Strong bonds push Pittsfield 13s into Babe Ruth Baseball World Series opener
PITTSFIELD — Between spending a week together in Stamford, Conn. and practicing twice a day for the past two weeks at Deming Park, the Pittsfield 13-year-old All-Stars have been living in some pretty close quarters.
"It's nice. You get to know everyone a little better and it's just been great spending time with everyone," said pitcher Brayden Gutzmer after a practice last week.
For the 10 members of the Pittsfield 13s who went to battle out in Millbury and down in Bristol, Conn. last summer as Little Leaguers for Pittsfield American, the family atmosphere is nothing new. However, that unit has meshed with a crew of players from the Pittsfield National program and another player from outside the city.
Gutzmer and fellow hurler Christian Salzarulo are two of those who matriculated from blue jerseys at Clapp Park to the 13s. And that is good news for manager Paul Brindle and company, as Salzarulo went 3-0 on the hill at the New England regional tournament, and Gutzmer picked up three saves.
"It's been great," Gutzmer said of integrating in with this new family. "We've gotten to play with some of our other friends. We've always been in the other league, but it's been smooth."
Salzarulo didn't need many words to get his feelings across.
"Pretty easy transition," he noted. "I already knew everyone pretty much. It's been fun."
The Pittsfield 13s family is traveling just one hour today to Westfield, where the the team will be competing all week in the Babe Ruth Baseball World Series. Despite the reasonable commute, though, the caravan will be parking it over night.
"I love it," said second baseman Nick Brindle. "We did it last year too. It's a lot of fun staying together on the road, a lot of family friends are around. We all know each other well."
The decision was made to stay over despite the proximity, partially because New England champion Pittsfield is the road team in the opening game of the tournament, against Centre County, Pa. — the Middle Atlantic champion — on Thursday at 10 a.m.
The other reason was a coaching decision.
"It is good that we'll get to stay home some, kids sleep in their own beds and relax, but at the same time, that camaraderie that we have coming out of spending a week together at the regional, that matters too," said the team's manager. "It was great, we did a lot of stuff together as a team and with the parents. We went bowling, out to dinner, breakfast together, practices. The kids are close. It's been really good and I feel like we need that in Westfield, too."
Pittsfield plowed through its travel slate and didn't downshift at the regional tournament, going 5-0 and defeating Keene, N.H. 7-1 in the title game behind a Salzarulo three-hitter.
Salzarulo, who also bats second in the lineup, hit .467 in Stamford with seven hits.
"We pitched well and hit well," he said at practice last week. "Had some trouble in that first game, but just started doing better. Little nervous coming out of it, didn't know what the future was."
The 13s did experience a scare in their New England opener, but hung around to win it. They then proceeded to rake through the tournament.
"This was the goal and I think every one kind of expected it," said Hancock native Damon Pause. "We're a good team. I feel really confident. We're good in the field and hit well. Nothing else, just a good baseball team."
Nick Brindle led the way with eight hits and seven runs scored out of the leadoff spot, while big masher Evan Blake managed five hits and eight runs, while being walked seven times. Antonio Scalise batted over .300 with six hits, while Pause worked eight walks and scored eight times. Blake and Cam Sime each earned pitching wins as well.
"That first game, we struggled. We didn't play well in any facet of baseball, but we still pulled out that win," manager Brindle said of the team's slow start. "What I saw every game after that was better and better everywhere. It could've gone the other way with that added pressure, so I was really pleased with that."
The championship was an important one for the Pittsfield American players who came up just short of reaching the Little League World Series last year.
"We felt down a little bit at first. Last year was a tough ending," said Blake, who's father, assistant coach Bruce Blake, played in the World Series on the 1993 Pittsfield 13s. "But once we started playing games we were able to pick ourselves up and develop confidence in one another."
That confidence has blossomed from expanding the family, according to the team's top hitter.
"We just seem like a better team. It's more fun with them, being around those other guys all the time," he said of his new teammates.
One such new teammate is Pause, who mans the hot corner. He's a product of the Lanesborough Bulldogs program, and heard a lot about the Americans' success last summer.
"I just heard about them almost making it to the World Series last year and I wanted to be a part of that group. I wanted to be where we are now, going into the World Series," Pause said. "I wanted to play with these guys. It's been a lot of fun."
Having Pause's bat in the lineup has given added protection to Blake, Scalise and the rest of the 13s hitters, and those contributions have not gone unnoticed.
"After last year, and with the addition of those great players, we expected to go as far and further this summer," said Scalise, who also praised the composure of the team's pitching staff. "I was surprised to see how well we worked as a team that entire week [at regionals]. We just bonded really well on and off the field."
The family aspect of this run goes even deeper for Brindle, who's son, Nick, will be in the batter's box for the first pitch of the tournament.
"I'm just expecting to see some good pitchers and great teams, but we're just going to be focused," said Nick Brindle. "That first game, I'll have some nerves, but you just get used to it and bounce back."
The 13s will have to be firing on all cylinders at Bullens Field this coming week, as they'll face nine other top teams from around the country and Canada. That includes a Saturday afternoon date with a team from Hawaii Kai, Hawaii. According to Paul Brindle, the Pacific Southwest champions have a handful of players who were on the 2018 Little League World Series Champion team from Honolulu.
"I always tell them, they're playing against kids their own age. Yes, they might be from far away or big cities that draw from populations much larger than ours, but all of you are 13 years old and you're all good ball players," said Paul Brindle of his advice to the kids. "You wouldn't be playing in these tournaments if everyone wasn't good, including us.
"You deserve to be where you are. We deserve to be where we are because of how hard we've worked."
Mike Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @CLNS_Walsh on Twitter and 413-496-6240.
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