It doesn’t seem like much. Thirty-five miles or so. Not a lot to look at. Nothing to show when posting an Instagram picture.
But when cars carrying youth sports standouts of Las Vegas pass the state line near Primm, those who compete so well here often eventually are swallowed by the massive numbers — both in bodies and talent — that define the playing fields of Southern California.
It has been true with most sports, Little Leaguers not excluded.
But there is a group that intends on changing that over the next 10 days and, more importantly, just might have the skill to do so.
“This will be the team, in my opinion, that can do it,” Jeff Griffith said. “If it’s going to be done before I die, this is the team.”
Jeff is 16. I’m hoping he lives a long and successful life.
Nevada is hoping it doesn’t take all of it to qualify its first team for the Little League World Series.
Griffith played on the Mountain Ridge side that competed at the West Regional in San Bernardino in 2010, in the tournament that represents the final step for a team from this part of the country to qualify for the magic, pageantry and bright lights of Howard J. Lamade Stadium in South Williamsport, Pa.
To a place where the scene each August is beyond surreal, where players arrive to an array of new bats, gloves and other equipment at their disposal, where people wait outside their living quarters for autographs and local girls ask for dates.
Where the championship game first was televised by ABC in 1963 and where ESPN then really ramped up coverage beginning in 1982. Millions of people watching from home annually.
Nothing is little about the Little League World Series.
First things first, though. Getting there.
Mountain Ridge is back in the regional, back in cars passing that state line and headed toward San Bernardino, and this time it appears they are more prepared and definitely more capable of making a deeper run than the single win they managed three years ago.
Brothers of some who were on the 2010 team are among the standouts that represent a group of three-time state champions, a roster in which 12 of 13 players hit home runs in the state tournament.
Make no mistake: Mountain Ridge mashes.
“When we looked back at 2010, we realized we just didn’t have the defense or depth needed to win there,” said Larry Quaney, manager of the collection of Mountain Ridge All Stars then and now. “We had a few really good players and nine or so that weren’t great.
“To really have a chance at this stage of things, you need more than three pitchers, play great defense and really hit. We’re strong at every position this time. We know it always takes a little luck, but these kids have heard those from 2010 talk about the experience. They want to make history. Everything has lined up perfectly.”
That was the plan.
It almost always is.
Little League teams that reach a regional and perhaps a World Series are built over several summers as 10-year-olds become 11 and then finally 12 and 13. The age cutoff for Little League is April 30, meaning to be eligible for the World Series, you can’t turn 13 before that date each year.
Four players on the Mountain Ridge team have reached teenage status. In 2010, Quaney believed they might mature and improve enough to arrive at this moment if he could keep them together for three All-Star seasons.
It’s a long way from an opening game against a team from Utah on Friday morning at 11:45 to the regional championship Aug. 10. It has been a really long time — 56 years and counting — that the West Regional has been held. Still, Nevada searches for its first winner, its first team to make a Little League World Series.
“Growing up, we always heard that California teams were the best,” said Griffith, who now plays for Arbor View High. “And for the most part, they have been. But with this team (from Mountain Ridge), they have a much better shot than we did three years ago. Player for player, they’re better than we were.
“This is the team.”
Jeff probably has 80 to 85 good years left.
Here’s hoping Nevada doesn’t have to wait that long to send a team to Williamsport.
Heck. It just might happen 10 days from now.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.