Versatility of 13 players key for Idaho

Look at different Coeur d’Alene, Idaho lineups throughout its all-star postseason run and one will seemingly see countless mixes. The order is never the same and the 13 athletes all have played multiple positions.

That is by design, too. Obviously, substitution and pitching rules make versatility a must, but these are 13 players who can really compete at any position. That goes to the heart of the Coeur d’Alene Little League’s philosophy. And that is a philosophy which has produced one of the country’s best Little League teams as Coeur d’Alene is competing at the Little League World Series for the first time.

Yes, those who play during the regular season want to win games, as do the coaches. But the key word is development. Create versatile and well-rounded players and both the league and the entire Coeur d’Alene area can keep growing stronger.

“Our league took a developmental approach several years ago. We use the league and use our time to move kids around, to teach them how to pitch and hit and use Little League as a development program,” Coeur d’Alene Little League president Jeff Smith. “Our philosophy is no kid sits for more than one inning in a row. We allow for free substitutions so everyone gets at least four innings and a couple of at-bats. That’s how you develop baseball players.”

Coeur d’Alene has developed some sensational baseball players, capturing district, state and Northwest Regional championships. Coeur d’Alene is just the second team in Idaho history and the first from Northern Idaho to compete at Lamade Stadium. As talented as the players are, they are equally versatile, having been well-schooled throughout the regular season.

Whatever the situation, Coeur d’Alene can shuffle players around the field or in the lineup and remain strong. Players can hit for power or drop a bunt up the line. They can hit in the middle of the lineup, at the top or the bottom and remain equally productive. How Coeur d’Alene is playing this summer serves as the ideal representation for its entire league.

“We have many players that we call swiss-army knives on the team. They can play short, pitch … we can put them in the outfield,” Smith said. “They all compete and they’re interchangeable and when you carry 13 kids you need all 13 need to be interchangeable and you need to know you can rely on them at any time. They’ve been through the system and coached well and when the time is theirs they know what to do. When you’re properly educated and ready go to go, you can just have fun and do what you need to do.”

These players have proven that all summer, while taking its community on an unforgettable ride. There really is not one player who stands out above the rest because they all have done something big at crucial times.

A core of this team captured a 9-year-old state championship three years ago. Those four players have stayed with the program and improved as have the teammates that joined them in the last two years. Talent, drive, work ethic and a league belief created a perfect storm and everything has come together this summer. That includes off the field as well.

“The games are big, but it’s nothing new to them. They’re not cocky, but they comfortable. It’s just another baseball game and if you do things the right way you can have success,” Coeur d’Alene manager Sean Cherry said. “It has been amazing to see these guys jell as a team on and off the field. When you’re living 24/7 with each other and do everything together for a few weeks it’s amazing to see them come together as one unit. It’s amazing to see the blossoming of independence and leadership and them growing into young men and becoming really tight friends.”

This team has a lot friends waiting to welcome it back to Coeur d’Alene when this journey ends. Cherry received a taste of what awaits his team when he looked at his phone following the Northwest final and saw he already had 87 text messages. Many of those messages were from people he had not talked to for years.

This is big-time. This is a baseball town and these all-stars are the talk of the town. They have put Coeur d’Alene on the map and reinforced the league’s overall mission.

Playing here is quite the reward.

“This is one of the most pure moments of fun in your sports life. After you’re 12, baseball becomes work. This is still a lot about fun and enjoyment,” Cherry said. “We try to keep telling these kids that this is your Super Bowl. It’s one of the most fun, most enjoyable experiences you can have. We have to enjoy the ride.”