Aspen Cardinals win valley championship
Historically, Aspen has never been a big baseball town. Skiing, snowboarding and other alpine mountain sports sure, hockey and basketball too, just not baseball.
But a scrappy bunch of 13- to 15-year-old Aspenites – the Aspen Cardinals of the valley summer recreation league – hope to change all that coming off a huge win Saturday in Glenwood Springs to capture Aspen’s first-ever summer league championship.
“This league has been around forever,” said Cardinals coach Rick Ryan, “but no one can remember when the 13- to 15-year-olds ever won the championship. This a basketball and hockey town, so this is a big deal for us.”
Ryan, also the varsity baseball coach at Aspen High School, said his 13 Cardinal players – many of whom also play for the high school – are now enjoying a newfound and well-deserved confidence on the diamond.
“The summer program is a feeder program to our high school program, so after finishing second last year in the valley summer league championship and winning this year, we feel like we can play with anybody now,” he said.
A total of ten teams from Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs play in the valley summer league, which begins right after school lets out in June. The championship tournament began Tuesday, after the conclusion of the 12-game regular season.
The Cardinals narrowly advanced to Thursday’s second round by pulling out an 11-10 win Tuesday over the Carbondale II team in their last at bat, the bottom of the seventh inning. On Thursday, the Cardinals defeated Glenwood Blue, 13-6, to advance to the final game Saturday against Glenwood Red, where the Aspen Cardinals prevailed 10-3.
“They had actually beaten us during the regular season,” Ryan noted. “We had a different hero each game this season, it’s not like one guy carried us.”
Ryan singled out the play of pitchers Zac Paris and Nick Farrell, as well as offensive ringers Josh Lackey and Colin Gibson.
“Those guys were just phenomenal,” he said. “We didn’t have any guys who could pitch coming into the season, and Zac and Nick pitched for us and were unbelievable. On the high school team, they’ve never pitched for me, but they had decent arms and they learned how to pitch and did a great job.”
“Our catcher Steve White did an incredible job for us too,” he continued. “He was playing injured, basically on one leg. He hurt his calf muscle in the semi-final game and he taped it up for the championship game – he couldn’t run at all but his effort was amazing.”
An Aspen-friendly crowd at Saturday’s championship game served as the team’s tenth player, Ryan added.
“The crowd from Aspen was huge,” he said. “:We turned a double play early in the game and the crowd went crazy, it sounded like a basketball game crowd.”
Ryan said he hopes the Cardinals’ success carries over into the varsity schedule.
“We’ve been good for a couple years, and now we’ve got the medals to prove it, and that’s a good feeling,” he said. “Almost my entire high school team are sophomores now, so we’re going to making some noise in the next couple years. Last year, I started five freshmen, so we’re really young but we’re really talented too.”
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