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Have glove, will travel

More than 400 teams traveled to the Western Slope in search of a championship

John Vandelinder
Derec Olsen from Kansas City, deals a third strike against Montana. Olsen struck out the side to start the first inning.
John Vandelinder

— California, Oklahoma, Florida, California, Missouri, Texas and Montana are just a few of the states represented at the Triple Crown National Baseball Championships.

Apparently, there is no baseball diamond too far away for these teams to travel.

Baseball players from the age of 8 to 18 form more than 400 teams, which will compete during four weeks in the Western Slope.

“This is such a great event for these kids,” Greg Mattingly, Craig region site coordinator said. “They come from all over to test their skills against the best in the country.”

Having the financial ability, and the time to devote to the trip, doesn’t mean an automatic invite.

Every team has had to play its way in, through various qualifying tournaments. Each is a champion of its respective region, who has worked together to accomplish the ultimate goal.

National champions.

Bill Weiss, head coach of the Ohio War Hawks from Columbus, offered some insight into what it takes to advance this far.

“This team has been together for three years now,” he said. “They work hard because they want to find out how well they perform against the stiffest competition. Many of these players have dreams of playing high school, college and even pro ball. It takes a ton of dedication and, most importantly, team unity to get where we are.”

The War Hawks seem to have the talent, having won five tournaments this year, including two Triple Crown events.

“Having won five titles so far, and compiling a 43-8 record, our lone goal here is to win,” he said.

For other teams, it’s not just about winning, it’s about developing the talent in their players.

Southern California coach Kevin Chavez uses this tournament as an opportunity to expose his kids to outside competition.

“It’s been a long trip,” he said. “We are a small team that qualified way back in November. We’ve been marking off the days on our calendar, eager to get out here. This tournament gives the kids a chance to gauge themselves against bigger and stronger teams. It’s a total learning experience. We learn what to improve on, and we also learn how to depend on one another. It teaches them confidence, and it emphasizes team chemistry.”

Twenty-six teams have been battling all week long at the Woodbury Sports Complex.

The format starts with a three-game round robin formula, with the top 16 teams advancing. Teams are seeded 1 through 16, and all records are wiped clean.

The Southern Cal squad finished 1-2, but still managed to qualify for the double elimination championship round as the 14 seed.

“Now we start over,” Chavez said. “It’s a whole new tournament now. We throw out the first round and move forward.”

The tournament begins with a march through the Rodeo Grounds in Steamboat Springs with each team proudly flying its team banner.

Each age group competes throughout the week, with a champion crowned each weekend.

There is a home run derby, a base running contest and an arm accuracy competition.

What do you win as an age group champion? Mattingly was excited to divulge the information.

“You get plaques and trophies, but the best part is the gondola ride.”

The winning teams get to ride the gondola to the top of Mt. Werner and then receive their awards.

“There are really no losers here,” Mattingly said. “Every ball player is a winner by just making it this far.”


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