Firehawks play ‘up' to get strong

Photo by Chris Barber The West Grove Firehawk sit in the dugout ready for a game. They regularly play on a larger field against older plays to improve their strength and skills.

LONDON GROVE -- Any athlete will tell you it feels good to win, but there’s a team in West Grove that makes a habit of losing just to get stronger.

The group, a developmental youth baseball team named the West Grove Firehawks is part of the league called SEPA10. They look for all the world like Little Leaguers -- and many of them are.

The difference, said co-manager Bill Alexander, is that they are additionally playing in a style that will lead them to serious competition in the future, dedicating more time and effort than the traditional Little League teams.

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Another -- and very important difference -- is that most of the boys on the team are 11 years old, but they play against kids who are mostly 12.

“It’s a grand experiment,” said Alexander, 50, who manages the team with Gus Gonella.

The reasoning behind the plan is to get the boys ready to try out for the Engle Middle School baseball team.

As Alexander explained it, he has been told by middle school manager Tim Rector that most boys enter the middle school having played on Little League fields that are 46 feet from pitcher’s mound to the plate and 60 feet between bases.

But the field at the school is major league size, that is 60 feet from the pitcher’s mound to the plate and 90 feet between bases. For young boys just turning 12, it is a big adjustment, Alexander said.

“So what you get is a field 46 by 60 which is fine for 8 year-olds. Now they are 12 and have March tryouts (at the big school field). They show up and they are like ‘wow!’” he said.

He added that his team members are “up” for the 60-90 field. “We have some who can throw across the (whole) field,” he added.

Playing teams with bigger boys is a challenge for the Firehawks, and they usually lose, Alexander said. However, when they play a team with boys their age, they win easily, he said.

Some mothers who were watching a recent game agreed it doesn’t seem to bother their boys.

One woman said, “They are always eager to play.”

Alexander said only two of his team members are actually 12, and will move up to the next age level next year. The others have another year in the 12U level, and will likely be stronger next summer.

Hopefully, they will also be in a position to make the middle school team. “We think we’ve given them the tools,” Alexander said.