Meridian baseball is headed to Massachusetts.
The city’s 13U Babe Ruth All-Star team will compete in the Babe Ruth World Series in Westfield, Mass., Aug 8-15. After capturing both the Mississippi state tournament and Southwest Regional tournament earlier this month, it will join the winners of the seven other regions, an invited team from Canada and the host team.
Meridian Mayor Percy Bland, an assistant coach for the 13Us, said they have been close to reaching this point before, and he’s thrilled they finally reached it.
“We consistently have been very competitive with this team since they were 10,” Bland said. “We thought we had a good enough team to get us there last year. Our pitching improved this year, and we made it.”
The tournament is split into two five-team divisions, with each member playing four games. The top three in each division will then square off in a single-elimination bracket to determine the champion.
“It’s going to be weird,” pitcher and infielder Jake Shelby said of the trip. “It’s going to be a very long ride, but it’s going to be fun.”
Assistant coach Carl Graham said it’s huge to see his players make it to the Babe Ruth World Series after the amount of time they have been together and worked toward improving.
“For years, since these boys were little, they’ve been playing together, so it feels great to see them come to fruition,” Graham said. “They’ve stayed with it. They’ve put the time and effort in and got where they need to be.”
The 13Us are made up of 12 kids, all age 13, who will attend high school at Meridian, Northeast Lauderdale, West Lauderdale and Enterprise.
Bland said much of the team’s success this summer has come from an improvement in pitching. His hurlers are throwing faster and harder than they were last year.
“Our kids got a little bigger and threw more strikes,” Bland said. “We’ve got some big boys for 13 (years old).”
Infielder Frederick Liddell also said their pitching was much-improved, as is as their fielding.
“We throw a lot of strikes,” Liddell said. “And the defense makes the plays.”
The team leaves for Massachusetts Aug. 5. The Babe Ruth organization pays only the airfare for players and coaches, leaving teams to raise money for all other expenses. Bland said between hotel accommodations and food, and travel costs for parents and siblings, the total cost will be $20,000-$25,000.
“Everybody is going out and asking people in business, in the community and their friends for sponsorships to get us there comfortably,” Bland said. “The parents are committed, and the kids are committed, and everyone’s going up there, so we’re going to figure out a way.”
Several fundraising events have been planned, and a GoFundMe page has been created for people to donate.
Bland said the opposition during their last tournament was fierce. He is curious to see what it will be at the World Series.
“We had some good competition up there in the regionals,” Bland said. “We’ll see what we have when we get to Massachusetts.”