This group of 11-year-old Steamboat baseball players has had baseball on their minds all summer long.
Steamboat Springs While the Colorado Rockies were busy preparing for Game 1 of the National League Championship Series today in Phoenix, a small group of fifth-graders at the Emerald Park baseball diamonds in Steamboat Springs could've debated about the Rockies all afternoon.
"Troy Tulowitzki's the best," Koby Bishop said.
"No way, (Matt) Holliday all the way," Spencer Petersen answered.
The pair joined teammates Jesse Laughlin and Jesse Pugh for a quick Tuesday afternoon practice. They needed little guidance to quickly whip the ball around the bases, 4-6-3, fielding a mock double play.
The group has been practicing twice a week, all fall, for their weekly trips to the Front Range. For the past seven weekends, the foursome has traveled to the Denver metro area to participate in Slammers Baseball's Fall Competitive League.
Tim Bishop, who coached the boys' Little League team this summer and has coached them this fall, called the Denver league a "potpourri" of summer teams that mixes up some serious talent.
Yet the Steamboat contingent, rounded out by Camden Lawhead, whose family spends the winter in Evergreen, has made quite an impact.
Their squad has gone 13-1 during the regular fall season to win the eight-team league, with all five players batting above .500. This weekend, they play a final two-day championship tournament.
"They're stronger and throwing better and hitting with confidence, and defensively, they're making plays," Bishop said about the players' improvement.
The players' confidence levels have certainly soared as well.
"Seriously - we're the all-stars," Jesse Laughlin said.
"Some of the teams are all right," Spencer added. "But some we just flatten - it's like (batting practice) where they pitch it right down the middle."
The players and Bishop know that experience from playing in one of the state's premier fall leagues will be key when the spring tournament season rolls around. Then the summer focus will be a state championship. As the nucleus of a U-10 Little League team this summer, the boys swept the District 3 Championship Tournament and advanced to the state championship, where they took third.
They know it will be a little harder competition as 11-year-olds, but with experience gained playing as long as they can, until the sun sets or the snow flies, no one's that worried.
"These guys are so dedicated, I'm not that concerned," Bishop said.