“TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME”: Watauga Baseball Team’s 1st Interstate Tournament

The Watauga "Blue" Baseball Team. Back Row: Coach Kevin Hensen, Ben Hensen, Zach Valet, Coach Wendell Ellis, Dakota McCrary, Levi Wilcox, Tyler Nigro, and Coach Angelo Nigro. Front Row: Spencer Hamrick, Willis Ellis, Ryan Church, Justin Greer, Dylan Lawrence, and Logan Norris.

“Take me out to the Ballgame,” was just what we were singing excitedly during our drive to Kingsport, Tennessee this past May 21st-23rd, 2010. Our caravan of vehicles were headed to our 1st interstate baseball tournament of the season consisting of 4 different states: Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina.  We were playing at Domtar Park, with 8 brand new fields to play on. I nicknamed our team Watauga Blue, but we were the Watauga Baseball team representing Boone and Watauga County proud! We were there to WIN and WIN BIG!

Our team consists of 11 boys from 3 different current American League teams through Parks and Rec, in the 12 and under age division. We have three great coaches, Kevin Hensen, Wendell Ellis, and Angelo Nigro, who love teaching the art and game of baseball. Before this tournament, because of school and baseball, Watauga Blue was only able to get in 2 practices. In essence, the boys were pretty raw going in on mere unity and talent, however, they did have the addition of a very enthusiastic and supportive parental/family team, with some even having corporate and individual sponsors helping them get to this tournament.

All total, there were 11 teams including ours. Watauga Blue went into this tournament non-ranking because of not playing before, and Saturday’s games were to find out where we would place in this Pool Tournament ending in a Single Elimination on Sunday. This meant that on Sunday, if our boys kept winning, we would keep playing, but when and if they lost, it was over! During tournament preparation, our team found out that they were able to use “Big Barrel” bats, giving more room on the bat to hit the ball. In practice, the team was hitting great and the boys thought they had this in the bag! Once the games started, it was a whole different ballgame, no pun intended.

Saturday approached bright and early with anticipation in the air. Our 1st game was against the Tennessee Cherokee Warriors. Our boys won the coin toss and were so anxious to bat that they chose to be the Visitors. After several players striking out and some getting hits, but ended up being tagged out, you could see the morale drain from the faces of our players! You see, the teams that we were playing against many times play continuously through out the year giving a huge advantage, and since we live in the mountains, we only have seasonal ball play.

About this time, the storms rolled in and it began to rain. After about a 10-15 minute delay, the game resumed in the pouring rain, but our boys seemed to be defeated with that gloomy cloud hanging over them, not able to pull out of it, lost the game 9-1. In fact, the Refs called the game over in the 4th inning, issuing the “Mercy Rule” when a team is behind 8 runs.

The rain finally subsided and our 2nd game began against the Abbingdon, Virginia Alpha Dawgs team. Watauga Blue started off well, but ended up losing to them as well, 11-2. The team and parents were discouraged, but vowed to play better the next day.

After resting and relaxing, the statistics became available for the game schedule on Sunday. Coach Kevin Hensen said, “You’re not going to believe this, but even though we lost both games, we were actually the better losers with the other teams who lost and will place higher in the games on Sunday.” This seemed unheard of, but in fact the games played that day didn’t count as far as the score, it was all about where we would place in the time slot of game playing in the Silver bracket. With our losses, we didn’t qualify for the Gold bracket. Our 1st game on Sunday was to be at 12:30 pm.

Everyone had a great breakfast Sunday morning and the boys were pumped and ready to Win! We assembled at the Park, Watauga Blue having batting practice until time to play. Because of having the better record, we were automatically the Home team, giving us the opportunity to bat last. The Refs called the game to order and the Virginia Bucks came up to bat. Tyler Nigro started the game off pitching beautifully! We were able to get the Bucks out quickly and it was our time at bat.

All of the sudden…Watauga Blue was back! Our boys were once again in this game to WIN and they started hitting Home Runs, some even over the fence! The crowd went wild, screaming and applauding! I was even yelling, “That’s the way to play”! Watauga Blue kicked the pants off of the Virginia Bucks winning 12-2! Wow, now that was a game!

With this win, we waited to find out our stats. It took some time, but our Coaches came back whooping and hollering telling us that we were now playing for the Silver Championship! It was a surreal moment. A couple of hours passed and it was time to prepare for the Championship game against Kentucky’s Pikeville Reds.

Watauga Blue began playing and our boys were holding their own. We could tell that this was much more of a match player wise. We scored a couple of runs and held them off and then they began to catch up to us. We tied runs and then we would get a couple more runs. This went back and forth for several innings. The game was a real nail-biter!

If you can picture the scene, we were in the beginning of the 5th inning and the Pikeville Reds were up to bat. It was blazing hot for us mountain folks, almost 90 degrees, sweat was just pouring off of the boys. The Reds had tied the score at 7 to 7. We got some of their boys out, but they end up scoring a run making it 8 to 7. Watauga Blue has it’s last chance to bat! Here come our team and one gets a hit and makes it to 2nd base and then gets picked off by the pitcher for not being on the base. Then another player does the same thing and gets picked off again. Our last batter was up, makes a hit to third, the Reds catch it and throw it to 1st base getting our player out…and we LOST! The Pikeville Reds won by 1 run! We were all so disappointed!

The Watauga Blue team picked up their heads and went out shaking hands with the Reds. A ceremony ensued and all of the Coaches and Players were congratulated. As the Runners Up of the Silver Championship, our boys all brought home trophies and our Coaches received a nice plaque. Before leaving the field, both teams came together and prayed giving thanks to the Lord for a good game! The sportsmanship of each team was impressive.

In the end, our boys did Watauga County proud! With only 2 practices, incredibly they pulled it together and did an outstanding  job! Personally, as a mom of one of the players, I am so very proud of these boys and yes, I want to make sure that all of Watauga County knows it! WooHoo, Go Watauga Blue! I look forward to many more tournaments and competitions.