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After making their way through the New England Regional tournament, the One Eyed Cats have made their way to Lawrenceburg, Tenn., for the start of the Babe Ruth 13-15-year old World Series. The Cats represent all of New England and, beginning at the end of this week, will compete along with the other regional winners in the World Series, which is scheduled to conclude on August 17.
The Cats are guaranteed four games. Newtown’s first game is set for Thursday, August 10, against Tri Valley, Calif., beginning at 3:30 pm. Pool play continues with a Saturday, August 12 clash with Marshall County, Tenn., at 5:30 pm, followed by a Sunday, August 13 date with Sarasota, Fla., beginning at 3 pm. The final pool play contest is scheduled for Monday, August 14, against West Windsor, N.J., starting at 5:30 pm.
The World Series features ten teams, with five placed into National and American divisions. The Cats are in the National division. The top three teams from each division advance to the single elimination bracket, with those games beginning on Tuesday, August 15. The top seed from each division earns a first-round bye and there is crossover with the American’s second seed facing the National’s third seed in one quarterfinal/first-round contest, and the American’s third seed taking on the National’s second seed in the other. Semifinals are to be played on Wednesday, August 16. The championship is slated for Thursday, August 17.
“It should be a lot of fun. Since we’ve been 9 years old we’ve wanted to go to the World Series,” said One Eyed Cats player Trevor Tyrrell, during a break at a recent practice at Walnut Tree Hill Field.
The team members, for the most part, have been together for the past handful of seasons and reached the New England championship round three years in a row before winning it all this summer.
After a frustrating and controversial runner-up finish in last year’s New England tourney, one in which a team was discovered to have thrown a game for the benefit of another team, leading to games being replayed and Newtown’s pitching staff taking a hit, the Cats breezed through this year’s bracket.
“We’ve worked hard since the beginning and we’ve always wanted to get to the World Series,” player Bryan Vander Have said.
Jack Mulligan said playing in the regional championship should help the Cats be prepared for what is to come in the World Series, and he is looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s going to be a great experience for us as a team,” Mulligan said.
Things might have been different this summer if not for a combination of players urging Head Coach Chris Petersen to return to the dugout, along with his son and standout shortstop Todd Petersen. Then again, it also might not have gone the way it has if not for the drive the Petersens have that almost led to their departure.
Coach Petersen was ready to step away after last season, with plans to get some collegiate baseball scout exposure for his son, who will be a junior at Newtown High School this fall. The options for travel leagues that play in tournaments during the regular summer season is enticing for prospective college-caliber players. Petersen played at the University of Hartford and wants his son to have the same sort of opportunity.
But Todd, as competitive as he is, reminded his dad of his own advice, which is that you play the game for fun first. And teammates asked Coach Petersen to come back for one more chance at winning the New England tourney.
“He taught us everything we know. Without him it would be hard,” Tyrrell said.
“He’s a great coach and he’s a great mentor to us,” Mulligan added.
During a recent practice, before departing to Tennessee, Coach Petersen had his players working on their two-strike approach at the plate. He made note of a trend among pitchers and had his players make adjustments in the batter’s box to prepare them for the two-strike scenario in the World Series.
“He’s a very good teacher,” Vander Have noted.
This emphasis on detail, fresh off the 12-2 triumph over Rhode Island in the New England tourney’s pinnacle game and in the days leading up to the World Series, is a culmination of a season of raising the bar.
“I told the kids if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right,” Coach Petersen said.
Upon deciding to return to the Babe Ruth squad’s dugout, Petersen and company held a fundraising golf tournament to bring in money to participate in a handful of in-season tourneys. The team also took on 16U AAU teams and challenged themselves to both better prepare for a possible trip to the World Series and help Todd get some attention from college coaches. As it turned out, some of them came and watched, including from Coach Petersen’s alma mater, Hartford.
The increased level of competition seemed to pay off as the team not only cruised through district and state playoffs, but crushed the New England competition, outscoring opponents a cumulative 57-19 in six games.
“I’m not surprised, but I’m very proud that they committed from day one,” Coach Petersen said. “It was because they committed last year when they lost.”
Petersen had to miss the championship round to be in Cooperstown, N.Y., to be there for his best friend and former Hartford teammate, Jeff Bagwell, for his Hall Of Fame induction. The coach had all the confidence in the world his team would pull through whether he was on hand or not.
“They did it themselves. Practices are for coaches and games are for players,” Coach Petersen said.
All of the team’s hard work has led to the team putting itself on one map bigger than the next.
“How many players can say they played in a World Series? I can’t. I never played in a World Series,” Coach Petersen said.
But now, thanks to his dedication and his players prompting him to return, Petersen is coaching in a World Series.