South Whidbey All-Star baseball squads gear up for debuts

Little League All-Star second baseman Ricky Muzzy fires a ball to home plate during practice Thursday morning. The boys’ first game is 10 a.m. Sunday

LANGLEY — They are the best of the best, no matter their age.

Starting next week, the four South Whidbey All-Star baseball teams will, they hope, forge a path to the top.

Thursday morning, 13 youngsters — all 9- and 10-years-olds — were hard at work at Community Park, honing the skills they learned during the regular season.

The boys were guided by team manager Chris Kessler and coaches Bill Patterson and Craig Antich. The pressure is on — they only have two weeks to get ready; their first game is 10 a.m. Sunday, July 6 at in Oak Harbor.

On this day, Patterson and Antich had firmed up the infield and needed to determine the best rotation for the outfield. With the patience of Job, Kessler would hit precision balls out to right, center and left fields.

As each player responded, the coaches calculated the best method to get the ball back to home plate, given the individual skill level observed.

Each evolution was punctuated by finely-tuned enticements from Patterson and Antich designed to maximize each player’s efforts, plus lots of encouragement as well. Parents and teachers would likely be astonished to witness the level of focus and concentration of the players.

“All but four of these kids played in the minor program and they need to kick it up a notch to play at the higher level,” Kessler said. “So we are working on bunt coverage, action at first and third and outfield response. We want to increase skills and confidence but not overwhelm them.”

He wouldn’t make any predictions other than promise each teammate would play hard to the final inning.

“All these guys have earned the right to represent their league,” Kessler said. “Their parents and the community have every right to be proud of them. The coaches sure are.”

All-Star teams are created at the end of the regular season from the pool of players for the age group involved. Then each of the age groups has a district, state, regional and World Series tournament for that respective group.

Selection to an All-Star team is done through a combination of player voting and manager/coach selection. The teams are issued different uniforms than regular season ones and players will get a cap to keep as well.

“South Whidbey Little League has usually done well in the tournament, but to win the district level is quite an accomplishment,” said organizer Andy McRae.

“Last year, a combined Central and South Whidbey junior baseball team got as far as fourth place at state,” he added.

Where regular season teams are supposed to be focused on playing and learning the game — while offering a safe and fun environment for team sports — the All-Star teams are usually more focused on winning and moving up as high as possible in their tournament.

“It is a serious commitment to be asked to play on an All-Star team through mid- July,” McRae noted. “Players and parents need to understand there will most likely be more baseball than in the regular season and the tournaments are all hosted no closer than Oak Harbor.

True, but then these kids are the best of the best and are out to prove it.

The 10/11 All-Stars first game is 1 p.m. Sunday, July 6 at Windjammer Park in Oak Harbor. The 11/12 bracket starts at 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 9 in Skagit River Park in Burlington and the 13/14 game begins at 1 p.m. Sunday, July 6 in Fort Nugent Park in

Oak Harbor.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or sports@southwhidbeyrecord.com.