National youth baseball tournament comes to Yaphank

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Eddie Einhorn's idea, his friend Alan Lubell said, was to provide a "national championship" for 12-year-olds playing by Major League Baseball rules, which include larger fields and longer basepaths than Little League.

Einhorn, the minority owner and vice chairman of the Chicago White Sox, realized his vision by founding the National Youth Baseball Championships in 2008. He turned over ownership of the program to Lubell last year and beginning Friday the NYBC, featuring 16 elite 12U travel teams, starts pool play at Baseball Heaven. Previously, the tournament was held in Memphis, Tennessee.

Team B.E.A.S.T. (Commack), the Long Island Titans (Mount Sinai) and host club Baseball Heaven (Yaphank) will compete, with other teams coming from California, Texas and Florida. Some action will air on the CBS Sports Network and stream on MLB.com.

"We did this for six years in Memphis and we never had a local team make it, so these teams are pretty good,'' Lubell said. "It's great for the area, there should be some local support.''

Teams were selected through 10 nationwide qualifiers, which produced 14 automatic bids. The final two teams were decided at last weekend's "last chance'' qualifier, also at Baseball Heaven.

The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and National American Baseball Federation (NABF) champions are among the NYBC pool teams. Little League teams cannot compete and there is no connection to Williamsport.

"The pro of playing this type of tournament is you're playing against good competition,'' said Titans coach Tom Carr. "You have to raise your game to be able to compete with these guys. It pushes you to learn something and get better every single at-bat.''

Carr said his team plays baseball 11 months out of the year, starting at the end of February/early March, and does some traveling.

Pete Kritikos, coach of Team B.E.A.S.T., said players are eager to compete because this is the last time most of them will play on a smaller field. Whereas a standard field in Little League has 60-foot basepaths, the fields in this tournament have 70-foot basepaths with the pitching rubber 50 feet from home plate. Base runners will also be allowed to lead off and steal.

Kritikis said nearly all his players made their seventh grade middle school team this year, and have played on the larger diamond. Still, he knows the NYBC won't be easy.

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"Kids are throwing close to 80 miles an hour now,'' Kritikos said. "The No. 1 team in the country is coming in from California. I'm told eight of the top 15 teams are already in town. All together, it'll be 12 of the top 15. We'll be the underdog.''

Lubell said talent has traditionally been strong at the NYBC. Minnesota Twins shortstop Nick Gordon, the fifth overall selection in this year's MLB amateur draft, and Colorado Rockies second baseman Forrest Wall, pick No. 35, are former participants in the tournament.

Said Lubell: "It's like in any sport, if you're good, you want to play the best and beat the best. That's why the tournament is special.''

Play is scheduled Friday through Monday with the first game at 8 a.m. Friday and the championship set for Monday at 6:30 p.m.

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