The powers of youthful enthusiasm will be put to the test by the Washington All-Stars next weekend when the Pony League World Series begins at Lew Hays Pony Field in Washington Park.
Not only does the host team have an energetic group of talented 14-year-old players, it will sport one of the youngest coaching staffs not only in Washington’s history but World Series history, as well.
Managing the Washington team, which will be trying to end a three-year run of two-and-out appearances in the tournament, is 21-year-old Jay Murphy. One of Murphy’s assistant coaches is 23-year-old Tyler Schrader.
Murphy is not far removed from his own experience as a player in the Pony League World Series. He was a member of the 2007 Washington team that won one game and almost knocked off eventual runner-up Long Beach, Calif., in its second game. Murphy has been trying to convey to his players what the World Series experience is like and what a victory in the tournament means to the baseball community in Washington.
“I had a good experience in 2007,” Murphy recalled. “We started off by defeating Central Michigan on a walk-off hit (by Zach Barnes). That was the highlight for me. That game was played late at night, and the place was packed. That was definitely awesome.”
Murphy would like his players to experience a similar opening-game win, though Washington won’t be playing its initial contest at night. Washington will play Saturday at 2 p.m. against Prague, Czech Republic. It is the middle game in a Saturday tripleheader.
The 10-team double-elimination World Series begins Friday night with Levittown, P.R., playing the South Zone champion at 5:30 p.m. and the North Zone representative plays the Host Area winner at 8 p.m. Opening ceremonies will be held between games.
The championship game is Aug. 13 and will be televised by WPCW.
“Honestly, if you come to play, then you can win a baseball game,” Murphy said. “We’re preaching to the guys that if you come out to play, and play fundamentally sound, you can beat anyone you want.”
Fundamentally sound includes playing solid defense and not giving away outs on offense with baserunning mistakes. Those are two areas Murphy and his coaching staff have emphasized during practices and four tournaments leading up to the World Series.
“We think baserunning can win you a lot of games,” Murphy said. “You still have to hit the ball, but you also have to put pressure on the defense when you get on base.”
Murphy and the coaches are still evaluating the players at certain positions this weekend as it plays in a tournament in Hershey. They have been pleased with the results and effort.
“We’re on our way to being ready. I’d say all around we’re OK,” Murphy said. “We have our top two pitchers, and we’re still trying to figure out who follows them. All the kids can hit, and fielding is our strength.”
The top two pitchers are Kyle Steele and Logan Defillipo. One of the two will start on the mound against Prague.
Murphy said his team is deep at catcher, where Aaron Archer, Alex Crawford and Lane Zook are competing, and in center field with Jared Watson, Colton Baburich and Brett Shaver. Baburich has been playing left field in the summer tournament games.
The spark on offense comes from the top of the batting order, which has included Watson and Jared Embert in the top two spots.
“They’ve been putting the ball in play every plate appearance,” Murphy said. “And Lane Zook has been getting on base regularly, either with hits or drawing a lot of walks.”
Murphy also said third baseman Bobby Proudfit has played well and will be a key player in the series.
One drawback to being the host team is Washington doesn’t play in a series of qualifying tournaments, in which games are intense and the competition is top notch. To get ready for the World Series, Washington hosted a tournament, played in the Beast of the East and in a tournament at Urbana, Ohio, before going to Hershey. Murphy said the best team Washington faced in the first three tournaments was in finals at Urbana, but that game was rained out after only one inning.
Prague is a mystery opponent for Washington. The last two years, Washington was defeated in its opening game by Paderborn, Germany, 2-1 in 2012 and 8-1 last year. This is will Prague’s first appearance in the World Series.
Prague qualified by winning the European Zone in April by scoring 138 runs over six games, including a 25-2 win over London in the championship game.
“The Czech Republic won big in that regional, but you don’t know how good the competition was,” said Murphy, who managed the Fairmont Supply team in the regular season.
“We just need to come out and play to win. It’s baseball. If you think you can win and you play fundamentally sound, then you can win. If you don’t think you can beat an opponent, then you won’t.”
Manager- Jay Murphy