Lee County’s 12-year-old Dixie League team takes a break in the infield during practice earlier this week as the squad prepares to play in the Dixie League World Series in Bartow, Fla., beginning Thursday.
LEESBURG — There are plenty of reasons Lee County’s 12-year-old Dixie League team is headed to the Dixie League World Series.
Twelve of them.
Count ’em, 12.
You’ve heard of the Dirty Dozen. Just call these kids the United Dozen.
“That’s the secret,’’ said Cannon Dunn, who plays the outfield for Lee County. “Well, it’s no secret now.’’
It may sound like a cliché, but that all-for-one and one-for-all stuff works for this team. The Miami Marlins and others could take notes.
“We say it all the time. When we break, everyone says: ‘One through 12!’ The kids believe in each other,’’ said Shawn Snedden, who coaches the team along with Tripp Knight and Bill Butler.
“We started saying that when we got the team together, and now the kids just say it on their own,’’ Knight said. “They’ve done a real good job coming from three teams to come together like they have.’’
There’s a dozen kids — each an All-Star in his own right — from three teams from the Lee County Dixie National League.
The Lee County kids are headed for Bartow, Fla., where they will play in the Dixie League World Series, starting Thursday. This group will bring bats, balls and gloves — but they’ll leave the egos at home.
“Yeah,’’ said Snedden, “that (egos) could be a problem, but we haven’t any problem with that. These kids pull together.’’
They pull together and then run over everybody else.
The Lee kids have a team batting average of .516 and a team ERA of 0.88.
“It hasn’t been one or two kids. It’s been all of them,’’ Snedden said. “We have had clutch hits, big hits from everyone in the lineup and we’ve had a lot of kids come through on the mound.’’
Now they’re headed for the World Series with a pat on the back from Leesburg’s greatest baseball player and the best catcher in the big leagues.
Giants catcher and Lee County native Buster Posey posted a congratulations on his facebook page this week saying: “Congrats to Lee County’s Major League DYB State Champs and good luck in the World Series.’’
“The kids saw that,’’ Snedden said. “They got pretty excited when they did.’’
So did a lot of people. As of Saturday, 930 people agreed with Posey’s comment.
Lee County has won the Dixie World Series before in 1994, 1998 and 2005, and this group has stormed its way to Florida.
They have pounded out the hits and taken care of every obstacle to get to the World Series. They went 4-0 in the district tournament, outscoring opponents 50-1 in those games. The closest game they had was an 11-1 win. They mercy-ruled everyone.
Then they played host to the state tournament, and ripped their way through, going 7-0 with only one close game. That came in the semifinals against the defending champ Troup National. They beat Troup American twice, 11-1 and 7-1, and beat Troup National, 9-2 and 2-1. Aaron Greene pitched a complete game to beat Troup in the 2-1 nailbiter. He struck out 14 of the 18 outs in the game.
“He pitched his heart out,’’ Snedden said.
This team has plenty of heart, and something else.
“They’re pretty humble,’’ Knight said.
And they’re hungry.
“They’ve been playing together since they were 5-year-olds on different all-star teams,’’ Snedden said. “This is their last opportunity to win it. We knew we had a special team. They all have different strengths, each and every one of them. When we need that timely hit or need a pitcher to come through somebody steps up and does it. We have gotten big hits from the top to the bottom of the lineup.’’
They finished second in the state tournament as 9-year-olds and finished third at the state tournament as 10-year-olds, losing to two-time state champ Troup in close games each year.
“We’ve been so close,’’ Butler said. “This year we knew we had a shot.’’
Leesburg has embraced the United Dozen.
“We’ve had a lot of the old timer coaches, the ones who won state in the past, come along and talk to the kids,’’ Snedden said. “One of them said he thought we would do well in Florida. And some of the men who were kids and played on the team that won the ‘98 World Series talked to the boys about their experiences in going to the World Series.’’
The kids know it’s special, and they know what got them here.
“It’s takes all 12 to win and not just one person,’’ said T.Z. Grace, who plays third base for Lee County.
The feeling is contagious.
“We know everyone on the team is good,’’ said Gavin Paul, who pitches and plays in the outfield. “It doesn’t matter who (gets the hit or makes the pitch). Everyone on the team is a good player.’’
Dunn, Greene, Grace and Paul all know they are a piece of a bigger puzzle, a lesson that’s often lost or forgotten in today’s sports landscape. The Lee kids get it,
The roster is full of hope and confidence in each other and is made up of Garret Suiter, T.J. Snedden, Tommy Butler, Jarrett Kemp, Brenton Phillips, Tyler Ross, Fred West, Zachary Parrish and Greene, Paul, Grace, and Dunn.
“We know one through 12 that everybody can get the job done,’’ Dunn said. “And it’s special because we’ve playing together so long and we know this is our last chance. This is our last time, and we want to do it together.’’