Standing in the batter’s box, Pierson Wheeler waited for the perfect pitch.
The opposing team’s left-handed pitcher delivered a fastball, and Wheeler made the perfect connection, sending the ball over the fence in center field.
His teammates who were on first and second bases ran across home plate, and Wheeler followed. As he rounded the bases, the other team’s players and his third base coach gave him high-fives. Then his teammates surrounded him as he leaped onto home plate.
His three-run shot helped lift the Demand Command 12U baseball team to victory. It was his first home run since joining the travel team based out of Bloomington and Columbus in the summer of 2018.
[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]Click here to purchase photos from this gallery
“I didn’t think it was going over,” the 12-year-old Brownstown Central Middle School seventh grader said. “I was excited because it was my first one.”
What made the moment even more special is where it occurred: Cooperstown All Star Village. That complex is in Oneonta, New York, around 20 miles away from the central New York village that’s home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
“That’s going to be my memory to know,” said Wheeler, who has played baseball since he was 5. “Like when I point it out at people, I will always think of that.”
The game was the fifth of nine Demand Command played from June 29 to July 5.
This year, Cooperstown All Star Village and Cooperstown Dreams Park are hosting 12 weeklong baseball tournaments for 12U teams from around the country. Dreams Park is closer to Cooperstown.
Wheeler’s father, Brian, said Demand Command submitted a request to play in Cooperstown and wound up being one of 60 teams selected to play last week.
A couple of years ago, Rod Hite, one of the team’s coaches, saw the parks when he visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame and knew the team needed to play there, Brian said.
“Every summer for 12 weeks, it’s a baseball mecca. Little League has Williamsport (Pennsylvania). Well, for the rest of the country, it’s Cooperstown,” Brian said.
“Teams right now are planning. If they want to go next year, they’ve got to plan now, and you have to reserve a spot,” he said. “Teams from across the country are trying to get spots in these tournaments for the Cooperstown experience. A very low percentage of the kids that actually play baseball actually get to go to Cooperstown.”
Pierson said the turf fields at All Star Village were nice, and Brian said even the grass ones were in pristine condition.
“It’s a really, really beautiful mountain scenery,” Brian said of the Adirondack Mountains nearby. “It’s mountains in the background. It’s really a picturesque site.”
Demand Command finished the week with a 7-2 record and placed 12th out of 60 teams. Its last game was a loss to the top-seeded team, California Grizzlies.
Brian said that was one of three California teams Demand Command faced. Others were from Illinois, Massachusetts, Virginia, Maryland, Michigan and New York. In all, 18 states were represented that week.
“We had some friends who went out there to it and had a good time, didn’t win as many games, but they still had a great time,” Brian said of how he had heard about the tournaments in Cooperstown.
“It’s very baseball-focused,” he said. “It’s all about the kids playing baseball and the experience, and they really play into that. If you’re a baseball family, it’s the place to go, it really is. It’s like a baseball high out there. It’s kind of a different world.”
The 11 members of the team, who come from seven different schools, were joined on the trip by their family members.
Each day, the coaches started with a speech and a discussion about a Bible verse before the games began.
“One may be about obeying your parents or one may be about something else, and then they talked about it throughout the day, and they reviewed it each night,” Brian said. “Every night, they had a talk about ‘What did your teammates do well today? Say something about another teammate,’ those kind of things that are just different than you get in most places in that kind of environment.”
The team also prayed after every game. After one game in which the opposing team’s pitcher broke his arm, they included him in their prayers.
Adding to the positive environment, Hite also had the players thank their parents and other family members for coming to each game and bringing them to Cooperstown. One day, the siblings ran the base paths on a turf field with the players, and the players signed their names on Cooperstown towels and gave them to their parents.
The boys also had fun exchanging pins with players from other teams.
“Their goal is to meet somebody from another team and trade with them. They tried to do one for every team,” Brian said. “A lot of these kids are from all over, and they kind of turn that into a competition between their own teams of who can get more pins.”
In their free time one day, the Demand Command players visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame, where Hite had them do reports on enshrined players.
They also practiced and played their own game at Doubleday Field. That field opened in 1920, and teams from all levels of baseball have played there over the years. It’s named after a Civil War major general who some claim invented the game of baseball.
Throughout the week, Hite journaled about the experience and shared posts on Facebook. In his last one, he said Demand Command scored more than 100 runs and played 54 innings and only lost three of them through the nine games.
“That’s right. We either won or tied 51 innings in nine full games against some of the nation’s best teams,” he wrote.
The team consists of four boys who have played together for four years, two who have been with the team for three years, three who joined last year and two who were added this year.
He expressed how proud he was of the players and their growth during the week.
“Following the game, I saw players smiling with their families, hugging their teammates, posing for pictures with their siblings, parents and grandparents,” he said. “It was an amazing week of baseball.”
On the final night, the team went through player highlights and relieved their greatest moments of the week.
Hite said most importantly, he wanted to thank God for the opportunity to coach again. It had been more than a decade since he coached a team after becoming a school administrator.
“To do so again on these fields in Cooperstown with this level of competition and with my son on the team made this very special to me personally,” he wrote. “The players and parents got to see a little more competitive side of me come out this week. I was probably pretty close to as intense as I was as a varsity coach but with a lighter side in the barracks.”
He also thanked everyone involved in the experience for the memories.
“May the love of the game live in your hearts forever,” he said.