The Phenix City West 8U All-Stars are one of three teams representing Alabama at the USSA Rec All-Star World Series in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, July 10-14, and they will do it loud and proud.
There will be somewhere around 36 teams in the tournament from Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and others all around the country. Regardless of their performance, Phenix City will stand out among stout competition with their contagious energy on and off the field. That goes for the kids and the coaches.
“Who has it better than us?” strength coach Andre “Dre” Wadley shouts for the world to hear before they play each game.
The team only has one answer: “Nobody!”
Along with that chant, which coach ‘Dre wears printed on the back of his team t-shirt, the team lines up to do the griddy on their side of the field before each game. During games, hype man and third base coach, Joseph Thomas, awards a wrestler’s belt at the end of each inning to the player who gets the biggest out on defense, and the team mimics the Atlanta Braves “together” celebration — locking their fingers in a motion over their head after getting a base hit.
“It keeps the kids loose,” said head coach Kasey Kiker, who began coaching when his son, second baseman Luke Kiker, began playing at age 3. “You know, I never thought I’d be wanting to do stuff like that in baseball, but they’re 8 and they’re having fun. I’m not trying to get too serious with them right now.”
That is exactly the attitude that Kiker said allowed them to battle back from a 16-1 loss in game one of the state tournament at the beginning of June to win their bracket and return from Oxford, Alabama, as champions of the 7A bracket.
After losing their first game by 15 to South Bibb’s 8U Gold All-Stars, the team felt defeated. Kiker said that’s when their attitude was challenged the most, because they felt like they practiced too hard the past month to not be competitive.
“I didn’t want our whole experience at state to be so serious and to say we lost every game and had a miserable time,” Kiker recalled. “After the first game when we lost, some people were like, ‘No, no one’s going swimming. No one’s doing all this.’ I said, ‘You know what? We’re going to swim and play arcades. We’re not going to have our whole experience ruined over a loss.’”
The next day, the team returned to the field and rallied from behind to walk off to beat South Bibb’s Purple All-Stars, 22-21. From then on, their confidence was boosted, and they won their next four games, including a 15-9 win in a rematch against South Bibb Purple in the championship game.
The team stayed positive through adversity and, consequently, rediscovered their swagger. Starting fresh in day two, PC West significantly cut down on errors, began to hit the ball harder and rediscovered their aggressive brand of baseball, with smiles and celebrations all around.
Kiker said that group cohesiveness is what the squad hopes to carry with them to the World Series.
“We’re on a streak right now, so we just want to build on that,” he said. “We have a bunch of solid players, but we don’t have the egos that come along with the superstar mentality. I’ll take a group full of solid ballplayers that support each other over superstar egos any day.”
PC West is guaranteed to play a minimum of five games in Baton Rouge, including three in pool play to determine seeding before double-elimination bracket play begins on July 12. Kiker said he is making sure his team realizes competition in Louisiana will be tough, but it won’t be the first time the team has risen to the occasion. He said they are pumped up for the opportunity to do it again.
Before they can make the trip, however, they need some help from the community to make it possible. Taking the team 6.5 hours to Baton Rouge comes with a lot of costs, so they are fundraising to try to lighten the financial burden.
On Friday, July 5, there will be a fundraising concert by Jake Harrelson at T-Bones Steakhouse in Phenix City. On Saturday, July 6, the team will be selling donuts at Dan’s Hardware in Phenix City. Kiker said the sooner the financial distraction is resolved, the more time and energy the team will have to make sure they are good stewards of those donations with quality performance in Louisiana.
“We’re very excited for the opportunity to represent our state and our city,” Kiker said. “We finally have the experience of winning a big game… We have a chip on our shoulders, and that chip is driving us to show everybody that we can play baseball and we’re really good.”