BRISTOL, Conn. -- The Bedford Little Leaguers gathered around their leader, Grant La-vigne, as they killed time before attending the gala chicken barbecue/fireworks display Thursday evening at the A. Bartlett Leadership and Training Center.
Lavigne stands tall for a 12-year-old, but not nearly as tall as the statistics he amassed in leading Bedford to the state championship. The left-handed hitting slugger went 17-for-19 in the tournament, which computes to an unearthly .895 batting average. He blasted 10 home runs and drew 11 walks, nine of them intentional.
The boys were loose and confident as they prepared for the festivities. The business of playing ball begins today at 2 p.m. against South Burlington (Vt.) Little League. After a weekend off, Bedford is slated for opening-round games against Coventry (R.I.) Monday at 2 p.m., South Wellesley (Mass.) Tuesday at 1 p.m. and Scarborough (Maine) Wednesday at 5. The games against Massachusetts and Maine will be televised by NESN.
Young Lavigne has been the story. In the state championship series against Lamprey River, which Bedford swept by a combined score of 23-2, he hit a home run in his first at-bat and received intentional passes in his next three.
But manager Kevin Lavigne said Bedford's masterful performance has been far from a one-man show.
“We preach from day one that it's all premised on the depth of our roster,” the manager said. “We're focused on team success. If one guy doesn't do it, we hand the bat off to the next guy and he does the job.
“It's a great group – no jealousy, no envy. They want to win. They don't care who's hitting the home run, driving the run in, making the pitch or catching the ball.”
Bedford last represented New Hampshire in 2005. The 1993 team made it through the Regionals for a trip to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. Kevin Lavigne's cellphone has been buzzing and his email box is filled with good-luck gestures.
“The entire '05 team came to our practice the other night,” he said. “They're now playing Legion. Their coach came as well and talked about what to expect. To me, it was a better example that those kids are still playing together. They went to the Legion World Series last year. It's a great example that baseball doesn't stop next week when we leave here.”
The boys from the 1993 team are now in their late 20s and early 30s, and thus more scattered, but many have checked in to voice their support for the current Bedford juggernaut.
“The community's very tight-knit,” Lavigne said. “We had an unbelievable sendoff this morning. We had a police escort, we had fire trucks. We had people lining the streets.”
The Bedford staff isn't coming into the Regionals blind, like most have been prone to do. The coaches have scouted Vermont and also attended the Massachusetts final to get a glimpse of what lies ahead.
Youth baseball has come a long way since districts selected all-star teams and had just over a month to develop a bond.
“We said at our rally the other night, people think these all-star teams are picked and in five weeks all this magic goes on,” Lavigne said. “That's really not what happens. This is years and years of working out all winter. These boys all go to professional hitting coach once a week through the winter. We have kids that go to Bucky Dent Baseball School during their Christmas vacation. It's a very committed group. It's not a one-year flash in the pan.”
Not all coaches have the time or capacity to scout. Neil Pratt, manager of Scarborough, Maine, indicated that he knew little about Bedford.
“We know very little, only in a sense that it's a program that's been here before,” he said. “I'm sure it's a good program but I don't know much about the players.
“We know folks that live in Rhode Island and heard a little about the Rhode Island team and we played (Fairfield) Connecticut in the regional 10-year-old tournament two years ago.”