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State tourney opens at League 3

Little League
Jul. 14, 2011 @ 11:40 PM

HUNTINGTON -- As a Little Leaguer in the hottest of baseball hotbeds, Tim Donnelly never got the chance that 14 teams do this week at Huntington League 3.

"We never got too far," he said. "I think one time we lost in the region tournament ... but I grew up in the state of Texas so it's pretty tough to get out of that."

But for the group that Donnelly, Marshall's assistant baseball coach, got to address Thursday night, they've survived the West Virginia gauntlet.

Gotten past their districts and advanced to Huntington for the age 9-10 state baseball tournament.

Their goal now? Try to win the the thing -- and have fun doing it.

"Just keep practicing and working hard," Donnelly said moments after he served as the guest speaker for Thursday's state tourney opening ceremony. "This is the best time of their lives. We all know that when we grow up, everything gets a little harder.

"But right now, these kids have no care in the world but playing baseball."

Pool play begins Friday at League 3 with Tygarts Valley taking on Martinsburg at 1 p.m. Barboursville and Bridgeport will provide the nightcap to the six-game day with its 7 p.m., first pitch.

The championship is next Wednesday (July 20) at 6:15 p.m.

"The big thing about this tournament is it's the youngest age group in Little League, so you get to see some really, really good young talent," said Todd Shell, the tournament director. "You'll see some home runs from little kids you can't believe.

"But for us, here in Huntington, we just want to put on a first-class tournament. Make sure that the kids have a great time. Whether they win or lose, they look back on their experience here in Huntington as maybe a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

For Donnelly, whose father Rich was a coach in the Major League for over 25 years, baseball at this age is about the simplest of things.

The gloving of a line drive.

The bat on the ball.

"Strapping on of the cleats," Donnelly said. "That was probably my favorite thing to do. Just put the cleats on.

"When I was little -- even when there wasn't gamedays -- I put them on and go in the backyard. Just being able to put on the uniform and act like I'm a Big Leaguer for a day.

"That was kind of the most special thing I had."

It was -- and still is -- the sport in its most purest form.

"Oh, definitely," Donnelly said. "I love to come out to this and the one up the street in Kenova last year. I got to watch the Little League stuff out there for the little older guys.

"It's fun to come watch and just see these guys play."

And who knows? Maybe one will eventually show up on the Thundering Herd's recruiting radar.

"We hope that these kids can grow up and get better," Donnelly said, "and hopefully come be student-athletes at Marshall.

"If that can happen, it's a plus for us. It's a win-win."