Thrill of lifetime: Playing at Cooperstown

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Imagine playing baseball in Cooperstown, N.Y., home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

For a local 12-under baseball team, that dream recently became a reality.

The Redhawks, a team comprised of mostly boys who go to Rock Springs Middle and Stewarts Creek Middle, made the trek to Cooperstown and came away with a third-place finish out of 104 teams from across the country.

Weeklong tournaments are held throughout the summer in Cooperstown for teams in the 12-under division. The teams go through pool play and then proceed to single-elimination tournament play.

“This was my second time to go, so I knew the tournament and what type of competition to expect when we got there,” said Redhawks coach Ray Hawkins. “I didn’t know any of the teams that we would play. … To be honest I didn’t know what to expect. We haven’t practiced but maybe a few times, and we had played in just a couple of area tournaments before going to Cooperstown.

“My personal goal for this team was to get through the pool games and win the first elimination game. They busted that light and made it far as they did.”

The Redhawks went 5-1 in pool play and came up just one run of playing in the championship game in tournament play.

“We played 10 games,” said second baseman/pitcher Luke Garland, who will be an eighth-grader at Webb School next year. The Murfreesboro native is the only player on the team who doesn’t attend Rock Springs or Stewarts Creek.

“We played Georgia, Utah, Missouri, Hawaii and Florida. … We went 5-1 in pool play and then went to tournament play,” Garland added. “We stayed in barracks. It was cool. We got to meet a lot of people from different states. We played wiffle ball with them. We traded pins with them.”

While teams stay on the grounds of the stadium in barracks with their coaches, they also have the opportunity to tour the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“As I said, this was my second time,” Hawkins said. “My two assistants and all the players, it was their first time. When I started planning this a year in advance, I tried to tell the parents what type of environment we were going to. You won’t believe it until you get up there and see it.

“They were pleasantly surprised with the park and the environment of Cooperstown. It was well worth everybody’s time.

The kids stay on site with no parents. The parents stay in local hotels or they’ll rent a house. The kids stay in the barracks with the coaches, and they enjoyed being away from mom and dad for a week.”

Added Garland: “It was interesting. There were many factual, but many interesting things you could see (at the Hall of Fame.) There were jerseys from record holders or just anything in baseball you could put in there.”

It was also a thrill for the parents who were able to attend the tournament.

“As a parent, the experience was unforgettable,” said Luke’s father John Garland. “It was awesome, and I’m glad we got an opportunity to go. The Hall of Fame was really interesting. I love history, so just reading about it all was a great experience.

“It was obviously a great opportunity for the kids to play in Cooperstown, but it was a thrill for the parents as well.

“Doubleday Field is right there. They play a game there every day. There is a minor league team there, but anyone can play there. Like next year, we couldn’t play at Cooperstown because we’ll be too old, but if we wanted to get a team from Murfreesboro to go play at Doubleday, we could go play. It would be pretty cool to do that.”

As for the future for this team, it will play in a few more tournaments this summer. The future also looks extremely bright for Stewarts Creek High School.

“Luke is the only one of our players who doesn’t go to Rock Springs or Stewarts Creek,” Hawkins said. “About half go to each school, and we’ve got nine players who will go to Stewarts Creek High School.

“That was my goal for this team. My youngest son is on this team. At the end of last summer, I decided to try and keep these kids together who will be in high school together. Hopefully, now that it is started, it will finish.”

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baseball, Cooperstown, Luke Garland, New York, pitch, Redhawks, youth
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