The Washington Post

Across NoVa, the crack of the bat returns

The Great Falls Nationals took on the Southwestern Youth Association Mets, both teams of 9-year-olds, in the all-wood bat Washington Nationals Memorial Day Tournament at Fred Crabtree Park near Reston on Saturday. The tournament runs through Monday. (Tom Jackman/THE WASHINGTON POST)

The Washington Nationals Memorial Day Tournament was started last year by longtime Centreville baseball coach Rob Hahne and honors his 7-year-old son Kyle, who has leukemia. It had 24 teams and raised about $12,000 through Hahne’s newly formed foundation, Kyle’s Kamp.

Matt Walker, 9, of South Riding’s Loudoun South Eagles, got to experience the thrill of breaking a wood bat. And he beat out the grounder for a hit. (Tom Jackman/THE WASHINGTON POST)

None of the youngsters I spoke with Saturday had ever used a wood bat before. Because they break, and are more expensive to make, wood was phased out in favor of aluminum at most levels in the late 1970s, though pro leagues have stuck with wood.

“We wanted to go old-school,” Hahne said, “do something different. The kids can’t hit as well, but they love that it’s different.”

At Fred Crabtree Park outside Reston, travel teams of 9- and 10-year-olds were not exactly lashing the ball to all fields, but the sweet spot is still there on a Louisville Slugger, a Rawlings or a Mizuno, and some hits went fairly deep.

“It weighs more,” said Andrew Whitaker, 10, of South Riding’s Loudoun South Eagles. “It stung more. But I hit one over the outfielder’s head.”

Kyle Hahne throws out the first pitch before a game at last year's inaugural wood bat tournament. The tournament raises money for pediatric cancer research. Kyle, now 7, has leukemia. (Rob Hahne)

“I think it’s pretty cool,” Walker said of his first wood experience. “All my favorite players in the major leagues use wooden bats,” and he smoothly rattled off Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz, just like Vin Scully would.

As part of the teams’ registration fees, they were given five wood bats and could bring their own as well, Hahne said. Each team, and each player, has a Web page where they line up pledges for playing in the tournament. The teams leading the fundraising as of Saturday were the NVTBL Stars 13U, the Virginia Renegades 15U, the Virginia Spartans Orange and Blue, the NoVa Yankees 13U, the Potomac Riverdogs 12U and 13U, and the Haymarket Brigade 14U, which had all raised more than $19,000 apiece.

In addition to teams from Virginia, Maryland and D.C., teams came in from New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Hahne said. The money they raise will go to the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s National Medical Center.

“We hope to expand to other major league cities in the future,” Hahne said. Hahne is a well-known baseball figure in Northern Virginia, having not only coached players from Little League to college age, but also run certification clinics for more than 5,000 coaches.

Hahne had hoped to raise $250,000 with this year’s tournament. But before it even began, pledges had topped $400,000, and on Friday Hahne said it looked as though the total would clear $500,000.

The tournament began Thursday with games all over Fairfax County, at every age level from 8 to 16 plus a four-team adult bracket, and will conclude Monday. Each game begins with a moment of silence for pediatric cancer patients and then, on Memorial Day, the Pledge of Allegiance for fallen soldiers. The tournament winners will be recognized at Nationals Park before the Nats’ game on June 2.

For more information on how you can donate, go to the Kyle’s Kamp Web site.

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.


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