Getting to LLWS will make CRALL stronger
The smell of hot dogs and hamburgers grilling flows through the air as parents and their kids remain at the Coon Rapids Andover American Little League field long after their games ended.
These days Coon Rapids is being recognized as one of the world’s best teams after its CRALL all-stars captured the Midwest championship and reached the Little League World Series. That exposure will likely make this league even stronger moving forward. That is scary for future CRALL opponents because this league already is mighty powerful.
It might seem corny to say, but that aforementioned scene is a significant reason why. Obviously, this league has tremendous players and super coaches. Little League is about having fun, though, and CRALL’s field is one of Coon Rapids’ top places to be each summer.
“It’s a great park with all the amenities and there is a family atmosphere here. That draws people to the program,” said CRALL President Gregg DeRusha, a board member since 1990. “We’ve got a family who moved 40 miles away and they still come down every weekend. They said there’s no place they’d rather be. That’s helped with maintaining our numbers. It’s just a really good atmosphere.”
“It’s a destination where people want to hang out even when they don’t have a game. That’s a big part of it. Our league and our family environment is something that is different from in travel ball,” Coon Rapids coach Jason Law said. “You name it, we have it. It’s a fantastic atmosphere. This is my youngest son’s last year and the end for me, so I won’t be participating, but I’ll still be hanging out there next year because it’s a great place to be.”
Combine that community support and fun with hard-working players and coaches and one has Minnesota’s premier Little League program. CRALL has captured four straight state championships and five in seven years. The 2013 team came within one win of reaching the Series and this year’s team made the ultimate breakthrough. It has been quite a rise and one that might still be gathering steam.
Coon Rapids is a baseball passionate town and just being the best team in that city is an impressive achievement. Coon Rapids National reached the 2007 Little League World Series, being eliminated by Cody Bellinger’s Arizona squad. It reached the Midwest final a year later and Coon Rapids Cardinal won the 2015 state championship. CRALL has been around for 61 years but went 22 years before winning another state championship in 2013.
It is CRALL, however, that has now risen to the top.
These are dedicated players who have seen their siblings and friends achieve high-level success over the years. Achieving greatness is not a given, but in this league it is tangible. This 2019 team has established itself as the best in league history and that is saying quite a lot.
“The kids put in the work. They are willing to work hard. They have seen successes of previous teams getting to regionals and that gives them a goal to strive for,” Law said. “The previous teams passed on the knowledge and the next team passed it on to the next team and so on and we try to build on that every year.”
“When we went in 2013 it was like we can do this and we just kept plugging away and working hard and seeing what things we might have to change and adjust,” DeRusha. “It’s so hard to get there. That’s the thing. That’s what make this really special and I know everybody in the state and in the area is excited.”
As big as baseball is in Coon Rapids, its teams face more obstacles than many teams throughout the country. CRALL has 720 players and 62 teams, but Minnesota’s weather means the season cannot start until May 9. The regular season lasts just 12 games. And while other all-star teams often play in travel tournaments together, this CRALL team did not play its first game together this season until the district tournament began.
CRALL has made winning states the norm and now is one of the world’s top Little League teams. Just do not go thinking this current journey and this league’s seven-year ascension has been an easy one.
“Someone mentioned that we should talk more about the all-stars’ success when we talk about league opportunities because sometimes we take it for granted, but that’s not the only focus of our league,” DeRusha said. “We’re there to provide a good baseball experience regardless of their skill set. I think we’ve done a good job with that balance over the years of providing good opportunity for everyone, including the upper talented kids that want to work hard and train. It’s still incredible to think that we’re actually here (at the Series).”
No matter how the remainder of this Series plays out, the scene will remain the same at the CRALL fields next year. It will again be the meeting place, a destination where fun and camaraderie meets success.
The only difference is that the 2019 players and coaches can return there and talk about how, together, they wrote the league’s greatest story ever told.
“They’re starting to realize how big this is. The Timberwolves and Twins were sending them well-wishes and they are seeing the excitement they are generating,” Law said. “I don’t think it’s completely hit them, but one day they’re realize how special it is. They’ll look back and say, ‘I actually played in this thing.’ They’ll realize how awesome it was.”