There were thunderstorms, flight cancellations, days traveling on airboat through the Florida marshes and even a chance to make new friends.
Memories that will last a lifetime, with many moments to cherish forever.
The Dalles 14U Babe Ruth softball made its return trip from Jensen Beach, Florida on Wednesday, a closer group, a happy group and as writers of a groundbreaking new chapter of local softball history.
Jennifer Best just moved to Oregon and started playoff action with one friend, Jade McCoy.
After this trip, she said there were 12 other girls on the team that she now considers to be sisters.
“Our girls grew closer and closer as the tournament went on and the whole All-Star team came together so we’re really sisters now,” said Best, of Wamic. “I will cherish this when I get older and it will be a moment in time we will never forget because we are the first girls’ softball team in The Dalles to ever make it to a World Series.”
She could not stop smiling ear-to-ear about the experience of playing competitive softball and also taking her first cross-country flight out of the Pacific Northwest.
This initial trip to Florida featured over-booking, delays and cancellations.
When The Dalles finally landed down, they were part of a fundraiser scrimmage for cancer awareness.
They were able to meet some new faces from across the nation and make some new friends.
“Everyone at the field was amazing,” said Kayla Bailey. “They made sure we had everything we needed and the girls we played against were just amazing. Even though it was a competition, the girls would still joke around and get close with us. We met girls from Massachusetts, Florida, Oklahoma and many more places. The environment was great and the girls were amazing.”
The Dalles was able to win one game out of seven played over the week, but earned the tournament’s Sportsmanship Award for their positive attitude and friendly demeanor.
When the games were over, The Dalles was able to spend time at the beach, take field trips, visited the sights of the area, broke bread for lunches and dinners and engaged in several bonding activities to enjoy the Florida experience.
Then there are the tears – of victory, of pain and of losses.
The long van rides – and the conversations, the singing, the chants, pranks, talk of the latest gossip, of current news – of those moments only a select few in the vans will have knowledge.
“This was possibly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Emily Palmer. “Our team has grown so much together and you can tell because we act like sisters. We argue like sisters and we hang out and mess around like sisters. I will remember this time here my whole life. Even though we didn’t win it all, we worked together, we had fun and we worked hard.”
As the sun sets on one sport in the books, these girls will now set their sights on other matters like soccer, volleyball, cheerleading and civic activities.
Palmer said that this past week will help all of players in the future of softball.
It taught them a lot about themselves.
The goal is to keep working.
“This experience showed us that we can be so much better,” Palmer said. “We were always asked, “can you play a perfect game right now?” No one could say yes, no one on this team is perfect. But, as we get better as players, we could get closer to a perfect game, and this experience will make us work harder and could take us to the next level.”
This journey had coaches Dawn Marie Hert, Steve Byers, Matt Eby and Terry Hert in teaching mode, trying to hammer home the importance of execution, battling adversity and the importance of teamwork.
Sports and life are intermingled, and they go hand in hand in molding a youngsters’ human development.
Players like Kaya Byrd, Jade McCoy, Sydnee Byers, the Eby triplets, Madison, Lily and Peyton, Maggie Justesen, Courtney Hert, Palmer, Bailey, Best, MaKenna Wilcox and Mercy Iaulualo walk away from the experience better players and better young women.
“And one last big shout out to the coaches,” Dawn Marie Hert said. “Thank you for mentoring these young women to be the best they can and work to their full potential.”
The thanks and appreciation did not end at the coaching staff or tournament directors and The Dalles baseball and softball patriarch, Butch Hert
Bailey, Palmer, Best and Wilcox were beyond words in describing their appreciation to a community that made donations in order to make the trip possible.
More than $30,000 was raised in a span of a little more than a week to help the Babe Ruth 14U Regional champions realize a dream.
“I am very thankful for all the donations we got, because without those people who donated we wouldn’t be here today in Florida,” Wilcox said. “We got really close, this is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity that may or may not every happen again. And it is one of the greatest things any athlete can experience.”