Cal Ripken 12U World Series: California, Idaho teams make long trips to Waterville


WATERVILLE — There’s two parts to making it to the Cal Ripken World Series: getting a bid and arriving there physically.

The first of those things is often seen as the tough part; emerging as the top team in an entire state and region. The requirement in most cases, means beating the best of the best over and over again. The second, though not as difficult for many teams in a New England-heavy tournament, has been a major hurdle for a few others.

Unlike the four Maine teams, most of which are sleeping in their own beds, and the three other New England teams, the squads from California and Idaho are thousands of miles away from home. Those teams have had expensive, time-consuming journeys to central Maine.

“It’s a lot, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience just to be able to be here,” said Rick Schimkat, co-manager of the Meridian, Idaho team. “You don’t get these opportunities very often, and when you do, it’s important that you’re able to find a way to make it happen.”

Laguna, California, and Meridian, Idaho, qualified for this year’s tournament as the champions of Cal Ripken’s two Pacific regions. Laguna, which entered the tournament undefeated, won the Pacific Southwest title, and Meridian claimed the crown in the Pacific Northwest.

Those wins gave the two West Coast teams trips to Waterville, and both Laguna and Meridian were dead-set on making the trip. With roughly 3,000 miles separating them from central Maine, it was going to take more than a jaunt up I-95 to arrive at the World Series.

Both teams took cross-country flights to Maine, certainly not cheap endeavors for teams of more than a dozen players, their parents and their coaches. They’ve also spent the past week at hotels and will continue to do so through at least Thursday, though those stays could be extended with wins in the championship or consolation brackets.

Rental cars and team meals at local restaurants have only added to the expenses Laguna and Meridian families have faced since arriving in Waterville. In all, Schimkat estimated his team’s costs at $3,000 per family; Larry Tucker, co-manager of the Laguna team, gave a figure of nearly $50,000 total for his squad.

“Unfortunately, a lot of this money is coming out of everyone’s pockets,” Tucker said. “We did a GoFundMe, and that got us a little bit, but that’s definitely a hardship on all the parents. It just shows what our baseball community is like and how much these parents love their kids.”

Fans from Idaho sit in the stands to cheer on their team during a Cal Ripken 12U World Series game against Ararat on Wednesday at Purnell Wrigley Field in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

In addition to those costs, many parents are taking time away from work to be in Waterville for the action. For those continuing to work remotely, doing so must be planned around games, practices, meals, as well as other team activities.

Yet even with those obstacles, every family from Laguna and Meridian has, at least in some capacity, been able to make the trip. There are some immediate family members who couldn’t make it to Waterville, but both teams have seen as much support in the stands as anyone at Purnell Wrigley Field and Maine’s Fenway Park.

“It’s pretty cool to all be here together,” said Luke Roggia, a pitcher and second baseman for the Meridian team. “Some of my family couldn’t be here, but they can always watch me. It’s fun to be here with all my friends on the team.”

Indeed, with the games being streamed online, many folks in Laguna and Meridian are watching the World Series action. The Meridian team, Schimkat said, is the talk of the town even as thousands of miles of lakes, rivers, plains, mountains and valleys separate it from home.

“They’re the most popular 12-year-olds in the valley right now, that’s for sure,” Schimkat said. “We know there’s a lot of people watching us back home and cheering us on. We have a ton of support. People really care about these boys and want to see them do well.”

Idaho left fielder Kingston Wiley makes a diving catch during a Cal Ripken 12U World Series game against Ararat on Wednesday at Purnell Wrigley Field in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Laguna and Meridian competed in the American division of pool play, which concluded Wednesday. Laguna (3-2), which beat Meridian (1-4) 11-0 on Saturday, qualified for the championship bracket along with Indiana (5-0) and Ararat (4-1). As of press time Wednesday, the three National spots were up in the air with Massachusetts, Andy Valley and Kentucky (all 3-1) occupying the top spots.

Meridian players have been particularly enamored with the two ballparks with the youngsters split on whether Little Fenway or Little Wrigley is their favorite. Schimkat also praised the host city and the host team, which it fended off in a tight 2-1 game on Day 2 of the tournament.

For Tucker and his son, Landon, being at the Cal Ripken World Series is even more special after what happened in 2020. Laguna’s 9U team had been set to compete in the World Series for that age group that year but was unable to do so as the coronavirus pandemic wiped out the entire season and tournament.

“My son was the only player from that team who came back, so it’s a great story because it’s a complete rebuild,” Tucker said. “From the start, it’s been about making it to Waterville for the World Series, and it’s great that we could make it happen.”

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