Tigard's Senior National Junior Baseball Organization team, this past weekend, fell one game short of its preseason goal of playing in the state tournament, but a final loss at the district tournament seemed to do little to diminish the squad's remarkable season.
With an overall record of of 26-7 losses, a 16-2 league record (good enough for a tie for first place), a 14-game win streak, two tournament championships and two second-place tournament finishes, the team of 13 and 14-year-olds attained a level of success that will be remembered for years.
The gaudy record and all the tournament trophies, however, may not be what set this team apart. The players — Grady Cox, Jack Davis, Seth Eshleman, Riley Holmes, Brandon Johnson, Brayden Kuhn, Phin Moll, Max Niemi, Hayden Oelke, Andrew Roderick, Layn Schefter and Darren Tingey — made sure of that.
"I've coached a lot of teams over a lot of years," JBO National team manager Frank Myers said. "I've never seen a group of kids come together like this one. It felt like from the first practice back in February, these boys just all made up their minds they were going to be best friends and teammates, and that feeling never went away.
"You have to give huge credit to Tigard JBO President Jim Kelleher. Jim is a tireless worker with immense credibility when it comes to Tigard-area youth sports. He reached out to parents for months, then assembled as strong a roster of players as we've seen in years."
Along with the players came parent support Myers described as "nothing short of amazing."
"First, I get three coaches — Christian Oelke, Dan Moll and Scott Eshleman — with a ton of baseball experience and a determination to be unfailingly positive and constructive with the kids," Myers said. "Follow that up parents ready to be scorekeepers, pitch-counters, groundskeepers, whatever we needed — it was a manager's dream team."
The players bought into the dream, too.
"I feel that our team did really well this season because we all got along both on and off the field," catcher/first baseman Cox said.
Catcher/first baseman Niemi agreed.
"One thing that impressed me about our team was our team's charisma as a whole," he said. "Although our coach required positive verbal support, it really came naturally to us to support each other during both the good times and bad."
"This is the best team I've ever been on," Holmes, a right-fielder/pitcher, added. "Everyone was friends and supported each other and cheered each other on. We had so much fun, and played well together."
"Yep, we all really got along," left fielder/second baseman Darren Tingey said.
Several players noted special moments during the season that will be memories for a lifetime.
"I remember we made it to the championship game of the Canby Tournament," outfielder/second baseman Phin Moll said. "We fell behind to Clackamas 8-0, and I didn't think we'd win. But we didn't get down, and then we started playing really well, and we wound up winning 20-8. That was amazing." Pitcher/catcher Kuhn learned how much fun it was to throw different pitches to keep hitters off-balance. He also recalled his team's first tournament championship, at Sherwood.
"We lost a game the first day, and had to come back through the losers bracket," Kuhn said. "It took all day the second day of the tournament, but our team fought so hard to win it."
Shortstop and outfielder Andrew "A-Rod" Roderick can look back all the way to the opening day of the season, in a tournament game against Tualatin. Roderick raced a good thirty yards to catch a soaring fly ball in right field, then turned and fired to first base, to beat an unsuspecting baserunner for a double-play. Third baseman Schefter will be remembered for delivering a game-winning, stand-up triple against league co-champion Lincoln. Pitcher Brandon Johnson threw a complete game, two-hit shutout against a talented Westview squad, and two weeks later pitched three innings of no-hit ball — in both games of a doubleheader.
His fellow pitcher, Davis, was the team's opening-day starter, and thrived in clutch situations — both as a hurler and a batter — all season long.
Hayden Oelke was the only player on the team to play all nine defensive positions in the course of the season.
"I will definitely remember the entire season for the rest of my life," he said. "My favorite memory was when Brandon Johnson was up to bat and I was on deck, and the pitcher threw a ball behind Brandon and the umpire called it a strike. When it was my turn to bat, the ump asked the catcher if the ball really went behind Brandon. The catcher responded with a yes, and the ump said, 'Oh.' That ump is one I will never forget, just like I will never forget this team."
The record and success, the friendships and memories of this Tigard JBO National team will last a lifetime, as will the life lessons baseball can provide.
"Remember what Babe Ruth once said," observed pitcher and middle infielder Seth Eshleman. "Don't let the fear of striking out ever get in your way."