HERITAGE HARBOUR — At this time last year, three Manatee Cal Ripken Little League at Heritage Harbour players huddled together along the chain-link fence with their eyes glued on the diamond.
Ryan Combs and Drew Marra, both now 6 years old, and Trent Hedgepeth, now 8 years old, watched in awe as their older brothers, Aaron Combs, Derek Marra and Calvin Hedgepeth, took the field for the start of the 8U All-Star tournament.
Ryan, Drew and Trent traveled alongside the All-Star team, refusing to miss a game. During the All-Star season, the boys watched their older brothers win the district tournament, becoming the first Manatee Cal Ripken Little League team to advance to the state tournament.
And as they watched their brothers compete in the state tournament for the first time, the three boys dreamt of one day following in their footsteps.
“I like baseball, and I wanted to play with him,” said Drew, a first-grader at Gullett Elementary, who plays third base.
So when the All-Star rosters were announced last month, Ryan, Drew and Trent couldn’t contain their excitement when they learned that not only would they once again be traveling alongside their brothers, but also they, too, would be donning All-Star uniforms for the first time.
“I was excited because it’s my first time being an All-Star,” Drew said. “I’m (happy) to be an All-Star with my brother because I like him to be an All-Star, too.”
“I was very surprised because I thought there were other people who could be a little better than me,” said Trent, a second-grader at Williams Elementary, who is a utility player. “I feel good that he’s an All-Star also because his coaches can teach him, so he can teach me.”
Ryan, Drew and Trent were all named to the 8U All-Star team while Aaron, Derek and Calvin moved up to the 9U All-Star team. The teams opened their All-Star season May 15.
“I’m very happy because there was hard competition,” said Calvin, 9, who pitches and plays center field. “I was surprised, but I’m very happy I made it. I felt good when Trent made it, too, so we could both be an All-Star.”
“I was excited because pretty much all of my friends were playing,” said Derek, 9, a catcher. “I also was excited for him (Drew) because this is his first time.”
The three sets of brothers began practicing for their All-Star season May 15.
The boys practice four nights a week; and when Ryan, Drew and Trent are finished practicing, they head across the ballpark to watch their older brothers practice.
But practice doesn’t end at the ballpark. Instead, each set of brothers spends most of their time together fielding balls and practicing their swings in their own backyards.
“We practice together every day,” Aaron said. “I like playing with my younger brother. I like having someone to play with.”
The six boys, who are looking forward to traveling with their respective All-Star teams, will begin competing June 16-19 and 24-26 and have their sights on district and state championships while also improving as players along the way.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Ryan, a first-grader at Willis Elementary, who plays second base. “I like traveling with my brother.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].