What is really the culmination of years of hard work and progress begins today at Veterans Memorial Field here in town.
West Fargo hosts the 15-year-old Midwest Plains Regional Babe Ruth Baseball Tournament beginning today, August 6, and ending Monday, August 10. That West Fargo was selected as the site of the prestigious tournament certainly has a lot to do with the very players that will be taking the field today.
It's the same general group of players that have torn through competition over the years and won a remarkable five state baseball championships in a row, beginning as 10-year-olds and ending last year as 14-year-olds. As 15-year-olds they finished second at state this year but are granted a berth in the regional as the host team. Many of the players rode their success to the 13 and 14-year-old Babe Ruth World Series the last two seasons.
There's no doubting that this West Fargo team is very, very good yet again. In addition to competing well against a Team USA 16-year-old squad twice this season, this West Fargo team beat the Team USA 15-year-olds that represented our country at the Pan American games this year. They actually beat the cream of the crop of youth baseball players that the U.S. has to offer.
So, it comes as no surprise that West Fargo Baseball will be hosting the 15-year-old regional this year. Local citizens will be acting as host families for about 100 kids from all over the Midwest.
"It's really the culmination of all the hard work the kids have done and all the travel that all the (West Fargo) kids have put in the past six years. It's a great reward," said Todd Rheault, coach of the 15-year-olds.
The fun begins tonight when a local VFW veteran will throw out the first pitch, and tonight's festivities will continue with West Fargo playing Team Nebraska.
Given West Fargo's elite tournament experience and national success the past few years, the local team is one of the favorites to make it to yet another World Series.
"It's a work ethic, a lot of work in the off-season," said Rheault. "There's a big commitment, and we do challenge them and play in a lot of tournaments. We ramp up the competition, plus we see a lot of good, quality baseball in North Dakota."
Rheault also serves as Vice President of West Fargo Baseball to President Ben Potter. They, along with others, have the local baseball scene abuzz with activity. West Fargo Baseball had more than 450 kids compete this year, up 15 percent from two years ago. Also, Veterans Field, home of the West Fargo Patriots (the city's senior American Legion team) has seen recent renovations that make it one of the better fields in the state.
As baseball flourishes in West Fargo, this year's 15-year-olds have kept pace. This team won the East Region, Fargo and West Fargo tournaments this year and took second at the Omaha (Neb.) College World Series Nike tourney, losing to the Team USA 16-year-olds. West Fargo sports a season record of 29-8.
The team is batting .352 on the year, with six players hitting over .400, including Brandan Nelson, Karson Mapes, Brock Evenson, Tucker Bucholz, Chance Bitzer and Andy Young.
The team's talent doesn't stop with hitting. Austin Horsager has seven wins on the mound, while Bitzer and Tanner Dahl have six apiece. Mapes has four wins and three saves.
Rheault is assisted by Gerald Urlaub and Jeff Young. Other players include: Landan Uetz, Ben Huber, Sam Sandoval, Jordan Rheault, Zach Steckler and Brendan Sluke.
West Fargo currently has the right combination of young talent and community support, and there's no telling what the future holds for West Fargo Baseball. Even the Patriots made the state tournament this year and had a winning record.
"The fire is catching on. All the parental and park board help this past two to three years has been great. It's really a product of the people of West Fargo," said Rheault. "They've really stepped up."
This week's regional will feature teams from Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa and Colorado. The winner will advance to the Babe Ruth World Series later this month in Longview, Wash., near Seattle.