Series provides lessons for Force's 12-U team
PITTSFIELD -- Darren Lee has been, like many Pittsfield Girls Softball members, very busy this week at the Doyle Softball Complex.
Lee has volunteered a lot of his time at the Babe Ruth Softball 16-U World Series to help things run smoothly. He's also been able to see plenty of softball this week, which will help him in his other softball responsibility.
Lee is the coach of the Berkshire Force 12-under team, which is currently approaching the postseason. When the 16-U World Series ends today at the Doyle Complex, the 12-Us resume their season. They're 15-8 so far, with runner-up finishes in Grafton and Dalton tournaments.
Lee -- the first-year coach of the squad -- said all 13 of his players have been at the Complex at one time or another this week, watching the Force 16-Us and many of the other teams in the 15-team World Series.
"It's huge for them, developmentally, to see how these kids play," he said. "They try and emulate it. It's definitely an advantage moving forward, because they see how the game is played in three or four years for them."
Or sooner. Many of the teams in the current 16-U series feature players who are typically at the 14-U level. The Kinnelon, N.J., team is almost entirely composed of 14-U players. Force 16-U starters Julia Murphy and Hayley Tobin, typically the first two batters in the Berk shire order, are 14.
The 16-U players got to see this caliber of competition six years ago, when Pittsfield first hosted the World Series in 2008.
Since then, Force 16-U squads have made four other World Series, including this year.
"I think the fact that they were there and witnessed the level of play and excitement [was] all a learning experience for them," World Series task force member and 2013 Force coach Jim Stimpson said. "They saw the pinnacle of our sport at a very young age."
Stimpson is also the Western Mass. state commissioner for Babe Ruth Softball, and was heavily involved in bringing the 2014 Series back to Pittsfield. He noted that there are currently more than 350 girls involved in Pittsfield Girls Softball, and that the program has strengthened by the year.
"Our girls get to experience regional tournaments that we have here every year," Stimpson said. "That's a great home-field advantage for us."
Lee said it's not exactly a stretch to think the current 12-U squad could reach the 16-U series within a few years.
"They're on that path," said Lee, a partner at Martin, Oliveira and Hamel and a 1987 St. Joseph High School graduate. "This is what we're doing here: We're trying to increase the size of the program and increase their opportunities to play. We can build that skill set that can get them to this level, and hopefully win it some day."
So with that in mind, Lee has made sure to take advantage of teachable moments as his 12-U squad watches 16-U games. The entire team watched a Force game earlier this week just so the coach could encourage his players to watch the 16-Us run the bases.
"We spend more time at tournaments and see teams like this -- and it's a running game. A lot of the game is being aggressive," he said. "Teaching that is more difficult than it would appear, for 12-year-old girls to lose some of their inhibitions and let it go, because they don't want to make a mistake. But running is about making mistakes."
The county tournament is fast approaching for the 12-U squad, and Lee hopes he's seen enough out of the 16-U players that he can use in regular-season and postseason games this summer. They've focused on small-ball aspects, like bunting and running.
Stimpson just hopes the future Force 16-U players have learned from what they've seen this week.
"The coaches can say, ‘Look, we're looking toward this level,' " he said. "They can see the level.
"It gives them a dream."
To reach Matthew Sprague:
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On Twitter: @BE_MSprague.