After finishing as the runners-up in previous tournaments, the Blue Collar Bulldogs 11-and-under baseball team finally ended up in the top spot. The Bulldogs won the Long Island Hot Stove Baseball championship by defeating the Oil City Bandits 12-7 on Aug. 9.
“We’ve had a lot of success over the years, but this had been the one thing that was missing,” said Bulldogs head coach Robert Gates. “For all the parents, coaches and the players who were a part of this journey, it was a very rewarding night.”
The Bulldogs fell behind early in the game, but in the bottom of the third inning, they rallied to score 11 runs.
“The Bandits used all three of their top pitchers that inning,” Gates said. “No matter which guy they brought in to pitch, we just kept hitting.”
Once the Bulldogs recorded the final out, Gates said, his team celebrated like the pros, showering one another with sunflower seeds and water.
“It’s nice to see how well players improve, and it’s rewarding to watch them grow every day,” Gates said. “They’re learning to play the game the right way, but they’re having fun. That’s what really matters.”
Gates has coached the same group of players since they were 8 years old. While most of their training takes place at Cove Sports Academy in Glen Cove, he noted that this year’s team started jelling during the Ripken Baseball Tournament in Aberdeen, Md., last spring.
“We really improved and developed, and they really meshed as a group of boys,” Gates said. “We also have a dedicated group of parents and players. It’s just rewarding to see the kids do what it takes to be successful.”
On the field, the Bulldogs’ greatest strength was pitching. The pitchers allowed the fewest runs in their summer league — 59 runs in 20 games.
“We definitely had the deepest pitching staff in the league this summer,” Gates said. “At that age, bringing in multiple guys that can throw strikes and change speeds was our biggest advantage.”
Finishing the spring and summer seasons with a 27-8-1 record, the Bulldogs continue their growth as they prepare for the fall, Gates said.
“Our players are multi-sport athletes,” he said, “but they love the game of baseball. They’re really big fans of the game, and they enjoy playing it well. I’m just proud of their overall development.”