Travel baseball teams struggle to win games, but lay groundwork for future success

The success or failure of this year’s Crook County Cowboy Baseball program can’t be measured in wins and losses.

“It’s been a rough spring for the 14U travel ballers, but we gained some well needed experience on the big field,” said Cody Norris, one of the head coaches in the Cowboy youth travel baseball LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Tanner Maryanski attempts to avoid a tag at third base during one of the Cowboy 14U summer baseball games.

The Cowboys chose to have two competing travel teams in the 14U age bracket this year to make sure that every interested athlete had plenty of time to play. The program was geared more to teaching fundamentals and preparing players for high school, and less towards winning. According to coaches Cody Norris and Brad Wilson, who were head coaches on the respective squads, the program was a great success.

“These kids know how to play baseball and that should reflect in the next few years at the high school,” said Brad Wilson. “When all these kids start flowing in there, the first day of baseball practice is not necessarily going to have to be focused on fundamentals. All these kids already should know them and they should be able to go on to more advanced practices.”

Dividing the talent into two 14U baseball teams was a calculated risk. Most of the other teams in the area fielded both 13U and 14U squads. However, both Norris and Wilson felt that it was important that the younger players become familiar with the larger size field as early as possible.

Up through 13U, teams play on fields with just 60 fee between the bases. Once they reach the 14 year-old age group, the diamond is expanded to 90 foot base paths, the same size as high school, college and professional baseball.

“We had 11 eighth-graders, 10 seventh-graders and one sixth-grader that were divided evenly between the two teams,”?Norris said. “Also with the 12U travel ballers, there’s another seven Crook County kids in the program.”

Norris added that the 12U team had several kids from outside of Prineville.

“It’s an eye opener for some of the young kids,” Wilson said. “When you are playing 60-foot bases throwing across the diamond doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, then when you have a 90-foot diamond you have positions that some of the players just aren’t physically capable of playing. When they get used to it they can say ‘Hey, that’s going to be me next year.’ It’s a good experience for them.”

Wilson added that the change in size of the field also impacts hitters.

“The hitters get so see a lot better pitching,” he said. “Balls that used to drop for base hits on the small fields now are dropping in front of the infielders on the bigger field, so the difference is trying to learn to pull the ball or push the ball and get a hole in the infield so they can get the ball through.”

Although the two 14U teams won just four or five games between the two squads, both coaches believe that the program was successful.

“The best team by far was Madras,” Norris said. “That’s the same team that went to the Western Regionals in all-stars last year. The funny thing is that our best 11 soon to be frosh split with them last year so we know we have the talent to do it again in high school once all of our players are together.”

“The whole goal of the program is to get those kids adapted and ready to play high school baseball,” Wilson said. “Everyone got to play and overall I think it was a good learning experience for them.”

Norris is also the high school JV coach, while Wilson said that next year he will start over with a 10U baseball team and work to bring them up through the program.

He added that the same coaches have been involved with the youth baseball program now for several years. Both he and Norris believe that the continuity in the program is going to begin to pay big dividends at the high school level.

“The future’s bright with a young squad and a (high school) league change next year,” Norris said.

“We should see improvement,” added Wilson. “They have a really talented group of kids and if they all come back next year, especially at 4A, they should be capable of winning. That group of kids should be really successful for the next few years.”

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