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Marion embraces Minnesota winners

Players say Marion is the best Cal Ripken host town they’ve visited

Staff writer

With the Cottonwood Valley All-Stars knocked out of the regional tournament Sunday afternoon, Marion’s rooting interest was diverted to the team from Waitte Park, Minn.

Stacey Pedersen was against the fence behind home plate cheering on her six host-family children by name, shouting words of encouragement and applauding.

In Waitte Park’s fan section, current and former Marion High School baseball players were cheering on the team from Minnesota. Wil and Grif Case, Jacob Harper, and Austin Pedersen knew most of the players by name. Even in a blowout 16-6 win against Mineral Area, Mo., the older Marion players cheered for the Waitte Park 12-year-olds who had been living in their homes.

“It was nice that they came to the game and gave us an extra cheering section,” Waitte Park catcher Keaton LeClaire said.

It did not hurt that Waitte Park did not lose a game in the tournament, winning the regional and advancing to the Cal Ripken World Series in Aberdeen, Md. However, the Waitte Park players earned the local support section by being “the most polite boys I’ve ever met,” Stacy Pedersen said.

Pedersen invited into her home Keaton, Chris Backes, Joey Atkinson, Cameron Dehler, Dan Schoborg, and Jack Schramel Thursday night through Monday morning. An example of the players’ polite nature was the boys thanking her as she stood by the car door as they were getting out of the vehicle.

The Waitte Park players’ polite demeanor was evident on the diamond. A spectator from Southeast Missouri, Mitzie Seger, in no way connected to the Minnesota team, noted a particular instance from a previous game that exemplified the players’ character.

Dehler was pitching against Ottawa on Saturday. The 6-foot-tall, right-handed, 12-year-old threw an inside pitch to Ottawa slugger Brock Huddleston. Pedersen said the Ottawa batter did not expect the pitch to hit him. Barely moving to get out of the way, the fastball connected with Huddleston’s left cheek, and he quickly dropped to the dirt in the batter’s box.

LeClaire was catching. He said Dehler was distraught — visibly crying and walking around the mound. He thought he had seriously hurt the Ottawa player. After the game, Dehler went out of his way to check on Huddleston, shake the Ottawa batter’s hand, and express his apologies for the inside pitch.

“We like to be known as the classy team,” LeClaire said. “If we’re known as the best, that’s OK We’d rather be known as the classy team.”

To Pedersen, the moment was an example of the Waitte Park team’s unusual professional-like character. Even though they often obtained lopsided margins of victory, she said she never saw the team gloat.

“They’re just gentlemen,” Pedersen said. “Then they go home and act like boys. You kind of forget they’re 12 years old.”

The players all had a positive influence on the Pedersen children. Mason, who plays on the CVL team, was displaced from his basement bedroom to allow for one of the Waitte Park players to have a bed. Almost immediately, Mason connected with the players from Minnesota. On Saturday, he slept downstairs on an air mattress with his new friends.

Stacey Pedersen expected her oldest son, Austin, to stay away from the house this past week with a large group of 12-year-olds hanging around. A high school junior, he spent more time at home this past week than he has this summer. The older Pedersen, Harper, and the Case siblings also befriended the older siblings of players from Minnesota.

The bonding experience was mutual. LeClaire said his Waitte Park teammates have exchanged phone numbers and Facebook information with their hosts.

Teresa LeClaire said she asked her son whether he wanted to do activities with his parents after games.

“My son texted me that this house and family is the best,” she said. “They didn’t want to do anything with us right now.”

Keaton LeClaire also said Marion has been the best Cal Ripken host town he has visited.

He said the warm welcome and support of people like the Pedersens made the difference.

Last modified Aug. 3, 2011

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