KMC Little League stars intend to focus on one game at a time
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — None of them has been there before, but the 12 members of the Kaiserslautern Military Community who’ll board the plane Monday for the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., are aware of the magnitude of what’s ahead.
"It’s a big experience and a privilege to be going to the World Series," said Matt Zembraski, one of six pitchers who started a game during the KMC All-Stars’ 8-0 romp through last week’s European Regional. "I’ll probably be nervous when we get there, but it shouldn’t change the way the game goes."
Perhaps not, but it’s going to be a new experience. Playing on international television, fielding questions from the international media and rubbing shoulders with former major leaguers and celebrities are part of the Williamsport experience.
How are a bunch of 11-12-13-year-olds going to cope with that?
"We’ll just try to focus on the game," Cannon Byrd said. "We think we’re an all-around good team."
The statistics bear Byrd out. In becoming the first American military community team to reach Williamsport since 1999, KMC outscored the eight teams it vanquished in the European Regional by a combined score of 86-5. The All-Stars posted three shutouts and played solid defense throughout, a performance that bred confidence such as that shown by European title-game starter Chris Holba. Holba sat through a nearly two-hour rain delay before calmly one-hitting Ukraine in KMC’s 10-0 victory.
"When I find out they’re giving me the ball," Holba said, "I’m ready to go."
Holba’s one of a near-dozen aces in KMC’s pack, according to head coach Don Prince.
"We have 12 players, and 11 of them pitch," Prince said. "When we started, we thought we knew who our Nos. 1-4 were, but our Nos. 1 and 2 got hurt and our Nos. 3 and 4 stepped up. Then we had a new No. 1 and No. 2."
And an insane comfort level in a game that often turns on which team’s ace has a low-enough pitch count to take the ball at crunch time. Little League limits 11-12-year-olds to 85 pitches per game. There also are rules on the number of days of rest each pitcher must have between appearances based on the number of pitches thrown in a previous game.
"Pitching and defense really help us," Zembraski said.
They’ll need both to make a dent in the 13-68 record military community teams from Europe have compiled at Williamsport since Berlin made the first trip in 1960.
The All-Stars’ hardest task so far has been grasping what they’ve done in just two months — winning the championships of Germany and Europe without suffering a loss.
"It’s kind of surreal," Byrd said. "Right now, I never thought this could happen."
Neither did big-hitter Jacob Van Parys, who arrived in the community a month ago from San Antonio, Texas. "When we moved here, I thought I wouldn’t get a chance to play in the World Series," he said.
The magnitude of the series isn’t lost on the KMC parents, all of whom are going to Williamsport and one of whom quit her job Friday when her leave request was disapproved.
Parent Kelly Van Parys understood that other mother’s motivation perfectly.
"It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she said.
European Regional champions headed for World Series armed with depth, defense, momentum
By Rusty Bryan, Stars and StripesEuropean edition, Sunday, August 16, 2009