Aaron Lewis takes batting practice as the Columbia County Stars prepare for a trip to the U.S. Specialty Sports Association 13 & Under World Series in Michigan.
Photo by Jonathan Heeter
It takes about 14 hours to drive from Evans to Detroit, but the drive was well worth it for a group of Columbia County teens.
The Columbia County Stars traveling baseball team made the long trip to Canton, Mich., a city about 20 miles from Detroit, for the United States Specialty Sports Association 13 & Under World Series.
The Stars will enter the tournament, which begins Monday, as one of about 100 teams vying for the World Series crown.
"We played tough in the World Series last season but we believe we can win the whole thing this year," said manager Billy Gamblin. "We didn't expect much last season and we ended with a great year. This season we have had a great season and want to end it with a bang."
The Stars went to the 12&U World Series last summer in Hutchinson, Kan., competing against 74 other teams. The Stars finished ninth, giving them a final record of 49-14.
This year, the Stars enter the championship tournament with a 30-9 record, according to the USSSA, and as the third ranked team in the nation. A late-season flurry that included winning the Georgia state championship and the World Series Warm-Up tournament in Spartanburg, S.C. pushed them from the 60th-ranked team to the third.
"It is always an honor to be ranked high," Gamblin said. "But all that matters is what happens on the field."
Patrick Gamblin focuses on a hitting drill as the Columbia County stars prepare for their trip to Michigan.
Photo by Jonathan Heeter
The team's high ranking will allow them to be seeded in a pool with weaker teams. If the Stars emerge from pool play, then they enter the double-elimination part of the tournament to decide the World Series champ.
A championship could cap off a four-year odyssey for Gamblin and his team.
The majority of the Stars' roster have played together for four seasons. With some heading to high school in the next year and others playing eighth-grade baseball, this could be the Stars' final shot at title.
"Next year is still up in the air," Gamblin said. "We will have to see where the kids and parents stand after we come back. The new season begins in August, so we'll have to come to a decision soon."
If the parents decide to go for one more year, they will have to bear the financial burden that comes with a traveling team.
Gamblin said the cost for the trip to Kansas was about $15,000 including airfare and this year's trip to Michigan will be $9,500.
"Playing on a traveling baseball team requires a huge amount of dedication from parents and sponsors," he said. "Those World Series figures don't even account for the money spent each season on traveling to our tournaments."
Gamblin said winning a title would make it easier to disband the team.
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