It was an official rite of passage. A special tradition when they officially became World Series participants.
The first part of the rite consisted of team by team orientations, followed by hundreds of the most talented young players in the world enjoying one of the most famed festivities of the Babe Ruth League World Series – the Banquet of Champions.
Each 2016 World Series Banquet was packed with players, parents and fans from all Babe Ruth regions represented. Each team was introduced individually as they made their special entrance that seemed more in line with the red carpet on Oscar night.
It was no surprise that Tri-Valley, California outfielder Michael O’Hara was one of the first players to enter the Babe Ruth 14-Year-Old World Series Banquet of Champions for his team at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. O’Hara is the lead-off hitter for Tri-Valley. He and his camouflage-jerseyed teammates appeared to have a bit of swagger as they marched down the center aisle to take their seats. Tri-Valley has been parading around for nearly a year after winning the 2015 Babe Ruth 13-Year-Old World Series hosted by Jamestown, New York. (And by the way, Tri-Valley once again took home the Championship trophy, beating Bismarck, North Dakota, 9-6, to claim the title of 2016 World Champions. And Michael O'Hara was named the World Series Batting Champion and Most Outstanding Player.)
Former Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins Jack Morris served as the keynote speaker at the Babe Ruth 13-15 World Series Banquet in Williston, North Dakota. Jack knows a thing or two about winning. He led Major League Baseball’s American League in wins twice in an illustrious career that spanned 18 years. And if that wasn’t enough, he has four World Series titles to his name to prove it. Jack also delivered clutch performances in the biggest moments. In 1991, pitching for his hometown Minnesota Twins, Morris went the distance in game seven to capture the title over a loaded Atlanta Braves squad en route to a World Series MVP award.
Morris is a Babe Ruth League alumnus from St. Paul, Minnesota. “Individual character makes special clubs,” Morris said to the players in attendance at the banquet. “Character and heart goes beyond stats.” He referenced the Kansas City Royals, who won last season’s World Series without the top-flight talent some other teams enjoy. “You can’t quantify it in any formula, you really can’t,” he said. “The teams that win figure out a way. They figure out a way to buy into each other. They weren’t better than anybody else.”
While winning at the Babe Ruth World Series is the goal, Morris spoke about the most cherished of aspects of his baseball career. It wasn’t the accolades or championships. Rather, it was the bond between himself and his teammates. “My fondest memories of the 1991 Twins team were not winning the World Series,” he said. “It was the daily camaraderie. It was going out and watching five guys not do any pre-game exercises — they were the five best players,” he laughed.
Morris’ final piece of advice was for the kids to take a step back and soak up the experience. Teammates and memories last a lifetime,” he finished.
At the 13-Year-Old World Series in Ottumwa, Iowa, after a fun afternoon of showing off power, speed and agility at the Nationwide Skills Contest, it was only fitting to end the day with a big, bountiful banquet.
The Banquet of Champions in Ottumwa was held at the Tom Arnold Net Center on the campus of the Indian Hills Community College. In the minutes that led up to the banquet, the 10 participating teams were introduced by Ottumwa High School principal Mark Hanson.
After the national anthem and invocation, the players, their families and fans were dismissed to load their plates with some delicious-smelling food.
Speakers at the banquet included Ottumwa Mayor Tom Lazio, Babe Ruth League Vice President Joseph Smiegocki, who presented the City of Ottumwa with the Host City Award, World Series Director Tim Kuntz, who presented the Host President Awards to Joe Schulz and Holly Dommer, following by Norm Travis, a member of the Babe Ruth League International Board of Directors.
The highlight of the evening was the introduction of keynote speaker Rick Heller, the current baseball coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes, who received a hearty welcome from the crowd.
Heller, who grew up in southern Iowa and now lives in Eldon, spoke of the lessons he learned during his time in Babe Ruth, and even thanked his league coach, who was in attendance in the audience.
“Being a guy who played my Babe Ruth ball on those same fields this tournament will be held in makes me proud to see this type of turnout," Heller said to the audience. "I'm happy for Ottumwa. I know a lot of people had to work hard to get this event here. It's pretty special to know that a tournament like the Babe Ruth World Series is going be held on those same diamonds I played on growing up."
Heller also talked about some of the long history Ottumwa has had when it comes to being the host and participating in Babe Ruth postseason games. Some of that history included his own time playing on Senior Babe Ruth baseball.
"When I was 16, we hosted the Senior Babe Ruth regional tournament at Legion Memorial Field," Heller said. "I remember playing in, I believe 1976, on an Ottumwa Babe Ruth team that won the state championship and got to go to Fargo, North Dakota.
"We've had some big events, but the Babe Ruth World Series is at a completely different level. It's awesome to look out in the crowd and see so many good young players from so many different states."
Never, though, has Heller been a part of a Babe Ruth World Series before.
"The only World Series of any kind I've been a part of is the 1996 Division III College World Series we won at Upper Iowa," Heller said. "It's all relative to where you are in your life. This Babe Ruth World Series is just as big a deal to these kids as that World Series was for us in 1996 or the College World Series the NCAA athletes were a part of this summer in Omaha."
Having coached college baseball since 1988, Heller knows how important the development of the game is at a young level. To make it to the Babe Ruth World Series, according to Heller, takes a lot of commitment from each and every family that has a player or coach participating in the games.
"These kids at this age play the game at a very high level," Heller said. "What being around this event tells me is that we've got a group of kids here that are willing to work extremely hard at the game and they have families that are willing the make the sacrifices to allow for that hard work to lead to great opportunities."
Heller encouraged the members of the 10 baseball teams to have the best tournament they can, because this will be their only chance to shine at this age level. He wanted each of the players to be themselves, and not play any different than they have all season.
Thank you to the many people from the World Series communities who come together to provide the World Series participants with a big league experience that officially began with a dreams come true banquet. The many participants and fans are still abuzz about their experience during the 2016 Babe Ruth League World Series.