CROWN POINT | John Paris says the players on the Crown Point Bulldogs 12-and-under baseball team are approaching "the end of innocence."
"Things are going to get a little more complicated for these guys in the years to come," Paris said of the squad, which qualified for the Cal Ripken Major/60 World Series starting Friday at the Hammond Optimist Youth Sports Complex. "There are going to be more distractions. This is their final season playing together in Cal Ripken. Most will probably continue playing, but they will likely spread out to other teams."
Paris is a coach for the team that includes his son Christian, a catcher. Fellow coach Chris Krutz, whose son Sam also catches on the team, sees the end coming much sooner than he anticipated.
"When we got the berth (two weeks ago at the Northern Indiana Championships), it seemed as if the days after were dragging along," Krutz said. "Now that the time has come, it's become a blur. This is really it."
Many of the players will continue to play at the Babe Ruth and/or travel ball level next year, and Paris and Krutz also plan to continue coaching. For Bob Bauner, who has managed the bulk of the team to five straight Northern Indiana titles, this will likely be the last hurrah,
"I first got into this coaching my son (Mike)," said Bauner, whose coaching staff also includes Larry Geisen.
Bob, as the manager, and Mike, as a player, were part of the Crown Point Little League state champion team in 1995. Bauner is now coaching his grandsons, the double-play combination of shortstop Marek Bauner and second baseman Kyle Bauner.
"We've turned a few in our time," Marek said of the pitcher's best friend, the 6-4-3 double play. "But it's hard to do with the short bases."
Crown Point will have Friday off before facing Quincy, Mass. at 3 p.m. Saturday in its first pool-play game.
"I've heard they've got some size on us," Bauner said.
But Sam Krutz says they can counter that.
"We're good at playing small ball ... manufacturing runs," Sam said. "Our defense and pitching are good, and we play well as a team."
Outfielder Jake Schalasky and first baseman Alec Matalin are approaching the World Series with tempered optimism, hoping the Bulldogs can at least advance to the single-elimination bracket starting Wednesday.
But outfielder Kyle Gilmack believes a World Series championship is a distinct possibility.
"We've been playing together for a long time, and this is our last chance," Kyle said. "We're coming to play. We're confident, and if we can remain confident, we can beat anyone."
Win or lose, Bauner hopes his players savor the moment.
"We try to tell our players how fortunate they are," he said. "There are a lot of kids who would love to be in their position.
"We're going to be respectful to all the teams that made it. We always had great respect for (tourney host) Hammond, as well as Griffith, who we were rooting for to get to the World Series themselves before they fell short at the Ohio Valley Regional."