McFeely: Fargo Little League team doesn't grasp how close it is to 'big deal,' coach says
Most of the Little League Baseball Midwest Regional games being played currently in Westfield, Ind., are carried by ESPN Plus, a little-known streaming service of the television sports giant that requires a direct fee to consume. Most of the Little League World Series, scheduled for Aug. 16-26 in Williamsport, Pa., is broadcast by ESPN, the television network available in almost everybody's home.
ESPN. The ESPN. No "Plus" at the end.
Perhaps, for 12-year-old minds, this is a way quantify how big of a deal getting to the Little League World Series would be. Because by the sound of it, the 12-year-old ballplayers from Fargo who are just two wins away from qualifying for Williamsport don't quite understand how close to the big prize they are.
"I don't know if they grasp how big of a deal it is and how close they are," said Mike Rerick, manager of the Fargo Little League team that is unbeaten at the Midwest Regional after two victories this week. "You and I grew up with those dreams playing Little League baseball. We understand as adults what it means. I'm not so sure the kids do. They are just going out and having fun playing baseball."
This is, of course, a good thing. Young boys should not worry about the ramifications of their team's wins and losses. They should just play baseball like the kids they are.
So far, that approach has worked for Fargo as it strives to become the first North Dakota entry into the World Series that runs Aug. 16-26 in famed Williamsport. Fargo qualified for the regional for the first time by winning the South Dakota state tournament and opened with a 15-1 victory over Kearney, Neb., on Sunday, Aug. 5 and followed up with a 4-1 win over Des Moines, Iowa, on Monday. Fargo next plays Minnesota representative Coon Rapids/Andover at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
It's a double-elimination tournament before the title game. A win over Minnesota would put Fargo in the championship game while a loss means they'd have to win one more to get to the final.
Tuesday was an off day when the players could hang with teammates and family and just have fun. Rerick, speaking by phone on my 970-AM WDAY radio show, said the kids were having a time they'll never forget.
"They shouldn't feel pressure. That's what we preach to them. Go out and have fun," Rerick said. "When it becomes stressful for them, it's not fun anymore. Baseball is a game and it should be fun."
The team in Westfield, a north Indianapolis suburb, is a collection of all-stars from Fargo's Little League program. After weeks of local league play, coaches and a committee select an all-star team at the beginning of June that will represent Fargo in tournaments and postseason play. Fargo's Little League all-star team has played in South Dakota's state tournament for its eight years of existence because North Dakota didn't have a state tourney, but that will change next year.
"It's been tough. Last year the Fargo team lost to Sioux Falls in the South Dakota state tournament and Sioux Falls went on to win the regional and get to the World Series," Rerick said. "South Dakota has great baseball. Always has. It's really hard to get out of out South Dakota. But we're gradually getting better and it's bound to happen at some point that a North Dakota team gets to the World Series. Maybe it will be this year."
Rerick's son, Drew, was the star pitcher Tuesday against Iowa. He pitched a six-inning, complete-game four-hitter in the win. He had 13 strikeouts and one walk. Connor Holm had two hits and an RBI, while Charlie Kalbrener and Logan Sullivan each had one RBI.
The Little League pitching rubber is only 46 feet from home plate and Mike Rerick said the Iowa pitcher was in the mid-to-upper-70-miles-per-hour range.
That is, from that distance, high-octane gas.
"At 46 feet, that's coming in at 90-plus if you're looking at the major-league equivalency. That's bringing it and you don't have a whole lot of time to react," the manager said. "And then you drop in a curveball or two and you have no shot. It's pretty cool to watch these kids play."
Two more wins, and the world will be able to watch the kids from Fargo play.