Greenwich’s OGRCC Thunder Blue Dream Big in Cooperstown
The Old Greenwich Riverside Civic Center Thunder Blue 12-U baseball team loves going to Cooperstown to compete against some of the best competition from around the country.
However, it’s not just the experience of playing baseball at Cooperstown Dreams Park that has head coach Joel Perez excited. It’s that his team went into competition ready to turn heads.
Going 4-2 in pool play and advancing to the round of 32 certainly did just that.
“We showed everybody that we were well prepared,” OGRCC head coach Joel Perez said. “A lot of times, Greenwich teams go there and lose all six games and come home disappointed, although it’s a great experience just to play. We weren’t there just to participate. We wanted to compete.”
The Thunder entered the 104-team field and finished an impressive 4-2 overall in pool play, beating teams from Maine, Massachusetts, California and New Jersey. Their two losses in pool play came at the hands of East Coast teams New York and Virginia.
With the four wins, Greenwich entered the knockout phase of the tournament as the 42nd best team in the tournament. They began play in grand fashion, thumping the team from Marblehead, Mass., 14-1, in four innings.
Despite playing teams from around the country, it was another team from the Nutmeg State that the Thunder played next. Branford Baseball Club went 5-1 in pool play and was ranked No. 23, but that didn’t stop Greenwich. The Thunder scored a run in its last at bat to break a 4-4 tie and win, 5-4.
In their third game of the day, Greenwich took to the field against the Tustin Mets from Southern California, a team that went a perfect 6-0 in pool play and was ranked 10th overall.
Although the Mets dominated its competition from the start of the tournament, it was Greenwich that came through with four runs in the top of the first inning. But the Mets stormed back, and despite the two additional runs from Greenwich, the Southern California team was leading 12-6 after two innings.
Greenwich was down, but was certainly not out, as they scored twice in the fourth and two more times in the fifth to cut the deficit to 12-10. That’s as close as the Thunder would get, as their tourney came to an end with the loss.
“I am very proud of these guys,” Perez said. “We were ready to play at this level. A lot of the core group of kids on this team have been playing since they were nine-years-old. Our goal here is to prepare these kids for the next level and to have them play the game the right way. Winning and losing takes care of itself. But if you execute and play well, you’re going to win a lot of games.”
Overall in Cooperstown, OGRCC Thunder Blue finished 6-3. Each team that Greenwich lost to during the tournament all advanced to the round of 16. In fact, the Virginia Vipers, the team Greenwich lost to in pool play, won the championship.
Prior to taking the field for the championship game, the Vipers’ coach told Perez that his squad was the toughest team they faced all week.
“I think our team was successful was because we never give up,” Perez said. “Over the years we have been battling a lot and have been down numerous runs, but always try to find a way to get the victory. Any one of our players can contribute in some way. We can get a big hit, our pitcher can throw a shut out. It was combination of everything that helped us.”
In the nine games that the Thunder Blue faced, it’s obvious to see that it was a team effort that gave the team its success.
Offensively, several athletes paced Greenwich. Leading the way was Jake Mondschein, who finished 11-for-20 with five home runs, 12 RBIs and 14 runs scored. Not to be outdone were Daniel Perez and Christopher Genaro.
Both finished with 11 runs scored. Perez went 9-for-23 with five homers and seven runs batted in, while Genaro went 8-for-23 with two long balls and four RBIs.
Meanwhile, the duo of Hunter Gruenstrass and AJ Barber always seemed to find their way on base. Gruenstrass was 10-for-18 with eight runs batted in and six runs scored. Barber also had six runs scored and eight RBIs, and was 11-for-20.
Behind the plate, Logan Guerrieri made the most of his time with the bat, going 6-for-14 with three homers and eight RBIs.
“We don’t have that shut-down pitcher that can dominate another team,” Perez said. “We have a lot of really good pitchers that can throw a lot of good innings and keep the damage down to a minimum while our bats can get going. In Cooperstown, I think our bats really came alive and helped our pitchers.”
On the mound, nine of the 14 players on the roster pitched during the tourney and six different pitchers recorded victories for the team.
The group of Gruenstrass, Genaro, Mondschein, Perez, Auggie Bancroft and Barber each picked up a victory during the Cooperstown Dreams Park Tournament.
A key strength for Greenwich Thunder Blue is its preparation. The team practiced together since March to gear up for Cooperstown. Since the team goes every year to compete at Cooperstown Dreams Park, the younger athletes know what it takes to make it on the team and have been preparing for years in advance.
“Our program knows we are going to go there when they are 12, so we are preparing them and getting them there the past couple of years,” Perez said. “We played some specific tournaments and against some top quality teams, so that way when we got to Cooperstown we were prepared.”
In those tournaments, Perez and his team play several games in one day.
“When we got here, playing in this amount of games, it’s not something you can just do without having done it before,” Perez said. “We were well-prepared to meet those challenges of playing in a bunch of games in a day. We played nine games in five days at Cooperstown. They knew they could go through each game without a problem. We never looked ahead. We wanted to play the game that was in front of them. Not a game down the road and that was one of the great qualities of this team.”
The Greenwich Thunder Blue played a lot of baseball during its seven days at Cooperstown Dreams Park, but also had a lot of fun at the same time, touring the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, walking around Cooperstown, even playing some laser tag, miniature golf, and riding go-karts.
“I wanted this team to compete and not just be a part of the experience, however I also wanted them to experience the other parts of being in this competition,” Perez said. “They met other teams from other parts of the country, going into town, going to a fun park and spending the time together as a family. At the end of the day, win or lose, the memories that the kids built together are very important. They have been playing together since March and culminating in a week like this was amazing for the kids and coaches.”