Knights have youth in full swing

Published 10:35 am Monday, June 21, 2010

The Albert Lea Knights Baseball Club held their fourth annual invitational tournament this weekend at Snyder Fields and have come along ways since the group began in 2007.

Standing at Snyder Fields Sunday, you wouldn’t know it by looking around at the packed bleachers of the 27-team tournament, but just three years ago the Knights program struggled forming just one team.

In its inaugural season, Kelly Bordewick, who had just moved to Albert Lea from Nebraska, held tryouts to form a 10-and-under team. Only 12 boys tried out that year, some of whom were too old to play, and Bordewick needed word of mouth to piece together enough players to field a team.

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Four years later, there are around 75 boys in the Knights’ program, making up seven Albert Lea teams ranging in ages of nine to 12 years old. And as the program has grown, success has came with it.

The 10A grey team won the championship this weekend and the 10AA black team suffered its first loss of the season in the semi-finals but bounced back and took third place, improving their season record to 21-1.

The biggest story of the Knights program has been this year’s 12AA team, who lost in the championship game to Austin on Sunday in front of 150 fans, but won the USSSA State Tournament a week ago and qualified for the USSSA World Series in Lenexa, Kan. The kids can hit, throw, field and won’t argue call and strikes, but that’s no accident.

Bordewick, who teamed with Stan Thompson to create the baseball club, had a plan and philosophy from the beginning: to teach fundamentals and have high expectations of players, coaches and parents.

“We believe in good sportsmanship and just playing the game the right way,” Bordewick said. “We take a lot of pride in that fact.”

The Knights program wants to make a name for itself and starts by holding parents as accountable as the players. Parents are expected to watch the game and not get after umpires. If there is a problem, the coaches address it.

The Knights’ club differs from other Albert Lea youth baseball programs of the past because rather than playing league games during the week, they use that time to practice and play in tournaments on the weekends.

“I saw the need for younger kids to develop fundamentals skills,” Bordewick said. “We think it’s more important to get more practice time than game time.”

The players get plenty of opportunity to compete, though, playing in tournaments nearly every weekend from late spring to early summer, and the competition is steep.

“Our idea was to give kids the opportunity to play competitive baseball at the highest possible level,” Bordewick said. “We play tournaments in the cities against teams like Brooklyn Park and Apple Valley.”

As the teams have improved, the program is taking advantage of resources to continue that success. For the first time, this season, coaches were interviewed for positions and given the opportunity to attend a baseball clinic at the Minnesota Baseball Academy. The coaches also hold in-house meetings and all share the same coaching philosophy, one that stresses that each player get as many repetitions as possible during practice.

The Knights players show a lot of promise for the future and hope to be successful at the high school and varsity levels, but they aren’t Tigers yet, and their purple and black uniforms help make that distinction.

“It isn’t that we didn’t want to be the Tigers,” Bordewick said. “We just wanted a different identity. The Knights’ name is something we liked so we just went with it.”

This weekend, four cousins played in the same tournament together from two different towns; Cody, Ian and Jake Ball are from Albert Lea and Josh Ball is from Mason City. The four boys cheer for each other at tournaments and form family baseball games when they get together during reunions and holidays.

“They do it because they love baseball,” Jake’s dad, Brian Ball said.

The Knights have also adopted Synder Field through the city’s adopt a park program and cleaned the area before the season began. They also hope, through fundraising, to build a play park behind the concession stand, straighten the foul poles and build roofs over the dugouts. The annual Albert Lea Knights Invitational is their biggest fundraiser of the year.