Tournaments | Story | 7/17/2019

Midland carries proud legacy

Jack Nelson     
Photo: Aaron Blum (Perfect Game)

EMERSON, Ga.- What do MLB Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Larkin have in common? Well, aside from being teammates on the Cincinnati Reds, both suited up for the Midland Redskins organization back in the 1980s. What binds current major leaguers Andrew Benintendi and Lance McCullers? You guessed it. The Midland Redskins.

Few, if any, programs can match the illustrious history of Midland. At this week’s WWBA 15u National Championship, they look win another piece of hardware to bring back to the Heartland. Starting Thursday morning, they will get their chance, as the Midland Tribe finished pool play on Wednesday afternoon with an immaculate 7-0 record.

“This is the first year for 15u that we have put together a premier team,” coach Ryan Douglas said. “This group was made for tournaments like this. It’s gratifying to see these kids show up when it matters most. We held an open tryout and had about 100 players come out. We selected the best of the best.”

The Tribe found themselves trailing 3-0 early in Wednesday’s contest with the Frederick Hustlers. That changed when Brayden York and Evan Whiteaker broke things open with RBI singles, followed by Riley Zink shooting a ball back up the middle to score two more. That five run fourth inning would prove to be the difference, as Aaron Blum, Ethan Malafa and Thomas Ryan pitched it well the rest of the way to escape with the 5-3 victory.

Midland did it with the bats and the arms this week. They sported a .305 team batting average and were led by Brayden York (.445), Dylan Thatcher (.385), and Wyatt Holt (.333). York was especially impressive at the dish, adding three doubles and 10 RBIs, both of which were top on the team.

On the hill, the staff had a combined ERA of just 2.45. Evan Whiteaker and Aaron Blum have stood out. Whiteaker has tossed eight innings, allowed only four hits, and allowed just one run. Blum got the ball on Wednesday and diced up the Frederick Hustlers, working four innings, allowing one earned run and striking out seven.

Wednesday’s contest was plagued by lightning delays, which culminated in a biblical thunderstorm that sent teams and parents running to their cars. Because of all the stopping and starting, sometimes players can lose focus on the task at hand. It can be especially difficult to keep kids locked in to the game during a rain delay, but Douglas said his team has been mostly unfazed by the distractions all week.

“The hardest thing with 15 year olds is to try to keep them focused,” Douglas said. “Sometimes they tend to worry about things that don’t really matter in terms of the game. I just told them that we need three hours of focus every day on nothing but baseball. And that is what they did, and that is why we were able to go 7-0.”

Midland is an Ohio baseball institution, and the list of names that have rolled through their complex in Amelia, Ohio is truly a laundry list of MLB all stars. Matt Harvey.  Zack Greinke. Eric Hosmer. Mark Mulder. Mike Matheny. But perhaps the most impressive stat is that 46 alums have become first round picks. And these stars return to their roots, giving back to the organization where they got their start.

“They stay involved, especially financially,” Douglas said. “We do a lot of fundraisers throughout the year and we have pro guys come back and speak. Scooter Gennett (Reds second basemen) is at our facility quite a bit, so the guys get to spend some time around him.”

“You can’t help but see all the names of the alumni when you pull into Midland,” he said. “That’s a prestigious legacy, and the kids understand the honor it is to wear this jersey because of the guys that have come before them.”

While Douglas is proud of the performance in pool play, he isn’t satisfied. No one is. This is Midland. They play for championships, not just playoff appearances. They have captured 14 Connie Mack National Championships, but no WWBA National Championships. This 15u Tribe team has the chance to do something unprecedented in a program that has seemingly done everything.

Bracket play in a tournament with 300-plus teams is a gauntlet. It’s a tall order, but Douglas believes his team is up for the task. It all begins by honing in on every pitch, every at bat, and every inning.

“We just have to continue what we’ve been doing,” he said. “But we can’t let the moment get too big for us, and we can’t be content with going 7-0 in pool play. We’re good enough to play with any team here. We may not have as many Division I commits, but if we play our game, we can compete with whoever we are matched up with.” 

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