×

Concord’s trip to the Babe Ruth World Series brings back Big Blue memories

  • The Concord All-Stars gather on Story Field in Longview, Wash., on Wednesday during the skills competition at the 13- to 15-year-old Babe Ruth World Series. Concord, which won the New Hampshire and New England titles, opens pool play against Torrance, Calif., on Thursday at 2 p.m. The game will be streamed live at longviewworldseries.org. CAROLYN COSKREN / Courtesy

  • Concord’s Jackson Tewksbury crosses home plate during the running competition Wednesday at Story Field in Longview, Wash., which was part of the pre-event festivities for the 13- to 15-year-old Babe Ruth World Series. Concord, which won the New Hampshire and New England titles, opens pool play against Torrance, Calif., on Thursday at 2 p.m. The game will be streamed live at longviewworldseries.org. CAROLYN COSKREN / Courtesy

  • The Concord All-Stars gather in the dugout at Story Field in Longview, Wash., on Wednesday during the skills competition at the 13- to 15-year-old Babe Ruth World Series. Concord, which won the New Hampshire and New England titles, opens pool play against Torrance, Calif., on Thursday at 2 p.m. The game will be streamed live at longviewworldseries.org. CAROLYN COSKREN / Courtesy



Monitor staff
Wednesday, August 08, 2018

The Concord All-Stars will be the first team at the plate in Longview, Wash., when they open the Babe Ruth World Series on Thursday against the Pacific Southwest champs from Torrance, Calif., the designated home team in the 2 p.m. (11 a.m. Pacific) game.

But these 13- to 15-year-olds are not the first kids from the Concord area to play in a Babe Ruth World Series. Granite State Big Blue, a Concord-based team that drew some of the best players from central New Hampshire, reached the 16-18 Babe Ruth World Series in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2002.

“The first one was kind of overwhelming, just because we had no idea what we were getting into,” said Sean Wheeler, who was an assistant coach on the ’98, ’99 and ’00 teams and was the head coach in ’02. “It was pretty cool because it was in North Carolina on the Outer Banks and we went down there and it felt like a vacation getting away, but the kids were in awe a little bit.”

Ryan McGonigle, the head coach for the Concord 13-15 All-Stars who claimed the New Hampshire and New England crowns on their way to Washington, has known Wheeler since childhood and has heard all about Big Blue’s experience at the various World Series. Wheeler was good friends with McGonigle’s older brother, Scott, growing up in Concord. And Wheeler and Ryan McGonigle coached together for the Concord Cannons AAU baseball program in recent years.

“During our time coaching together he’s shared those experiences he had when he went,” McGonigle said. “He’s talked about how cool it was, and how it’s important to keep the kids loose and get those good coaching vibes going.”

So McGonigle knows about that overwhelming feeling Wheeler and the Big Blue crew had during their first trip to the World Series. He thinks this Concord team can avoid that, in part because the kids got a taste of the field and competition on Wednesday when all 10 teams competed in fielding, running and home run competitions.

“I think getting on the field, getting some grounders, getting some cuts, walking around the park, talking about things, that will get some of the jitters out and my sense is they won’t be overwhelmed,” McGonigle said. “We’ll have a couple jitters in the first inning, but those other kids are in the same boat as us. I think once we settle in, we’ll be all right.”

After getting a peek at the competition on Wednesday, McGonigle thinks his team may be more than just all right.

“You can tell there’s going to be some very, very good baseball out here, but after what I just saw, and I know it was just a skills competition, but matching our kids up against the other kids I really think we’ll do well out there,” McGonigle said. “Obviously we haven’t seen any pitching, but we’re pretty deep with pitching ourselves, so I suspect we’ll be right in the mix.”

This Concord team will have longer to get itself in the mix than Big Blue did during its first three World Series trips. Concord will play four games against the other teams in its pool, and the top three teams from each of the five-team pools will advance to the single-elimination portion of the tournament, which begins Tuesday and wraps up on Aug. 16. When Big Blue was going, it went straight into the double-elimination tournament ... and went 0-2 in ’98, ’99 and ’00.

The format changed in 2002, and Big Blue went 4-2 and reached the semifinals in Stamford, Conn.

“We lost in that semifinal game to Alabama and their pitcher’s name was Doane, so I really thought we had a chance at that point,” Wheeler said.

The pitcher’s name seemed like a good sign because the head coach for those Big Blue teams was Warren Doane, the longtime Concord High coach who was an instrumental force in getting the baseball facilities at Memorial Field (which now bear his name) upgraded so they could host ... the Babe Ruth World Series in 2000.

“When we hosted it was a ton of fundraising trying to get the money to be able to do that, but it was nice to be able to stay home and have some pride in what they did with Memorial Field,” said Wheeler, who finished his 17th season as the Merrimack Valley High baseball coach this spring.

McGonigle also talked to Wheeler about that fundraising since the current Concord team needed to raise money to help pay for the expense of a last-minute, cross-country trip for an entire team and its families. Wheeler’s advice certainly didn’t hurt.

“The fundraising was exceptional,” McGonigle said. “People came out in droves and the community really stood behind us, it was great to see.”

The community can watch all the games live at longviewworldseries.org as this team represents Concord, New Hampshire and New England on the national stage. It’s guaranteed to be a memorable time.

“These kids will have memories to share,” Wheeler said. “It’s something they’ll never forget.”

Big Blue stopped playing in 2013, but McGonigle is hoping to revitalize the program in the wake of this recent Babe Ruth success, and he’s hoping the former coach will be back on board.

“We spoke about it, and I think we’re waiting until he’s done his thing and gets back from Washington,” Wheeler said. “We’ll sit down then and have a conversation about what that might look like down the road. I’m open to anything.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341, tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)