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Cooperstown fever hits East County teams

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  • | 4:00 a.m. June 16, 2010
  • East County
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MANATEE COUNTY — Four years ago, a then-8-year-old Brian Dillingham had one of the best seats in the park.

From his vantage point, Dillingham watched as his older brother, Kevin, and his teammates competed in one of the nation’s largest Little League baseball tournaments — the American Youth Baseball Hall of Fame Invitational Tournament in Cooperstown, N.Y.

He spent a week immersed in everything baseball from watching nearly 100 teams from across the country battle for a tournament championship to visiting the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

“It was really fun, and we got to see the Hall of Fame and who is all in it,” Dillingham said. “It was fun to be there, and you get a nice view from behind the fields.”

It was an experience of a lifetime for the players involved, and for Dillingham, it sparked a desire to return to baseball’s historic city and be able to experience the tournament again — only this time as a player out on the field.

“Watching him play … I wanted to be out there playing with him, but I just had to wait my turn,” Dillingham said.

The anticipated wait is now over for the 12-year-old catcher, who along with the rest of his 12U Suncoast Reebok teammates, is competing in the second week of the 2010 American Youth Baseball Hall of Fame Invitational Tournament at Cooperstown Dreams Park.

The tournament, which began with Opening Ceremonies June 12, runs through June 18 with the championship game scheduled for today.

“It’s an experience of a lifetime because not very many people get to do it,” 12-year-old Cody Spencer said.

Dillingham agreed.

“I’m excited about being in the tournament and playing teams from around the country,” he said. “The teams around Bradenton … we’ve played them a lot, and it gets boring playing them all the time, but this will be different teams and a different experience.”

But Suncoast Reebok isn’t the only team representing the East County in this week’s tournament. The 12U Diamond Dawgs also are enjoying the thrill of competing in Cooperstown.

After making a pact two years ago to compete in the tournament, the team hosted several different fundraisers to reach their goal of raising roughly $14,000 for the trip.

“We’ve had a dream for about two years to go up there and experience it,” Diamond Dawgs coach Larry Zunica said. “It’s an experience of a lifetime for 12-year-olds. They’ll never look back again (because) it’s quite an experience out here.”

Both teams are spending the week living in dorm rooms inside the Little League Village. The tournament includes 104 teams from throughout the country.

Each team will play six pool-play games to determine their overall rank and seed. The teams were ranked based on their records and began the single elimination tournament June 16.

“I’m looking forward to the atmosphere and just playing against different teams that we haven’t played before from across the country,” said 12-year-old Ryley Zunica, who catches for the Diamond Dawgs.
Suncoast Reebok centerfielder Wade Carter agreed.

“I’m happy because I get to play new teams and play teams from out of the state,” he said. “It’s going to be hard because we don’t know them; and we have to play our hardest, try our best and don’t give up.”

In addition to tournament play, the teams also competed in several baseball skills competitions and got to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame — a first for many of the players.

Each player also received 100 trading pins to trade with the other teams.

As of press time Tuesday, the Diamond Dawgs were ranked 30th with a 4-1 record and Suncoast Reebok was ranked 35th with a 3-1 record.

“We have a lot of heart, and we really respect the coaches and how we’re going to play,” Dillingham said. “We always have the will to be the best we can be.

“We just have to have the heart and desire to want it more than the other team, so we can become the champions,” he said.

For more information on Cooperstown Dreams Park and the 2010 American Youth Baseball Hall of Fame Invitational Tournament, including weekly results, visit

Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].


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