Zac McClenahan waits for a pitch during the Cal Ripken Major 60 World Series in Florida.
A pair of 12-year-old baseball players from the Harpswell islands recently returned from Florida, where they experienced the thrill of their young lives as members of the first Maine team ever to reach the Cal Ripken Major 60 World Series.
Will Davis, of Orr’s Island, pitched and played third base for the team. Zac McClenahan, of Bailey and Great islands, played second base. Both call baseball their favorite sport.
“I like being able to play with my friends and have a great time,” Zac said. For Will, nothing feels better than a big hit.
After the rec league season, the boys made the Ararat all-star team. The team draws players from Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Harpswell, Richmond and Topsham.
Coaches and players sensed unusual potential from the beginning.
“I remember one quote from our coach,” Will said. “He said, ‘I feel something special about this team.'”
“I knew we were a great team, but I never thought we’d make it all the way to the World Series,” Zac said.
Bruce Davis, Will’s father and one of three assistant coaches, said the team’s “something special” went beyond the boys’ abilities on the diamond.
From the first practice, the coaches — Jon Hiltz and assistants Rob Beal, James Millson and Davis — set expectations for behavior and sportsmanship. The kids took their words to heart.
“They supported each other. They didn’t get down on each other,” Bruce said. “If one kid was having a bad day, the other kids would rally around that kid.”
The team tore through the district, state and regional tournaments with a 14-1 record to secure a berth in Florida.
“I couldn’t wait to go down to Florida and play some baseball,” Zac said.
“I knew we had a lot of momentum going into it too, so I knew we would give a good fight,” Will said.
First, the team had a big hurdle to overcome: the $60,000 cost for the weeklong trip.
For the majority of the boys, it would be their first time on a plane. “We wanted all the kids to have the same experience,” Bruce said, and raising the money would take the burden off their families. They had two weeks.
The boys held a car wash at Tire Warehouse in Topsham, washing some 140 vehicles and bringing in $6,000. An online fundraiser raked in $38,497. Will’s mother, Heather Davis, said people handed her cash when she went out to eat.
“We had a lot of support from the town of Harpswell,” Bruce said.
“It definitely speaks volumes about this community,” Heather added.
They exceeded the $60,000 goal.
The World Series took place at an eight-field complex in Palm Beach Gardens. The local boys often found themselves up against bigger and stronger opponents.
Most 12-year-old pitchers throw in the low 60s, according to Will. “There were kids there who were throwing 76, 77 miles per hour, which is crazy,” he said.
It was hard not to feel some intimidation, Will said, but Ararat held its own.
Both boys were humble about their individual contributions. Zac was quiet at the plate, although his bases-loaded walk scored the first run in Ararat’s first win. He contributed solid defense at second. “I did what I could to help my team,” he said.
Will had a tough outing on the mound early in the tournament. Ararat was playing the top seed and hometown team, Palm Beach Gardens, “and I think I got down on myself,” he said.
“I got all in my head and I just wasn’t pitching my game,” he said. Palm Beach Gardens scored four runs in the final inning to secure a 7-2 win.
“I talked about it with my dad a lot and I think I rebounded the next time I went out there and pitched,” Will said.
Will called it a privilege to have his father as a coach. Bruce has coached youth baseball off and on for about 20 years. This was his last season. “It was a great way to finish,” he said.
He tries to use what happens on the field to teach the kids life lessons, connecting the skills they use to win to the skills they need to succeed in school, and later in work and relationships.
Will and Zac agreed that the highlight of the tournament, for them, was a win against a team from Green County, Kentucky.
Ararat had dropped a 7-5 battle to Green County on Aug. 9, but got another chance three days later.
“It was a really, really gritty game,” Will said of the rematch. Ararat won 4-3, thanks in no small part to Will’s performance on the mound. He gave up two earned runs in five innings before giving way to a reliever, according to The Times Record.
Will was quick to spread the credit around. “It was a big team win,” he said.
Ararat finished 3-3 in the 15-team tournament. They placed fifth in the nation and took the Sportsmanship Award.
Will and Zac will soon start seventh grade at Mt. Ararat Middle School. They plan to play for the school’s seventh-grade team in the spring. Will is considering giving up football to play fall baseball.
Both boys want to play baseball as long as they can. Like many boys, they dream of the major leagues, but they know the odds are astronomical.
Will has a backup plan. “Obviously I want to be a baseball player, but if that doesn’t happen, I would want to be an announcer,” he said.