Steamboat Springs has a pool of talented young athletes suited to play baseball. What Ski Town USA lacks is sunny, 70-degree spring days that allow players to get on baseball diamonds before early May.
It would be easy for young players to steer away from the sport because of the disadvantages they face, but two Steamboat teams believe it's easier to just play ball and not make excuses.
With one Triple Crown tournament in the books, attention shifts to this weekend's Division II Mountain Magic Baseball tournament where Mike McCannon's 10-and-under team and Rick Grant's 14-and-under team look to create a little magic for themselves and their town.
"I would say for about half of the kids, this is their first Triple Crown tournament," McCannon said. "For the other half, it's their second. I think they are getting pretty psyched about playing. They usually aren't too nervous. They are too young. They get a little excited and a little nervous about doing what they are supposed to do. They don't worry about the competition."
The creation of the less competitive Division II bracket allows the Steamboat teams to play on a more level field. It isn't uncommon for some Division I teams from Arizona, Florida, California or other warmer places to have played upwards of 120 games by the end of the baseball season.
Rick Grant knows. Last year, his Green Mountain 12-and-under team qualified for the Division I World Series hosted by Steamboat Springs.
He moved back to Steamboat and is coaching his son's 14-and-under team at the Division II level. He thought about entering his team in the Division I bracket but changed his mind.
"Even at 14, you have to have some fun, too," Grant said. "When you get into Division I, there are good athletes that have played more baseball in one season than we've played in four seasons. That's tough."
Instead, Steamboat's 14-and-under team hopes to qualify for Sunday's quarterfinals and perhaps beyond by advancing out of pool play Friday and Saturday. If they do, it will be a rare occurrence for any Steamboat youth team in Triple Crown competition.
"I just believe we've got a pretty darn good group of kids," Grant said. "The more we can expose them to tournament play, everyone will get something out of it. The most important thing is, when we go to play Friday morning in Craig, we keep in the back of our minds that we are trying to create a team that will go forward and play in high school and be competitive."
Eighty-seven teams will be in town this weekend for the Mountain Magic Division II tournament, director Thad Anderson said. Triple Crown has added additional Division II tournaments to its summer schedule in an effort to increase participation numbers at a wider spectrum of baseball levels.
"To basically summarize it, Division II is geared toward second-tier competitive teams. It's not rec ball. It's really pretty good baseball," Anderson said.
"The nice thing about Division II is that it takes those elite teams out of the bracket, but it's still good ball. The nice thing it does for the general Yampa Valley, and for other smaller town teams, is create more of a level playing opportunity,"
Steamboat's 14-and-under team opens play at 8:30 a.m. Friday at Trapper Field at Woodbury Park in Craig. It plays again at 1 p.m. at Trapper Field.
On Saturday, the 14-and-under team returns to Steamboat to conclude pool play. It opens Saturday morning at 8 a.m. on Simillion Field and plays again at 2:45 p.m. on Simillion.
Quarterfinal, semifinal and championship games are all at the fields at Howelsen Hill.
Steamboat's 10-and-under team opens play at 8 a.m. Friday on the Oak Creek Lower field. It plays again at 5 p.m. on the Oak Creek Lower field.
On Saturday, the 10-and-under team travels to Craig for a 9:45 a.m. game on the United Way field at Woodbury Park. Steamboat wraps up pool play at 5 p.m. on United Way.
The playoff games and the championship games for the 10-and-under division are at Klumker at Howelsen.
"I just want them to play their best and have a good time," McCannon said.
"If we win, great. What I hope they realize is that there is a higher level of baseball and if you work hard and practice at it you can be as good as you want to be."
--To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org