Teamwork, positive attitude makes Yankee 'champs'

By Sara Bruestle | Jun 20, 2012
Photo by: Angela Hale The Mukilteo Yankees after the championship game, with the team’s second-place trophy. Pictured are: (front row) Taleon Christensen, Mathew Cundiff, Carson Hale, Cody Dobson, (second row) Hiram Grayson, Anthony Lopez, Calvin Hunter, Jordan Davis-Miller, William Shriver, Dylan Young and Elijah White, and coaches (back row) Lowell Young, team umpire Kevin Hale and manager Steve Shriver.

Second place often feels like “almost.” But for the Mukilteo Little League Yankees, who battled to the wire in a season-ending tournament, it felt like a championship.

And for good reason.

The majors’ team of 10 to 12 year olds won the first game, lost the second game, and then had to win every single game – night after night – to make it to the championship game. Which they did.

The Yankees were tied with the Mill Creek Cardinals up until the sixth inning, where they lost the game for a second-place finish in the Krutzinger Invitational Tournament on June 13.

It’s the highest finish for a Mukilteo Little League team in the last 15 years.

“I’m just so proud of my teammates,” outfielder Jordan Davis-Miller said. “I just have so much respect for all of them and the coaches… It’s because of all of them that we got that far.”

The Yankees started the season at the bottom of the league. The team was 2-8 in the first half of the season. A lot of the kids had never played at the majors level before, so they didn’t know the basics of baseball, like how to hit the ball.

They also weren’t playing as a team. They were blaming each other for mistakes and lost games.

“If [one of us] missed the ball, we were doing more put-downs than encouraging them, and it was really rough at the start,” Jordan said.

“At one point we were like, ‘Enough is enough. We’re going to bring it together. This is the time we need to become a real team.’”

By the second half, they reversed it and wound up 11-9. The team was in the tournament.

Not only were they hitting the ball, they were finally playing well together as a team. They traded boos for cheers. With their hard work and change in attitude, they turned around the team.

“They’re just a wonderful bunch of kids,” team manager Steve Shriver said. “They practice more than any other team, and they tried hard and really came together as a group.

“If the team plays well together and supports each other, that’s what makes a championship team.”

The Yankees needed to practice and play that much harder, not only to catch up to the other teams in the league, but to start winning ball games.

They practiced five times a week, on top of their games. They played two games a week, and practiced an hour before each game. They also had three other practices a week.

They even helped each other at batting practice. The players took turns feeding each other the ball and coached each other on hitting techniques.

“We started changing toward the end, when we heard about the tournament,” said center fielder Cody Dobson, 12. “We wanted to be in it and go far in the tournament.

“We practiced hard all the way though, and won the games. We tried our hardest, no matter who we were facing.”

All that hard work paid off. In a turn-around game, one player hit an out-of-the-park home run. All of them were making great plays. It took them into overtime, and the team lost by one run in the seventh inning.

“Ever since then, they believed in themselves and really stepped up their game,” Shriver said. “They really did a good job.”

The Yankees qualified for the Pacific Little League’s Krutzinger Invitational Tournament. It was a double-elimination tournament for 11 teams.

After losing the second game, they fought their way back into the finals and won second place.

“We’re playing the second or third best teams in the tournament from all these other leagues, and here we are, the little last place Mukilteo team that wound up getting into this invitational and beating up all the big guys,” Shriver said.

Cody, who has been on the team the longest, said, “My team was one of the best teams I’ve ever had in baseball.

“We never give up and we don’t quit and we try our best no matter what the score is.”

Jordan, also 12 and one of the newest on the team, hit the home run. At the start of the season, he wasn’t hitting the ball at all. He didn’t believe in himself. He worked hard, though, and by the end he was making some amazing plays.

In another game, he ran all the way across the field and then dove for a ball in the outfield – and caught it. It was plays like that that got him onto the All Star Team, comprised of the best players from the tournament.

Jordan said he’s thankful to have experienced such a transformation with his team.

“First place is a great feeling, but second place, to know that you came this far and you had a great team and you’ve done so much and you played one of the best teams – that’s the best feeling.”

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