For the love of the game
For most of us baseball is a day at the park, cheering on our favorite team, eating hot dogs and smiling at kids with cotton candy-smeared faces. It could also be October nights spent huddled around a television, screaming for victory or sinking back into the couch in defeat.
But for the 17 South Lake Tahoe young men who make up the Tahoe Blue, a fall-season, 18-and-under traveling baseball team, baseball is a way of life … a passion.
“These kids are playing for the love of the game,” Tahoe Blue manager Joe Russo said. “They know they are not going to get a trophy or win any championships, they are just doing it because they love baseball.”
The Tahoe Blue formed as a team this fall, when Russo decided to carry on the torch of the now defunct Tahoe Stars, South Shore’s previous fall ball team.
The Blue competes as an independent, self-supporting team against others in Northern Nevada and California. Many of their competitors hail from Sacramento, Auburn, Chico, Redding and Reno.
While the Blue has come together as a tight unit, what’s unique about them is that the players come from rival high school programs.
Comprising the Blue lineup are eight South Tahoe High students, eight Whittell High students and one home-schooled player.
“There is a lot of lighthearted kidding,” Russo said of the banter between the South Tahoe and the Whittell kids. “But there are no state lines on this baseball team. The boys go out and play ball and really play well together.”
The Blue had a chance to show off their talents last weekend in a Sunday doubleheader against a pair of Reno-Sparks Tribe clubs at Todd Fields.
Game one saw an awesome pitching performance by lefty Travis Purdy.
The Whittell junior worked seven solid innings, giving up three runs on seven hits, while striking out three batters.
“Travis pitched a superb game,” Russo said.
On the other end of the battery for the Blue was South Tahoe catcher AJ Russo, who called an excellent game and chipped in with a major league assist to secure the win.
With two outs and the tying run attempting to steal second base, Russo snapped out of his crouch and threw a strike to second baseman Noah Mateucci, who made a great catch and tag to seal a game one win for the Blue 4-3.
But defense wasn’t the only thing going right for the Blue in game one.
South Tahoe sophomore Marcus McKinnon went 2-3 at the plate, notching a double and a triple.
Purdy also was hot, taking his momentum from the mound and going 2-2 with an RBI double at the dish.
Whittell sophomore Kyle Olsen also had a 2-for-2 game.
In the second half of the double dip, the Blue cranked up the offense in a 13-11 victory.
McKinnon was on fire again, knocking in three runs on 3-4 batting.
South Tahoe senior Chris Smith also went 3-4, while South Tahoe sophomore Craig Spencer had a huge 3-4, two RBI game.
Defensively, McKinnon, Mateucci and Olsen all had solid games in the field for the Blue.
In the sixth inning, Mateucci made a great play at second when a one-hop line shot bounced off his chest before he recovered to throw the runner out at first and first baseman Olsen made a sound scoop of an errant throw
in the dirt to end the game.
With the two victories, Tahoe Blue improved to 6-9-1 on the year.
Coach Russo said that most of the losses have come against older teams, but he was quick to acknowledge the importance of playing against tough competition.
“Myself and fellow manager Don Amaral say it over and over: ‘The only way a player gets better is to play better players,'” Russo said. “This is a great learning experience for the boys.”
Many people have helped get the Blue going this year. Russo was ecstatic about the support the parents have given as well as a few key sponsors like Century 21, Sierra Garage Doors, Tahoe Valley Plumbing and Alpine Clothing Co.
Next up for the Tahoe Blue is a four-team tournament this weekend in Reno.
Keep Tahoe Blue:
The Tahoe Blue are a self-supporting, Babe Ruth sanctioned team that are looking for donations to keep the ball rolling. Tax deductable donations can be sent to P.O. Box 7170, South Lake Tahoe, 96158.
Joey Byne, WHS, Sophomore, OF
Jonathan Coates, Home, Junior, P
Bryan Engler, STHS, Sophomore, OF
Bryan Finkel, STHS, Freshman, P
Tyson Frederick, WHS, Junior, P
Nick Grasso, WHS, Junior, OF
Ian Jacobsen, WHS, Sophomore, OF
Noah Mateucci, STHS, Sophomore, 2B
Marcus McKinnon, STHS, Sophomore, SS
Kyle Olsen, WHS, Sophomore, P
Chris Pavich, WHS, Sophomore, 2B
Travis Purdy, WHS, Junior, P
AJ Russo, STHS, Sophomore, C
Chris Smith, STHS, Senior, OF
Craig Spencer, STHS, Sophomore, P
Danny Wines, WHS, Junior, OF
Kevin Woodman, STHS, Sophomore, P
Managers: Joe Russo, Don Amaral
Coach: Dave Olsen
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“Let Them Play,” rallies are taking place across California with a mission to bring back high school and youth sports.