Before the competitive blood churns and the deep focus defines the U. S. Club Nationals baseball event, about 60 of the teams in the tournament took some time Tuesday to enjoy the sights and have some laughs at the Kickoff Celebration.
Held at The Battery entertainment complex just outside SunTrust Park, home of the Atlanta Braves, the Kickoff welcomed teams from 13 clubs across the country. Vendors and exhibits were perfect for teams and families to explore and challenge each other in good-natured competitions; teams were photographed on the first-base dugout inside SunTrust Park and were privy to free tours of the stadium.
YouTube sensation Domingo Ayala performed a 30-minute show that had his many fans laughing, and when the afternoon was done, hundreds of people descended onto the multiple restaurants in easy walking distance.
But soon enough, talk about the tournament was easy to hear. Teams compete for their age group titles, as is typical, but the event ultimately crowns the best club finish, using points earned from each age group to determine who was the deepest, strongest organization in the mix. Games begin Wednesday, with championship day set for Saturday.
"I think it's a great event; you've got 13 of the top organizations from around the country playing in this kind of a competitive setting," said Jay Andrews, CFO and office administrator for Georgia's own 6-4-3 DP Baseball. "A lot of people know this part of the country is known for youth baseball, and we get a lot of national events, but we feel great about the good games and good baseball coming this week.
"It is a great situation - we actually encourage it where, you have a 12-year-old team playing, but if the 9's at the other end aren't playing, they come into to dugout to cheer the 12s. We are big on that kind of camaraderie."
"It's a good tournament - we obviously wanted to come back and compete, as we came up a little short last year. The competition is always good," said Slammers (CO) general manager Bryant Asnicar. "This wraps our summer up; we spend about eight weeks on the road, and this is a good ending place for us to bring it together, close out the summer and move into the fall."
A few of these young athletes are veterans of the event, including 12-year-old Sean Benjamin of the Five Star Tigers (FL).
"It's a good atmosphere -- with all the other teams in the organization here, it's fun to watch them play and win," Benjamin said. "You play against some good teams and have a good time with the organization. You don't have a lot of tournaments like this, so it's a fun time to play together. There are a few good teams here who can play a little bit, so I'm ready to see how it goes."