One can debate which team put together the more impressive Little League Baseball World Series run.
Both the 2010 and 2012 Fairfield (Conn.) American Little League teams have earned that rare distinction. They are the only ones to ever do so, building a tradition for a league that had little history before they arrived.
The debate as to which team is the best in Fairfield history, though, ended as soon as the 2012 squad blanked New Hampshire, 14-0, and captured the New England championship. Before it even played a Series game, this Fairfield team already had cemented its status as its league's best ever.
Winning three straight state championships and losing only two games entering the Series in three years can do that for a team.
"They are, by far, the most successful team we've ever had," said Fairfield American board member Larry Klein, a coach on the 2010 Series qualifier. "We've had a lot of fun watching them play."
Their opponents have not.
As 10-year-olds this year's team captured both a state title and an Eastern Region championship. Last year they added an 11-year-old state championship to their collection and now they have achieved the ultimate Little Leaguer's dream.
Fairfield has won games every way possible. It has received big hits and big plays from everyone on its roster and excelled when the games have mattered most. This group always has been working harder, never resting on past accomplishments. It has been seeking greatness and it has found it.
"You'd never know if you met this team that it had lost two games in three years," Fairfield manager Bill Meury said. "They are as hard-working a group of 12-year-olds as you can find. They have a great deal of humility and respect for the game."
Being a perennial powerhouse does have a price. Each championship Fairfield has won has made it a more marked team, especially in Connecticut. Teams there know they can make their seasons by doing what has been so hard - beating Fairfield.
Every team Fairfield plays goes all-out and gives it the best shot it has. There also is another team that constantly is pushing Fairfield - itself. All that pressure and those expectations could rattle a lot of teams.
Just not Fairfield.
Countless hours of practice have taught the players how to handle any situation, no matter how big the game. That is one reason it twice won one-run games at regionals, including 4-3 in a seven-inning semifinal thriller against Vermont.
"There certainly has been a big expectation on the team, whether spoken or otherwise, that we would win and we tried to play it down, knowing that reputation doesn't win games," Meury, a former minor league player, said. "They are a pretty modest, humble group of kids and they have always been calm and cool and collected when playing."
"We expect every game to be a battle and we expect to play every inning and every out and every pitch," Fairfield coach T.J. Paoletta said. "That's what we tell the kids and that's what we expect from the kids and that's what they've done for us."
Fairfield entered the Series 19-1 and had outscored 20 opponents, 191-22. Whether it's Ryan Meury throwing a two-hit shutout in a 1-0 regional win over Rhode Island or Kevin Oricoli delivering three hits in the New England final, somebody always has come through, and the results speak for themselves.
Even when Fairfield has lost it has made its coaches and fans proud. California edged Fairfield, 6-4, in the Series opener for both teams, but the New England champions made a statement by repeatedly coming back and threatening to take the lead.
The West has produced four consecutive world or national champions so it was a strong showing by a team that already has proven, by far, to be the best in the New England Region.
"The 2010 team opened all our eyes that if you work hard and get a few breaks you have a chance to go all the way, but these kids have had to deal with a tremendous amount of pressure and the expectations that go with being a great team," Fairfield American Little League President John Sohigian said. "With all the pressure, they have withstood it. Just like our coaches, they are all high-character kids and they all play great together."
Before 2010, no Fairfield Little League team had ever won a state championship. No team from its District 2 had achieved that since 1995. The 2010 Fairfield squad changed all that. It raised the bar and set a new standard.
It showed what was possible and Fairfield has become a force since, winning seven state championships at different levels. The 2010 squad was outstanding. It was the trailblazer.
And now the 2012 team is the best.
"What they are doing is great," Klein said. "We have kids that over the last couple years have really worked on their game during the offseason because they have desire and expectations to compete for one of the all-star spots and to be a part of a team like this.
"That's a great lesson."