LAKEWOOD RANCH — From the time they first stepped onto the diamond eight years ago, TD Dietrich and Jimmy Kuebler have been fascinated with the legend of Cooperstown.
Like most Little Leaguers, The Out-of-Door Academy eighth-graders have heard numerous tales of past baseball legends who have since found a home inside the walls of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
So when the two, along with the rest of their 13U Lakewood Ranch Longhorns teammates, wound up traveling to Cooperstown Dream Park last summer for a 10-day tournament, they couldn’t help but revel in the moment.
“It was like a 10-day sleepover,” Dietrich said. “All we did was play baseball for 10 days.”
The Longhorns competed in pool play before advancing to the single elimination round where they beat the Central Florida Diamondbacks — the No. 1 team in the nation at the time. Lakewood finished 13th out of 102 teams overall and also won the around-the-horn skills competition.
“There were like 5,000 people watching, so it was pretty cool,” Kuebler said. “It was very exciting because we really wanted to win.”
It was a thrilling experience for the team, which began practicing again a couple weeks ago. After spending the last two years playing year-round, the Longhorns took the majority of the spring off so some of the players could play for ODA.
The team regrouped last month and began practicing twice a week. Lakewood competed in the Nations Baseball Elite State Championship May 28-30 — its first tournament of the spring — and finished second.
Most recently, the Longhorns competed in the IBC State Championship June 5-6. The Longhorns won their first game 5-4 before forfeiting their second game and the tournament after a combination of poor sportsmanship by the opposing team and the loss of center fielder Jeremy Luna, who broke his leg.
It was by no means the ending for which the Longhorns had hoped, but for the players, it’s more about teamwork than the number of accolades they receive.
“It’s a step down from playing varsity baseball, because it’s a little more loose,” Kuebler said. “Of course, we play to win, but if we lose, then we just try to get better the next game.”
Coach Billy Dietrich agreed.
“We just want them to respect their teammates, respect the game and understand that it’s a team effort,” he said. “We’re not trophy-hunters.
“They’re fantastic athletes, but more importantly they’re really great kids,” he said. “We don’t care about wins and losses.”
The Longhorns formed in November 2007 after Billy Dietrich and other parents got together and decided to form a new local travel ball team. The team comprises eight players from Manatee and three players from Sarasota who grew up playing Little League together.
“We decided we wanted to start a local team and get local kids to play for us and develop them,” Billy Dietrich said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but we’re just trying to get them on the right path. That’s our whole goal and intent.”
A native of Texas, Billy Dietrich came up with the idea to name the team the Lakewood Ranch Longhorns in honor of the University of Texas. The team typically practices twice a week and competes in about two tournaments a month.
The Longhorns will return to action this weekend in Plant City before preparing for AAU Nationals June 27 through July 1 in Walt Disney World.
“We’re always ready to play our game,” Kuebler said. “Even if we’re playing the best team in the state we play as a team. We all just love the game and play to win.”
For more information on the Lakewood Ranch Longhorns visit the team’s website at www.thelonghorns.us.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected]om.