By AARON GETTINGER
The Hyde Park Legends, a Babe Ruth baseball league team with 13- and 14-year-old players from all across the neighborhood, won the citywide tournament on July 18, after first baseman Benjamin Brooks made a game-winning out. They jubilantly threw their mitts into the air and piled on top of him.
The road to the championship had been hard-fought. The Legends came into the tournament in third place out of 10 teams. They beat the Midway Bombers in their first playoff game 10-3 and the B.I.G. Barnstormers 15-7 in the semifinals.
They faced the number one-seeded team, the Midway Cardinals, in the championship game and played on enemy turf: Michael J. Madigan Park, 4701 W. 67th St. After four innings, they were behind 6-3. Brooks scored a two-run single in the fifth, taking them to 6-5. James Morin scored a second two-run single in the sixth, and the Legends took the win after the final, seventh inning 7-6. Pitcher Cameron West successfully retired two opposing players right in a row.
Coach Jonathan Friesen said he told the team that playoff games are precious: “You don’t get to have many of them.”
“It was a great playoff run, and it was a tremendously fun team to coach,” said the coach, who has not played baseball since he was his players’ age but remains a staunch Cubs fan (“though not a Sox hater”). “They came in together at the end of the year and really learned to play for each other and support each other. I think that really helped us in the playoffs.”
It was a long season that began at the end of this year’s unseasonably cold spring. The Legends practice twice a week at Jackson and Washington parks and play two or three games against teams from South Shore, Bridgeport, Humboldt Park and elsewhere on the South and West sides.
Cameron West, a fielder who moved to Dallas right after winning the championship, said he worried about the Legends’ potential at first.
But by the second final’s first inning, “We actually got it together, and I thought we had a chance,” he said. “By the time we got to the finals, I thought, ‘I know we could win now.’ They underestimated us because they thought they had an easy win, then we came back and blew them out.”
Half the team – those who finished eighth grade this year – will age out by next season, and Coach Friesen is unsure if he will coach again. His son, Nathan, who pitched 14 playoff innings and struck out 26 opposing players, will begin high school at Kenwood Academy this fall.
Brooks has aged out, too, and will start at Marist High School in Mt. Greenwood, 4200 W. 115th St. He said the Legends’ success came from their focus on fixing what went wrong at the practices that followed lost games.
“We were very competitive with each other but focused when we know it’s game time,” he said. “I had no doubt we were gonna win. We were very focused on what we needed to do. We came prepared and fought no matter how bad we were losing.”
“Next year’s team has a championship to defend!” Friesen said.