There’s this baseball team of 12-year-olds from Las Vegas who went to Cooperstown, New York, for eight days last month to compete in a tournament. There were 103 other baseball teams participating, similarly composed of 12-year-olds from all over the U.S. and Canada.
The kids from Las Vegas were outstanding. Their team, the Las Vegas Baseball Academy Lightning, won eight of 10 games and tied a team from Florida for third place. It missed playing in the championship game only because of a dazzling catch by the opposing centerfielder.
Six of the 11 kids on the LVBA Lightning go to schools in and around Summerlin. I will come clean right from the start: The team has been coached for four years, since they were 9-year-olds, by Dan Jaffe, who happens to be my grandson and who also happens to be an assistant baseball coach at College of Southern Nevada.
Normally I’d refer to the ongoing column as a conflict of interest. But in this case I’ll take some liberties on the basis that any team that finishes ahead of 100 other teams in a 104-team tournament deserves recognition and acclamation, irrespective of who their coach is.
The tournament was played at Cooperstown Dreams Park, a complex of 22 baseball diamonds, “each of major league baseball quality,” Jaffe commented. And why not? Even though Cooperstown Dreams Park is actually in Hartwick Seminary, a town a short distance from the village of Cooperstown, everything in the vicinity is commonly referred to as Cooperstown.
For the uninformed, Cooperstown is the mother lode of baseball. It’s where the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is. And to millions of baseball addicts, that is hallowed ground, a veritable shrine dedicated to a sport well-recognized as the national pastime.
“So you could well imagine how my kids felt playing in that environment,” said Jaffe as he recounted how close the LVBA Lightning came to winning the championship.
Among those attending school in and around Summerlin, four of the Lightning kids go to Faith Lutheran Junior High, one attends Adelson Middle and one attends Cashman Middle.
The Lightning, seeded number 14 , lost the first game of the tournament to top-seeded Tri State Arsenal from New Jersey, the team that won the championship. But the Las Vegas kids then won their next six games, becoming one of the 16 finalists.
“To win the championship you had to win four games in one day,” Jaffe said, adding that each game is usually six innings in tournament play for 12-year-olds.
They beat the third-seeded team from Palisades, California, in the first game of the championship round. Seth Lyons, the starting pitcher for the Lightning, pitched commendably. The game went into extra innings and the Lightning won in the ninth on hits by Rolen Driscoll (Faith Lutheran) and Kody Bialas (Cashman). Nate Vigil was the winning pitcher.
“An hour later we played the sixth-seeded San Diego Stars. Nico Rivera (Adelson) hit a home run and pitched the sixth inning. We won, 12-11,” Jaffe said.
Again, with only one hour of rest, the Lightning played their third game that day against a team from the Puget Sound area in Washington state and lost in the eighth inning, 11-10.
“Sergio Jaramillo (Faith Lutheran) had hit a three-run home run to put us into extra innings. But their centerfielder made a sensational catch on a ball hit by Driscoll that would have won the game for us in the seventh,” Jaffe explained.
Tri State Arsenal went on to beat Puget Sound for the championship.
The other five members of the Lightning team were Ethan Kelly, Austin Villarreal, Kaiden Hernandez, Joey Schimick and Tyler Tiedeman. Schimick and Tiedeman also attend Faith Lutheran.
Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey. His most recent novel, “Double Play,” is now available. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.