be winning, which is all this Ottumwa squad has done so far.
“We’re not going to get out to the D.C. area and just be happy to be out there,” Mitchell said. “These boys still have a drive and hunger. They want to go out and win some games.”
Getting to be a part of this year’s 10-team Babe Ruth Baseball 13-15 World Series field was a two-part process for all the teams involved. There was obviously qualifying through the eight regional tournaments along with the Virginia state tournament, won by Ottumwa’s opening opponent Greater Vienna, and the automatic berth given to the host team Greater Loudon.
Ottumwa earned its bid to the World Series by back-to-back elimination games over Boone by slim two-run margins, 6-4 and 3-1, just to win the Iowa state title in Wellman. That berth provided the boys from Bridge City a trip to Booneville, where things didn’t get any easier as Ottumwa again was in comeback mode throughout the Midwest Plains Regional Tournament.
With the exception of a 7-4 win over Lincoln, Neb., which was the largest margin of victory in the regional tourney for Ottumwa, every win earned by the Iowa champs came after trailing. Ottumwa rallied from 2-0 down to beat Semo, Missouri 5-3, beat Hi Tower, Minn., 8-6 after trailing 4-1 and finished the tournament with Chase Wood’s three-run go-ahead seventh-inning home run in the regional title game against Hi Tower after the Minnesota champ rallied for a 5-4 lead after six innings.
“Every game was a battle for us down there,” Mitchell said. “In every game, we had to have that attitude of never giving up, which is the kind of attitude you have to have to win in the postseason.”
Once they returned home as regional champs, the Ottumwa squad learned that for the first time this year Babe Ruth World Series qualifiers would have to pick up the tab on all of their own expenses to get their teams to Virginia. Unlike previous years, there would be no host families provided to teams, meaning each team would have to reserve hotel rooms for each player and coach as well as make sure there would be enough money for meals throughout the week-long tournament and enough money to provide for the mode of travel for the entire team to get to Virginia.
While that sounds like a negative, as was the case on the field during the postseason the challenge of meeting those financial stipulations provided the Ottumwa Babe Ruth squad with a chance to find plenty of great positives.
“It just brought everybody together,” Mitchell said. “We had a big can drive on Sunday afternoon (which was also the day of the Ottumwa Babe Ruth team’s fundraiser event) and we all the families and all kids here sorting out cans. Even people that were not part of the team stopped by to help us out.”
While he’s not completely sure on the exact total amount raised, Mitchell knows enough has been raised to take care of all the team’s expense.
“Something like this has brought the entire community together,” Mitchell said. “A lot of people have really kicked in. It’s brought a lot of people together. It’s just a rallying point.”
So finally, after overcoming all the obstacles on and off the field to get there, the Ottumwa 15-year-old Babe Ruth baseball squad can focus on overcoming the challenges a new batch of opponents will provide this week. Ottumwa will be in the five-team American Pool and will also matchup with Westchester, Calif., on Monday morning at 10 a.m., Saginaw Valley, Mich., on Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. and Brazoswood, Texas, at 3 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon to wrap up pool play.
Should they finish in the top three of the American pool, Ottumwa would advance to the bracket-play elimination round of the tournament. Quarterfinal matchups between the second and third-place American and National pool teams will take place on Thursday with those winners playing the pool winners Friday. The Babe Ruth World Series title game will be on Saturday at noon.
“It’s going to be electric. It’s going to be quite an experience,” Mitchell said. “I just hope the boys don’t get caught up in the emotion of being in the World Series. That’s our job as coaches is to keep them having fun and keep them relaxed. When they’re having fun and they’re relaxed, that’s when they play their best baseball.”
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