By Brandon HENSLEY
When you play for the CV Crush Little League team, big things can happen. Things much bigger than, say, winning games with teamwork and commitment. Because when you play for the CV Crush, Dee Gordon will sign your face.
At least, that’s what happened to one Crush player recently at Dodger Stadium during a team trip. Forget having a baseball or a glove signed, Jaime Blank wanted a Major League infielder to ink his face. Gordon obliged, and it has been that kind of year for the Crush: the team is living the high life.
In actuality, the stuff about winning games is the main reason the team is riding high, and it had a chance to win some games across the country this summer.
Through tireless fundraising, the Crush played in a tournament in Cooperstown, NY, at the Dreams Park in June. The team played eight games, winning half of them.
“Surprisingly, we won all of our games in red, and lost all of our games in blue,” said centerfielder Lucas Martos-Repath (CV’s colors are purple and black, but the tournament had teams play in either red or blue.)
It’s not a requirement that a team actually be good to make the tournament, which hosts over a hundred teams each week. The Crush, which was formed in 2009, made it by applying a year in advance.
“Literally thousands of teams don’t get in, so we were fortunate enough to get a shot and go play,” said team founder Mark Langford, whose son Ty is a pitcher on the team. “It’s sort of a gold crown of baseball tournaments for 12-year-olds.”
To make the tournament, each player paid $800 and each team had to supply its own umpire. Christmas fundraising and parent poker tournaments were ways the Crush made it to New York. Langford said the team brought 15 players, which meant the week was more about getting experience rather than trying to win every game.
“I was fine with that,” said Lucas, whose favorite players are Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Justin Verlander and Dodgers’ centerfielder Matt Kemp. “It was still a ton of fun.”
While there, the kids took a tour of the Baseball Hall of Fame, which Lucas said was a highlight. The importance of the tour did not go over the players’ heads, said Langford. These are kids who take the game seriously, even at a young age.
“You’d be surprised how many statistics 12-year-olds know in baseball,” he said.
Langford doesn’t coach the team. That job is left to Ryan Benko and his staff, assistant coaches Mike Vinceri and Lewis Oberlander. Benko also works in the promotional department for the Dodgers, hence the trip to Dodger Stadium for the kids.
The Crush is a contender to go to South Williamsport, Pa. in August for the Little League World Series. There are several levels in the local area the team must get past in July, but Langford said it’s a possibility.
“We could, yeah. Absolutely,” he said. “We have enough hitting power and fielding strength … we wanted to put a team of our best players together in the area so they could play three years together in order to prepare for this month.”
Since 12-year-olds don’t stay that age for long, Langford said he’s planning on making the Crush a high school prep team, one in which coaches like CV High School’s Phil Torres can start mining for talent.
For now though, the kids have a coach in Benko, and he’s a popular one at that.
“He’s hard on us, but it’s a lot of fun. He makes us strive to be better,” said Lucas. “He’s just a really good coach.”