As they embarked on the final practice before heading to Cooperstown, N.Y., a group of 11 Rock Hill youngsters excitedly took the field at Hargett Park, one week away from departing to the baseball Mecca.
The Carolina Reds, an all-star team made up of 11 and 12 year olds prepared for their journey. They will leave July 19 for the New York where they will meet up with 95 other teams from around the country, with the highest expectations.
"I think we have about a 99 percent chance of winning," Jonathan Smith said, "but we will have a great trip no matter what the results."
The team was assembled nearly a year ago, when head coach Rick Norwood and assistant Doug Sumwalt put together the traveling team from local youth rosters. For the past 12 months, the Reds have gelled through the countless practices and weekend tournaments.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"We are very excited for these kids to get to play in Cooperstown," Norwood said. "We have put a lot of time and effort into getting up there, and we know it will be a memorable trip for everyone involved."
The trip will cost around $1,000 per player, and has been financed through private donations and public sponsors. The team has also held fundraisers.
The Reds have one final tune-up tournament in Gastonia, N.C., this weekend, then will play a couple games next Wednesday to raise money for Clover High School baseball player Lee Killian, who was injured in an automobile accident a couple of months ago.
Once in Cooperstown, the Reds will have several members participate in individual skills competitions before the games begin on Sunday. The Golden Arm competition has a team member judged on distance of accuracy of throws, and the tournament will have a "King of Swat" home run derby in the 200 foot park.
Each team involved will also field an "Around the Horn" team, a timed series of throws where each of the fielders pass the ball around the diamond.
After the skills competitions, each team will play two games Sunday through Wednesday in a round-robin format before all teams are seeded for a single elimination tournament.
Aside from the games, the Reds will take a day to explore the Baseball Hall of Fame and spend the rest of their time enjoying the company with the other teams.
Each team member is given 100 pins with the Carolina Reds logo. While they will hold on to a couple as souvenirs, the remaining pins will be used as a bartering tool with the other participants.
While the experience is new for most of the players, two Reds will be making their second trip to the tournament.
Utility player Ethan Neely made the trip last season.
"I was a little nervous when the first game started," Neely said, "but after we won the first game I settled down and had just had fun. It was a great trip and I can't wait to go again next week."
Cameron Norwood is taking a little extra good luck charm with him on the trip.
"My grandmother and my dad got together and decided to get a nice bat," said Norwood, son of Rick Norwood. "We have always debated whether it is the swing or the bat that makes you hit better, and now I have the best.
"The bat is kind of in memory of my Paw-Paw who passed away a couple of years ago. He was a big baseball fan so I know I'll be thinking of him up there, and know I can hit a lot better with the new bat."
AGE Austin Blackwell 12Jake Deas 12Chandler Hancock11Ian Hinson12Justin Marion 12Ethan Neely12Cameron Norwood12Jake Rentz 12Jonathan Smith 12Heath Sumwalt 12Charlie Keesee12
Coaches: Rick Norwood, Doug Sumwalt, Brian Marion, Chris Neely