Gresham, Ore., manager Jason Trickel rarely must motivate his players. Gresham baseball instructor Nick Lubisch rarely must encourage those same players to compete hard against each other.
That is exactly what the players want. The harder they are worked, the more they must square off against each other, the happier they are. Those are the fun times.
And that is how a champion was born. Northwest Region champ Gresham is immensely talented, but its foundation has been built upon hard work, determination and being fierce competitors. That recipe has created one of the world's top 16 teams.
"I'm pretty demanding. I'm more of an old-school mentality and I get right after at them and the more I get after them the better they play," Trickel said. "The more I push the more they give. You can never count them out. That's what I love about them. They work hard and play hard."
They practice hard, too.
That really is the only way the Northwest champions know how to play. Practices and training sessions are proving grounds. Teammates want to outperform each other, but not in a bad way. They know developing that competitive streak, fighting hard no matter the situation, makes champions.
It is that drive that helped this group finish fourth in the state as 10 year olds and second last year. They constantly have been seeking to get better, constantly trying to be the best. They knocked on the door the last few years and this year has been the breakthrough.
Now they are their state's and the Northwest Region's best team. It has been quite a run.
"We've trained these kids that it's all about competition and competing. We always put them against each other at the end of sessions and they thrive in that," said Lubisch, a former Division I and minor league player. "They soak up the training, but the part they look forward to most is competing against each other at the end.
"When you create that competitive beast in somebody and when you bond together, and now are on the same team, then you're ready to take it out on the opponent."
Gresham has done that all summer, capturing three postseason championships on the road to South Williamsport. Fittingly, it has been at its best in elimination games and after having roadblocks put in its way.
Gresham blanked Sprague, 10-0, in the state final one night after losing to it, 7-0. It then went 2-2 during pool play at regionals but thumped undefeated Washington, 6-2, in the semifinals before cruising past No. 2 Idaho, 8-4, in the championship.
Washington also had beaten Gresham, like Sprague had earlier in the tournament, but all those losses did was make this determined team more hungry. Given a second chance, Gresham would not be denied and brought its league to the Little League World Series for the first time in its long history.
"It's a pretty special team they have," said Rick Falkner, whose son plays for Gresham. "Everybody can play every position and there are a lot of pitchers on the team, which is something you have to have. If one guy doesn't do it others will, and they all play hard."
That old-school style has endeared Gresham, a city of 119,000, and to nearby Portland. Both cities have been buzzing since Gresham captured its first state championship since 1997. When Gresham reached the regional semifinals and started having its games televised, those who went to local sports bars had to arrive early for a good seat.
Those establishments were packed and nearly every patron was loudly cheering with every out Gresham recorded. Oregon does not have a Major League Baseball team, but in many residents' eyes this Gresham team has filled that void.
Gresham fans have donated thousands of dollars the last few weeks so that the players' parents could attend both regionals in San Bernardino, Calif., and the Series in South Williamsport. Money talks and it says a lot about what the team means back home.
"I've gotten thousands of texts and emails expressing how happy they are that the Gresham team made it this far and how everybody in their family gets together and watches the games," Trickel said. "It's pretty humbling and what I'll take from it is how a community has embraced this team and rallied around this group of kids."
"It's such a wonderful community out here. We're not a big market, so when you get a town like Gresham doing something like this you see the entire area start to support them," Lubisch said. "It's definitely big news and we're thrilled to see them out there."
The players have been thrilled to compete on Little League's biggest stage. These are the toughest games and that is what Gresham enjoys most. This is what they spent all those hours on the field and during training sessions working toward.
They paid the price and they are reaping the rewards. They now have a special place in Gresham history.
If Gresham returns to the Series in coming years this will be the group that paved the way. This will be the team that showed how it's to be done.
"They have to enjoy the hard work that went into making this opportunity possible," Lubisch said. "I don't even know how many kids in Little League history have gone to the World Series. It's great they are getting to experience something that so few players do.
"They have done some special things."