By Chris Babb
For The Arkadelphian
Next month, the Arkadelphia Baseball Commission will see its third team in the last five years represent the area in a World Series affiliated with the national Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken organization.
In 2017 and 2019, Arkadelphia and Clark County sent teams to the 12-year-old World Series. The group that would have formed the 12-year-old team in 2020 didn’t get a chance to earn a trip to a World Series because post-season baseball was canceled by the national organization due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
After a two-year wait, the 2022 Arkadelphia 14U All-Star team is finally getting its chance as they will represent Arkadelphia, the state of Arkansas and the Southwest Region at the Babe Ruth 14U World Series August 11-21 in Williston, North Dakota.
Yes, North Dakota. More on that later.
The team ran through the state tournament and regional tournament with a perfect 8-0 record, defeating teams from Arkansas (Lonoke, Benton, Bryant – twice – and Camden) as well as teams from Del Rio, Texas, and Grand Bay, Alabama.
Head coach Jonathan Simpson and the parents have seen the potential in this group for several years.
“The core group of them started together when they were about seven or eight years old,” said Simpson. “A few of them have left since, but the core is still here. We have two players from Ouachita, three from Bismarck and that leaves us with eight from Arkadelphia and all 13 are really good ball players.”
Arkadelphia defeated Lonoke in the first round of the state tournament 13-0 in Lonoke and followed that up with a 5-2 win over perennial power Bryant to advance in the winners’ bracket where they held on to a lead and defeated Benton 7-6. Arkadelphia won the State Championship title the next day with its second win over Bryant, this one by a score of 5-3.
Although they knew the talent was there to win the Regional tournament in Camden, the coaching staff, which features Simpson along with assistants Jason Pye and Marcus Brawley, also knew that a little external motivation might help, too. That plan was hatched at the regional check-in event in Camden before the first games of the tournament.
“Jason said, ‘Man we ought to break out the mustaches for the tournament,’ and I just kind of laughed it off and went on,” said Simpson. “The next day, Jason shows up with a handlebar mustache and Marcus and I just started looking at each other. Jason said we left him hanging out to dry, and by this time all the boys start razzing us about it.
“I told them that if they won both of their games that day I’d have a mustache for the next game, and Marcus told them he’d do a chinstrap.”
After the two games that day, Simpson and Brawley began the preparation to pay up on their bet.
Arkadelphia beat Del Rio, Texas, in a decisive 18-5 mercy rule game in the first game of pool play. Later that day, Arkadelphia defeated Grand Bay, Alabama, 6-4 to finish pool play with a perfect 2-0 record and send their two coaches searching for the razors. The coaches are still sporting the looks and most likely will show up in North Dakota that way as well.
After earning a bye into the semifinals, Arkadelphia beat Grand Bay again 8-3 to advance to the championship game. Arkadelphia faced the host team in Camden which had upset Bryant to reach the title game, in what Simpson describes as a team effort.
“With this group, everybody’s good,” said Simpson. “You don’t have that deal where you have a weak spot, so the challenge is figuring out who’s going to play and who’s going to come in. They’re such a talented group that it’s really difficult.”
Simpson and the coaching staff do have the benefit of pitching depth with the head coach saying at least nine of the 13 on the roster can pitch for the team, which is particularly helpful when considering pitch limits for 14U pitchers set forth by Babe Ruth.
“There are times I was waking up at 3 or 4 in the morning running this stuff through my head as to who was going to play where,” said Simpson. “If I knew someone might pitch, we might not put them in the lineup or if it was 100 degrees we could have used all three of our catchers or something like that. It made it a little tough, but we figured it out.”
They sure did. Arkadelphia shut out the host team Camden 7-0 in the championship game, earning a bid to the Babe Ruth 14U World Series, setting off a celebration among the players and fans as a culmination of a dream achieved.
And then after the trophies were handed out and families began their trip back to Arkadelphia, a little bit of panic might have crept into the minds of the parents – and rightfully so.
Now we go back to earlier where we mentioned the site of the 14U World Series – Williston, North Dakota.
Williston is located in the northwest part of North Dakota, about 75 miles from the Canadian border. Williston is 1,111 miles from Arkadelphia and about a 21-hour drive.
As was the case for the previous two teams from Arkadelphia, the 2022 14U team is organizing several fundraisers over the next weeks to help families offset the costs that will be involved for the families to travel via road or air to North Dakota for the tournament.
“You go from the whole picture-taking and celebration to ‘Well, we have to figure out how to get to North Dakota,’” Simpson said. “It’s almost a 24-hour drive, who can get off work, who can’t get off work, what’s it going to cost, and all of that. Your mind goes to that pretty quickly.”
Arkadelphia Baseball Commission President Matt Johnson is excited for the players to have a chance but also knows that it will take help from the community.
“These boys will have a chance to make memories that will last them a lifetime,” said Johnson. “And they’ve earned this trip to the World Series. They won a tough state tournament and won a tough regional tournament against some really good teams.
“Our community has always answered the call when groups put out a need for help in situations like this, and this group is going to need all of us to support them. I look forward to seeing that support over the next couple of weeks, and I look forward to all of us pulling for the boys as they represent Arkadelphia, Ouachita and Bismarck in North Dakota with teams from all over the United States.”
Families have organized several fundraisers over the next three weeks before the team leaves for North Dakota in time for registration on August 11. For more information on the tournament, click here to visit the tournament website.
Tournament organizers have lined up two-time MLB World Series Champion Kirk Gibson as the featured speaker at the Opening Ceremonies. MLB fans just a few years older than this group of teenagers will remember Gibson for this memorable at-bat in the World Series with the Dodgers and the famous call from legendary broadcaster Vin Scully. Those in attendance during the tournament will also get to hear a concert from country music legend Lee Greenwood and get to see a drone light show as part of the festivities surrounding the event.
Simpson hopes that the community will rally around this group and support its trip like they have with other groups.
“I think the youth representing Arkadelphia, Ouachita and Bismarck in a place like North Dakota is just a really neat opportunity,” Simpson said. “There’s nobody in Williston, North Dakota, who knows where Arkadelphia, Arkansas, is. I didn’t know where Williston, North Dakota, was before this. I hope we can show them what we’re all about and show them what kind of kids we’ve raised. I think the community would be very proud of what we have.”
Fans who would like to support the team can see all of the fundraising opportunities on the team’s Facebook page “2022 Arkadelphia Babe Ruth 14U All-Stars” or by contacting Amy Simpson at 870-818-7758.
A list of some upcoming fundraising events are as follows:
- Tuesday, July 26, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Chicken Express – Mention the All-Star team when you order and they will donate a percentage of their sales to the team
- Wednesday, July 27, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 67 Grill – Players will be waiting tables for tips
- Thursday, July 28, A-Town Baggerz weekly Switch-Badger Blowout at Betty’s Big Country Dance Hall – $10 entry fee with 30% after payouts donated to the team, plus donations and bake sale
- Friday, July 29, 11:30 a.m. to noon, hamburger plate lunch at Citizen’s Bank parking lot – $10 each for burger, chips and a drink; tickets available all week from any of the players
- Saturday, July 30, 9 a.m. to noon, car wash and bake sale at Southern Bancorp in Bismarck
- Friday, August 5, 7 p.m., Texas Hold ‘Em Tournament at Slim and Shorty’s
The team will also be holding a Facebook live auction of food and donated items next week. The group is also planning raffles for items such as:
- 6-month tuition to Arkansas Champions Athletics
- $500 of Wagyu beef from Ausley Farms
- 4-hour fishing trip with Cornelius Branch
The team will be advertising additional fundraising events over the next two weeks as well. Any donations are a tax-deductible gift to the Arkadelphia Baseball Commission.
Team members include: Tyler Abernathy, Jaylon Ashcraft, Carson Brawly, Maddox Fendley, Preston Hughes, Skyler McClure, Gabe Owens, Kasey Pye, Dillon Rogers, Jon Ross Simpson, Cash Stricklin, Tyler White and Landon Williams.
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