They sacrificed their summer, but ask any of Langley’s Little League heroes and they will tell you the reward was worth it.
While to some kids their age, summer holidays may mean staying up late and sleeping in, riding bikes and playing video games, and who knows how many other stereotypical pre-teen activities, the Langley All-Stars spent two months playing baseball, working on drills and training, and eating a healthy and nutritious diet.
The carrot that was dangling in front of them was a trip to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn.
The players knew it was perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and they grabbed it, becoming Canada's darlings as everyone gravitated to the underdog side from the Langley Baseball Association.
The team of 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds – who were never the favourites or top seeds along the way at districts, provincials or nationals – continued their run to Williamsport and were among the final eight teams standing, posting a 2-2 record that included Canada’s first win in 17 tries against perennial power Chinese Taipei.
The run to the Little League World Series made the Canadian players celebrities.
“It was awesome to get the rock star treatment (and people asking for) autographs 24/7,” admitted first baseman/pitcher Colby Ring. “I could have done it for a few more weeks, but it does get tiring.”
“We learned anything can happen,” said first baseman Riley Ens. “We put a lot of practice in what we had to do. We just had to work, work hard every practice and we got better.”
Playing in front of thousands of fans, with TV cameras following the action, was the stuff dreams are made of.
“Stepping onto that field was amazing,” marveled second baseman Trevor Alcos. “It was just amazing.”
But while those memories will last a lifetime, four members of the team – Alcos, Ens, Ring and Ken Dubois – returned home and quickly shifted their focus from cleats, gloves and bats to skates, sticks and shoulder pads, with hockey season just around the corner.
The four admitted it was difficult to shift their focus from baseball to hockey.
“It was kind of hard to switch from baseball to hockey, getting on the ice for the first time this summer,” said Ring, who was named the Langley Minor Hockey Association’s Atom rep player of the year in 2009-10. “We were still in baseball mode for a while.”
Dubois and Ens, both forwards, are entering their first season of Bantam hockey, while Alcos and Ring, both defencemen, are one level below at Peewee.
While it might be difficult to duplicate the success they had on the diamond, their baseball coach says all four will be better overall athletes because of what they did this summer.
“They have learned that hard work does pay off,” said Jason Andrew. “These kids understand now what hard work does.
“I am not saying they didn’t before … (but) we got to the biggest venue in the world by them trusting their coaching staff and working hard. Through this whole experience, what they learned and what we really preached on is to pay attention to details.”
Andrew is also a big believer in kids not focusing on just one sport.
“We focus so much on plyometrics and dynamic stretching, that is something as a cross-training athlete, affects every sport. The footwork in baseball, the quick twitch muscles are different from hockey, but cross-training does benefit other sports.
“I think cross-training is invaluable; you don’t become a good athlete focusing on one sport.”