- Sarah Peters Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Two Palm Beach Gardens youth baseball teams will get the opportunity of a lifetime this summer — the chance to play in a Cal Ripken World Series.
An All-Star team of 12-year-old boys earned a spot in the Major/60 World Series when they won the Southeast Regional Championship in Glen Allen, Va., in early July. They’re the first team from Palm Beach Gardens to win their way into the national tournament, said manager/coach Bart Espinoza.
The World Series is Aug. 6-13 in Ocala. The 12-member team is practicing six days a week at Gardens Park on Burns Road. That’s a lot of practice, but the coaches want them to have fun, too.
“This is all about the kids,” Espinoza said. “We’re just making sure that they’ll remember this for the rest of their lives.”
Another Gardens team will play in the 10 and younger division in the Cal Ripken World Series on Aug. 4-12 at Gardens Park. They were invited because Palm Beach Gardens Baseball is hosting. Ten teams are competing in that tournament.
As for the team of 12-year-olds, Espinoza said his players have been together for several years, so the experience is extra special.
The final game in Virginia to get to the series was a big one for Kevin Nelson, who pitches and plays second base and right field. He hit his first home run.
Pitcher Ryan Foderaro, who closed out the game, said everyone working as a team allowed them to finish the tournament undefeated.
During a practice Wednesday evening, the boys were hitting and learning how to safely get hit by a pitch. Most of them said they’re practicing a lot on their own time through private instruction or extra hitting in their backyards.
Nicholas Espinoza, the coach’s son and a pitcher, catcher and first baseman, remembers the feeling when they won the series berth.
“It’s pretty cool. It’s like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “It’s just amazing that we did that.”
Colby Sisselberger agreed, as did outfielder Payton Barnes, whose grandfather watched practice from a lawn chair near the bleachers.
“It’s exciting, ‘cause we never thought that we would be here,” Sisselberger said.
Robbie Throop, an infielder, pitcher and right fielder, is eagerly awaiting the chance to see the talent of players from other parts of the country.
Shortstop Shawn Rapf, wearing a Cooperstown hat, said he’s looking forward to having fun and spending their last tournament together as a team.
“It feels great, because I remember playing with them since I was 7 or 8,” he said.