Grosse Pointe squad product of proud baseball community

Dick Borland and Jason Hill have been at the Little League World Series before. They were here four years ago, wondering how they arrived here while cheering on their Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores Little League all-stars.

Their league long ago established itself as one of Michigan’s best. Still, neither one ever thought they would be returning, especially so soon. But there is Hill managing the Grosse Pointe all-stars and there is Borland serving as the league’s president. What they thought pretty much impossible has become reality. Grosse Pointe is back at the Little League World Series. Grosse Pointe is once again showing why it features one of the world’s top Little League programs.

“It’s pretty miraculous,” Borland said after Grosse Pointe captured the Great Lakes Regional championship. “As long as I have been around, it’s pretty darn tough to win a district championship, let alone win states and regionals. To think we’re one of eight teams in the U.S. and think about how many good teams are just in our state alone is pretty wild.”

“We’re super excited and privileged to be here. This place is unbelievable,” Hill said. “My son played on the team four years and I was here as a parent so to be back as a coach, it’s crazy. I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be here again. I’m just being realistic. When the 2013 team made it I thought that was impossible.”

Grosse Pointe actually is here for the third time. It also competed in the 1979 Series after winning the then-Central Region championship. Winning flows through Grosse Pointe like water. Reaching the Series once is a remarkable achievement but doing so three times, including twice in four years, is especially hard to fathom.

So how does Grosse Pointe do it?

Obviously, this is an athletic area. Teams cannot make runs like these without having some incredibly gifted players. But so many other teams have ultra-talented teams as well. It could simply be the community pulling together as one.

Individually, Grosse Pointe has excellent baseball players. Together, Grosse Pointe is a powerhouse that makes the difficult seem routine at times.

“It’s long been a baseball community and it’s a proud baseball community,” said Rich Jones, whose sons Ryan and Jack play for Grosse Pointe. “It’s always been a very well run organization that has a nice blend of legacy coaches who don’t have sons and dads that have done a great job teaching their kids how to play the game the right way.”

“A lot of good things are happening. There are a lot of strong community ties and good coaching,” Borland, also a local high school coach, said. “We just make it a positive experience for everyone involved. You learn to be a good role model and learn to be a good teammate. You learn to be a team player and have a better chance at having success on and off the field as you grow older.”

Little League has special appeal in Grosse Pointe where baseball and softball teams at all age levels have flourished. That is especially crucial at a time when travel baseball has cut into Little League participation. Seemingly everyone wants to be a part of Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores Little League so there is never a shortage of excellent players.

Combine that with dedicated coaches, parents and volunteers and one has the foundation for a well-oiled machine. Grosse Pointe might not reach the Series or win state championships every year, but it continues making a positive impact. It essentially has created a cycle of excellence that shows no signs of slowing down.

“They start at a young age and they teach basic fundamentals. There are a lot of dads that put a lot of time in that have experience and we run clinics and teach them how to run practices,” Borland said. “Every year there’s kids that could have been on the team that just missed making it. It’s just one of those things. It’s just a very strong athletic community across the board.”

It also does not hurt that Grosse Pointe has reached the Series before. Success breeds success and when aspiring players see the older kids achieve big-time success and receive national exposure, it provides added motivation. The players not only want to emulate what they see happening, but they know it is something tangible.

Look at this year’s team as definitive proof. Many of these current players watched that 2013 team make its Series run. Hill’s son Drew is one of those players and is now a Grosse Pointe starter. So many other players share similar stories.

Because one group reaches remarkable heights does not guarantee future ones will. League members walk a balancing act between encouraging their players but making sure they do not view themselves as failures if they miss out on reaching South Williamsport. Still, it cannot be denied that having those past achievements lights a spark that makes reaching the stars seem a lot more attainable and fun.

“I think that definitely has played a part. Some of them that experienced it as a fan wanted to experience it as a player,” Hill said. “With that being said, that’s a pretty lofty expectation to put in front of 12-year-olds and we didn’t want to throw that out there even at regionals. It’s a cliche but we just took things one day at a time.”

One day, one game and one year at a time, Grosse Pointe has continued growing. The results might differ some years, but the quality of the players coming through has not. They share similar values, similar qualities and those have coming shining through in 2013.

This team has proven talented, hard-working, resilient and respectful. They are the perfect reflection of the dynamic league they represent.

“You have to have some passion for it and some love for it and they do,” Borland said. “They are high-spirited, they are hard-working and they have a lot of team camaraderie and that goes a long way.”