MODESTO — The roster for the Modesto Babe Ruth 18-under baseball team looks intimidating, considering that all but two won’t be playing at the college level next season. That’s because those two still have a year left of high school. The other players either have a year of college experience or are about to.
In the mix are four Turlock-area products.
Recent high school graduates Brandon Cummings (Hilmar High), Kevin Kramer (Turlock High) and Jeremy McDonald (Turlock High), as well as soon-to-be Turlock Christian High senior John Westberg, are part of a group that will host the Pacific Southwest Regional. The double-elimination tournament runs Thursday until Tuesday at Modesto Christian High, with the Modesto team’s first game set for Friday at 8 p.m.
“The Turlock boys are definitely a strong unit,” said coach Bobby Swedberg, who has Turlock ties as an assistant coach for the Pitman High junior varsity baseball team. He believes this year’s team has the talent and experience to make a World Series run, much like the one he and his players made in 2008.
However, the Modesto team hasn’t won the regional since then.
Last season, the team was eliminated after three games at regionals.
In 2009, the team came in second at regionals.
But this time, the boys have an advantage. A huge one. They’re hosting the regional tournament, eliminating worries of booking travel and hotel arrangements, such as they did last year for their trip to Wastonville.
“Being in our own backyard and sleeping at home,” Swedberg said, “I think it’s a more relaxing setting than going on the road and having to sleep in a hotel for six days and not being in your surroundings. There’s no pressure, really.”
The boys like that. They can relax, especially after enduring a tough summer schedule that has resulted in a 19-3 overall record. Yes, they won plenty of games, but they’ve also been challenged. They played against a tough Merced summer team, as well as an under-19 team from the Bay Area that had all junior college players.
“At the beginning, we weren’t challenged as much as later toward the end,” said Kramer, who is one of the more celebrated players on the Modesto Babe Ruth roster, thanks in part to his scholarship with UCLA. “We played teams like Hanford and the Merced summer team. They definitely have been challenges. I think we’ve had a good mix of being challenged and also the games where you can kind of relax and play baseball again.
“I think we’re ready for the tournament.”
“They made us be more on our toes,” Westberg said about the tough schedule, “because the competition during the summer and during the week wasn’t that good. It was mainly high school players. Playing a lot of JC guys, they’re people who actually want to play baseball. It’s better competition. It helped us out.”
In the past, the Modesto Babe Ruth team would have less than a handful of junior college-experienced kids. Not this time. Nine of them are headed to Modesto Junior College, Merced College or American River College in Sacramento, while a half-dozen are set to play for Cal State Stanislaus.
“Since I’m pitching at Stanislaus,” said Cummings, the Hilmar grad, “I want to keep my arms fresh, to get repetition and it’s always good to work on things.”
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