WARNER ROBINS — It was half past 9 the other morning and the team of Little League all-stars, in T-shirts and baseball pants, had long since hit the practice field.
A lot of their schoolmates were no doubt still home in bed, soaking up the home stretch of summer vacation. But here they were sweating, still two hours from a lunch break, in what has for the Warner Robins American Little League all-stars become an annual rite.
The faces have changed, but for five years running, the team of a dozen boys from Houston County has represented its home league at the state level. Two years ago, it won a world title. Last year, for the second season in a row, it won a state championship.
Now the 12-year-olds are back at it again.
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They play Cartersville at 7:30 tonight in Toccoa in the opening round of the state tournament.
Through four games this all-star season, at the district level earlier this month, they have out-scored their opponents 48-3 in just 15 innings.
They hope to make a third straight run to the regionals. The quest is what some of the Robins kids have dubbed “the ultimate game of ‘Survivor.’ ”
“Either you win,” assistant coach Nathan Hunt said, “or you go back to school.”
High stakes, indeed.
Of course, the shot at an extended summer break comes at a price. Three-hour practices. Not much sleeping in.
“They may complain about getting up out of bed, but once they’re out here they all play together,” Hunt said. “They cut up, and they have fun. It’s like a second home.”
One where these baseball brothers pass the sun-baked practices with good-natured ribbing and, on occasion, gripes.
“I can too hit your curveball!” one player declared. “But it is a disgusting curve.”
“Coach,” groaned another, “there’s no shade in the dugout.”
“Ring him up!” boomed another player after a teammate’s batting-practice strikeout.
Their two coaches, both with sons on the squad, could be heard barking instruction and encouragement.
“Play defense now! No leaks! No leaks!”
“Everybody else is tired, too, and nobody else is sitting down!”
Manager Randy Jones, an electrical engineer and contractor, led Warner Robins American’s team of 10-year-olds to a 2007 state title. That club went undefeated and won the Tournament of State Champions in West Virginia. Many of the players on that team now comprise this year’s all-star squad.
“Now we go and play everybody else’s powerhouse,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of pressure because everybody expects us to win now.”
To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.