At the southern tip of Otsego Lake in upstate New York is the Village of Cooperstown — the home of baseball.
Here, the legends of the game live in eternity and so do their stories. And while the air is thick with history at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown is also a place where the future of the game abounds.
In June 2020, the Sarasota Vipers 11U travel team from Venice will have a chance to rub elbows with history and perhaps make a little of their own. Recently, the Vipers accepted an invitation to play in what coach Jason Allaire refers to as the World Series of travel baseball in Cooperstown. The Vipers will play in the 12U tournament.
“It’s more than a year away, but if you don’t start now it’s really tough,” said Allaire. “Our goal is to take all these kids to Cooperstown and not lose anybody. But we’ll need that time to raise money and continue to develop their skills.”
The Vipers, however, have already shown what they can do in a small amount of time. In fact, they’ve only been in existence for about three months. Since then, they’ve been met with a remarkable amount of success. The Vipers have earned a first, second and third place finish in recent travel baseball tournaments. They play in two tournaments per month.
While the Vipers Elite from Sarasota (city) is already an established organization, Allaire and others convinced the Vipers to allow them to form their own team from Venice talent.
“We’ve beaten the Vipers Elite twice already, now we’re the Elite,” quipped third baseman and pitcher Logan Stephens.
The United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) has ranked the Venice Vipers second in the state for their class. The Vipers Elite is also an impressive team with a No. 5 ranking. Allaire credits the early success of the program to simple virtues.
“We succeed mostly because of hard work,” he said. “We practice more than any other team and the kids really enjoy it. We practice from 5:30 to 7:30 three times a week. But a lot of the kids want to stay in the batting cages until 8 or 8:30. Eventually, I have to start kicking them out.”
The parents are a big part of the Vipers success. Three weekly practices and tournaments every other weekend requires a big commitment from players and families.
Additionally, fund raising is a big part of Vipers life. Recently, the players served customers at Dairy Queen in Venice. Dairy Queen donated 10 percent of their sales that night to the Vipers. They’ve also done helmet shakes at Publix and seek out corporate sponsors on a regular basis.
“The commitment is worth it because the boys love the game. They play hard, they practice hard and have fun,” said Don Tinker whose son Braden plays on the team. “But it’s more than baseball. It’s a really positive growth experience for the kids. The coaches are terrific. It’s not just the fundamentals they teach. It’s about how to be good sports. It’s how to win and how to lose and how to react to disappointment.”
The players have a simpler view.
“Because it’s fun,” said Danny Stevens. “I like being with my friends and playing in tournaments.”