Adjusting to life in a new conference is an arduous task for most teams.
Dealing with different teams, playing fields and umpires can sometimes deter a team from having a successful first year in its new conference. Some teams struggle. Yet other teams thrive.
The Funkstown Skunks 17U team falls into the latter category.
The Skunks’ first year in the Baltimore Metro League has certainly been a success. Funkstown played 32 games in the 16-team conference made up primarily of 19U teams and finishing 17-15 — good for second in the conference and, with it, a berth to the National Amateur Baseball Federation 17U World Series in Knoxville, Tenn., beginning Wednesday.
The Skunks were one of just five 17U teams in the Baltimore Metro League, and the bulk of their games were contested against 19U teams.
“Playing those 19U teams was good for us,” Funkstown coach Travis Hebron said. “We beat a lot of them but didn’t have that same intensity against some of the 17U teams.”
Some of the Skunks admitted playing against older players was a welcomed challenge.
“It was a fun challenge going up against the older guys,” said third baseman Colby Johnson, who led the team with five home runs and 31 RBIs. “Everyone enjoyed it and never gave up.”
The NABF World Series is a four-day, pool play-style tournament with the championship game held at the 3,800-seat Lindsey Nelson Stadium on the University of Tennessee’s campus on Sunday.
“It’s exciting to get a chance to play at the University of Tennessee,” said Funkstown pitcher Adam Blenckstone, who ranks second on the team with 27 strikeouts this season. “It definitely adds motivation.”
In order for the Skunks to get an opportunity to play at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, they’ll have to finish in the top two in their pool to advance to a double-elimination tournament to decide the champion.
The Skunks have had a little time to make some last-minute adjustments before making the eight-hour trek to Knoxville.
“We’ve just been working on the simple things — fundamentals,” said pitcher Tyler Smith said, who logged 30 2/3 innings this season and boasted a 3.20 ERA. “I’m really excited to see how baseball is elsewhere. I like seeing how the other teams play.”
Pitcher Aaron Roby — Funkstown’s leader in strikeouts (38) — expressed his readiness to play in the NABF World Series for the first time.
“I’m prepared and ready for the challenge,” Roby said. “I’m going to pitch my best and have faith in the defense.”
Shortstop Ryan Bolton, who leads the team with a .429 batting average, also believes the Skunks are primed for the tournament.
“We’ve working hard and playing hard,” he said. “It’s a big tournament and I think we’ll do well. We work well as a team and we have faith.”