The Palm Beach Sharks 12-U travel baseball team competed in the 2012 Cooperstown Classic Aug. 25-29 in Cooperstown, N.Y., taking on 103 teams from throughout the United States and Canada. The Sharks were the only team to represent Florida.
The Sharks came out strong, winning their first pool play game against the Cape Cod Clippers 12-3, followed up with a loss to the Middlesex Blue Jays by one run in the bottom of the sixth inning despite a homerun by Dio Mateo. The Sharks continued to struggle through the next four games, narrowly losing to the St. Paul (Minn.) Great Northern, South Shore (N.J.) Chiefs and Scarborough Stingers in a three-hour, seven-and-a-half inning game, again by one run despite homeruns hit by Dustin Reville and Danny Maloney. After six games of pool play, the Sharks fell to 1-5, seeding No. 82 for the single elimination tournament playoff bracket.
On a picturesque day in the mountains of New York, temperature in the 70s, not a cloud in the sky, American flag waving against the backdrop, the Sharks made a run for the championship. Though most of the players are residents of The Acreage, reports of flooding, school closures and the unknown regarding Tropical Storm Isaac were set aside.
The Sharks started their pre-game warm-ups and batting practice at 8:30 a.m., taking the field for game one at 10 a.m. as the visiting team against the No. 81 Taylorsville (Utah) Warriors. After six innings, a homerun by the pitcher Mark Espaillat would rally the Sharks to an 8-0 victory, moving them into the next bracket where they would face the No. 62 Edina (Minn.) Hornets. Homeruns by Matt Smith and Maloney added to base hit scored runs, and after two hours, the Sharks won 8-4 in six innings. Next the Sharks would face the No. 39-seeded San Diego Renegades and win 7-3 in a two-and-a-half hour, six-inning game after continued team base hits and homeruns by Nicholas Bunchuk, Sebastian Gutierrez and Maloney.
On a six-and-a-half hour, three-game win streak, the Sharks were in a feeding frenzy, eating up the competition. As the sun began to fall late in the afternoon, the Sharks were going up against the well-rested No. 26 Virginia Thunder (5-1). The Sharks turned up the heat by leading off with three base hits to load the bases for the cleanup batter, Bunchuk, to then put up a grand slam homerun in the first inning. The Thunder responded by bringing in faster pitchers, but that didn’t matter as Dustin Reville put one out with runners on, as well as Maloney, who put up homeruns in his next two at-bats. After six innings and two-and-a-half hours, the Sharks won 10-7.
Next the Sharks would face the No. 7 Big League Outlaws (6-0) from Pennsylvania. The Sharks again came out of the box strong, putting up three runs in the first inning and holding the Outlaws to one run going into the fourth inning but allowing three runs in the fourth. The Sharks took the lead 5-4 going into the fifth inning after a solo homerun by Logan Thomas. After 12 straight hours of baseball, 15-minute breaks between games, with the temperature dropping into the low 50s, the Sharks’ stamina began to fall in the fifth inning of game No. 5. The Outlaws rallied to put up 13 runs, ending the game at 17-5 at 10:20 p.m.
Moving through the brackets, each team the Sharks faced brought bigger and better players, faster and better pitchers, stronger and harder-hitting batters, and smarter and more strategic coaching. The Sharks responded with patient and precise pitching shared between 11 players, consistent and bigger hits by the entire team, making few to no errors, and playing more as a team. Throughout the tournament, the Sharks had a team batting average of .415, with 350 plate appearances, 130 hits, 17 homeruns, 30 stolen bases, threw more than 1,000 pitches, struck out 28 batters and played more games than any other team — 11.
Mark Espaillat placed third out of 104 competitors in the roadrunner individual base running event with a time of 12.61 seconds.
The Palm Beach Sharks are Nicholas Bunchuk, Jayson Colon, Mark Espaillat, Hayden Fabacher, Sebastian Gutierrez, Danny Maloney, Bryce Martin, Dio Mateo, Christian Pence, Dustin Reville, Matt Smith, Logan Thomas and Marlin Wightman. The team is managed by Keary Pence and coached by Adam Bunchuk, Jayson Colon and Dino Mateo.
Above: The Palm Beach Sharks represented Florida in the 2012 Cooperstown Classic.