HERITAGE HARBOUR — Eight-year-old Justin Robertson was outside playing in the backyard with some of his friends one May afternoon when he received the news he had been waiting nearly five years to hear — he was going to be an All-Star.
“My dad, mom and brother came outside, and my dad said, ‘Justin I’ve got some good news. You made it to All-Stars,’” Justin said. “I was really happy because I made it to the All-Stars.”
And the Manatee Cal Ripken Rookie Division catcher’s All-Star experience couldn’t have gotten off to a better start than it did last month when the team captured a district championship June 19-20 in Lake City.
The team finished 3-0, defeating Winter Park (12-8), Gainesville Santa Fe (12-3) and Jacksonville Mandarin (19-10) to earn a spot in the Rookie Division “A” State Championships July 2-5 in Palm Beach Gardens.
“I thought we had the talent to go to the state championships, but when you’re dealing with 7- and 8-year-old kids, anything can happen,” coach Shawn Sprague said. “This is a really good team. They believe in one another and (knew) they had to come together in order to do that.”
The Manatee Cal Ripken Rookie Division All-Stars competed in three qualifying games with the winners in each pool advancing to a regional qualifier and eventually the state championship game.
“We need to have good hitting, keep our eyes on the ball and not make any errors,” Justin said.
Eight-year-old Ritchie Morales, who plays left field and short field for the Manatee Cal Ripken Rookie Division All-Stars, agreed.
“We need to play good defense and have good sportsmanship,” he said.
The weekend didn’t go as planned for the team, which fell to Eagle Lake, Longwood and Palm Beach Gardens.
The 12-person Manatee Cal Ripken Rookie Division All-Star team, comprising 7- and 8-year-olds, was announced in mid-May.
So what does it mean to be an All-Star at 8 years old?
“It means you hit good; you hit it far; you throw far, and you’re fast,” Ritchie said.
“It means you’re really good at hitting and catching,” he said.
Shortly after the All-Star team was announced, the team began practicing three to four days a week in preparation for the district tournament. The majority of the players have been playing together on different teams for several seasons now, which has helped create a sense of team unity.
“Our team is a group of young boys who really came together and learned to play as a team,” Sprague said. “They realized it takes a team to win and it’s not just about individuals on the field.
“They really understand that everyone out here is an All-Star and they each have to fulfill their roles to get better and help the team,” he added.
For more information on the Manatee Cal Ripken League, visit the organization’s website at www.manatee.baberuthonline.com.
Contact Jen Blanco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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