Call them the “Cooperstown Kids.”
Jayce Vancena, a seventh-grader at Lake Middle School, and his buddy Bryce Castilleja, a seventh-grader at Fassett Middle School, traveled with their parents to Cooperstown, N.Y., with the Teays Valley Vikings, a 12-and-under all-star baseball team from Columbus.
"Both boys have played against Columbus in past years," said Joe Vancena, Jayce's father. "The coach asked both boys to go to Cooperstown with them.
“We got out there and it was like nothing I've ever seen. I was just taking it all in. It was just gorgeous.” Jayce and Bryce led Teays Valley to a 10-0 record and the tournament championship. They also got to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Bryce's dad, Ray Castilleja, also went on the trip. They took a motor home and stayed at the All-Star Village in Cooperstown from July 12-18.
"We didn't get to see them very much,” Ray said. “They treated them like big-leaguers. They got their bags carried for them ... The groundskeepers were right there with golf carts for their bags. They did their laundry and carried their bags for them."
The Cooperstown All-Star Village is a baseball paradise perched in the rolling hills of central New York¹s Adirondack Mountains. The Village includes eight manicured baseball fields, complete with permanent fences, warning tracks, brick dust infields and lights.
Jayce, a pitcher and catcher, called the week in Cooperstown “a great experience. I liked the field and stuff and staying with the kids and the parents and all that. It felt like you were playing on a major league baseball field."
Jayce, 12, who said his favorite baseball player is Grady Sizemore and his favorite team is the Indians, was also impressed with the Hall of Fame.
“I liked it because there were all these baseball cards and `no-hit’ baseballs and stats from different people,” he said. “It's huge."
Bryce, who turned 13 on July 25, said of the Hall, “I got to see all of the players’ sayings on the plaques, like Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. Like when Babe Ruth called his `shot.’ The fields were really nice and I liked being in the cabins with my team.
After the nine-hour drive from Toledo, every player was issued home and away uniforms. An on-site laundry service picked up dirty uniforms twice a day, guaranteeing perfectly decked-out players for each game.
Teams were assigned bunkhouses where the players and coaches would live for the week. A swimming pool shaped like a baseball glove was just around the corner as was the dining hall.
Each team played two games a day for the first three days of the tournament.
The team¹s record in the pool-play portion of the tournament determined the seeding for the single-elimination championship bracket.
The Vikings knocked off the top-seeded Kingston (Md.) Royals 6-2 to capture the championship. For the week, the Vikings were 10-0 against teams from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Illinois and Maryland.
Jayce and Bryce were big contributors to the Vikings’ success.
"I thought I would just play my best and see how things played out,” Jayce said. “I think I did pretty good."
Jayce batted over .500, with six home runs and 22 RBI in 10 games. Against the team from New York he was 3-for-3 with three home runs, including a grand slam.
"It felt awesome," Jayce said of his first grand slam, over the 200-foot sign in left field. It was also the first career three-homer game.
Bryce also batted over .500, with six home runs and 21 RBI including a game-tying home run in the championship game.
"I played really good,” Bryce said. “My favorite part was when I hit the home run in the finals to tie the game at 2-2 in the fourth inning. It was to left-center."
Both boys were impressive on the mound for the Vikings. When not catching, Jayce pitched nine innings allowing one hit and no runs along with pitching in two no-hit games.
Bryce pitched five innings, allowing one hit and no earned runs.
The Vikings were awarded a six-foot trophy and each player was given a ring and inducted into the Youth Baseball Hall of Fame following the championship game.
Bryce's dad, Ray, said he and his son and the rest of the players won¹t ever forget their week in Cooperstown.
"It didn't hit me until right after they won the semifinal game,” Ray said. “All those years from Bryce, starting at 2 or 3 years old in the backyard, all the hard days taking grounders and batting practice in 90-degree heat. All that hard work paid off. I got a little choked up.”