Seven teams, double elimination, the winner moves on to compete for a shot at representing the state in the World Series. It's what dreams are made of.
This year's Dixie Youth District 3 AAA Minors All-Star Baseball Tournament, hosted by the Blacksburg Baseball Association and the town of Blacksburg, features all-star teams from Blacksburg, Christiansburg, Patrick County, Pulaski East, Pulaski West, Montgomery County and Radford. The AAA Minors consists of 9- and 10-year-old players from each locality.
The Dixie Youth Baseball regular season started in April and ended in the middle of June. From that point, all-star teams were organized, combining the best players from each franchised location, which make up the teams competing in the tournament.
The winner of this tournament advances to the state tournament, with the winner of the state tournament representing Virginia in the Dixie Youth Baseball World Series in LaGrange, Ga.
Blacksburg Baseball Association president Don Gresh said the tournament is the biggest stage many of the kids have played on and provides both a great opportunity for the players and wildly entertaining games for the fans. Because tournaments like these are new territory for the players, victories seem like the happiest moments of their lives, while losses are equally as crushing, he said.
"It's been a great tournament with great sportsmanship, and most games have been won in the last inning," Gresh said.
Last year, not only did Blacksburg become district champs by winning this tournament, its players also prevailed in the state tournament and went on to place fifth at the World Series. It marked the first time that a team from this area earned a berth in the series.
The defending champs retain seven starters from last year's team. Manager Tracy McCoy said they have more talent this year but less roster depth.
"I don't know that I have any expectations, but I'm hoping that we go as far as we can," McCoy said.
The team practices every night at 6:30, with an optional batting practice at 10 a.m. Last year's manager and current assistant coach Mike Goforth attributes the team's success to work ethic. He said that instead of parents driving the boys, they motivate themselves.
"They're not your typical 9- and 10-year-olds. We have the potential this year to hit better than last year, which is scary," Goforth said.
Goforth, the director of athletic training at Virginia Tech, has traveled with teams to numerous bowl games and national championships but said coaching last year's team, which his son was a part of, to a World Series game was his most special honor thus far.
The teams rotate managers every year to give different candidates a chance to coach.
Coach Greg Ridpath of Radford's team said his team is less seasoned than the defending champs but hopes to gain some valuable experience by participating in the tournament.
"We're young. I think we have three or four guys returning. But we've got some good players that can hit and field, and if we're throwing strikes I think we can play with pretty much anybody," Ridpath said.
The AAA Minors teams play on fields with 60 foot-basepaths, with the outfield fence distance from home plate being a minimum of 180 feet and a maximum of 225 feet.
First-round matchups include Montgomery County vs. Pulaski West, Christiansburg vs. Blacksburg and Radford vs. Pulaski East, with Patrick County receiving a bye.