Powell: Keystone has helped rejuvenate my passion for game of baseball

The Keystone 10-12 All-Stars Little League Baseball team celebrates after Gavin Burnell (14) hits a home run in the Pennsylvania state championship game. Keystone won the state title over the Lehigh 10-12 All-Stars after winning 6-5. (The Express/Tim Weight)

Baseball is a magical sport.

I remember being a kid growing up as an Atlanta Braves fan, watching every game every night due to the team being carried by TBS at the time.

Ahh, the good ol’ days.

I remember my childhood summers of playing outside and swimming in the pool, and then coming in getting ready for the next Braves game.

I’d go to the message boards of the Atlanta Braves’ website talking about the lineup for that day, some possible prospects we could call up from the minors in the future, and even what kind of trades we could make before the trade deadline — all of this as a kid.

At that particular time for those few years, baseball meant a lot to me. It’s safe to say I had quite the passion for the Atlanta Braves.

But then something happened: My interest tanked.

TBS had stopped carrying Braves games, new ownership wasn’t investing into the team, the streak of 14 division titles was over, and on top of that: I started being involved in a career that also helped take that passion away.

By the end of high school, my fandom for the Atlanta Braves was over. And baseball at that.

Over the next near decade, I still maintained interest in the game of football and basketball, but the interest in baseball was, well, still dead. It lasted that way for years and years.

I can say, however, that there was one part that kept me interested in baseball to some degree.

Before I got hired by The Express, I worked for a small Miami blog that specialized in South Florida sports. Over time, I developed an interest in the Miami Marlins, South Florida’s Major League Baseball team — but I never became an actual “fan”.

But what kept me interested in the game?

Giancarlo Stanton.

The mammoth size home runs, the marketability of Stanton, wearing the crown of Miami, those beautiful black and orange jerseys — I legitimately became a fan of Stanton. But I never became a thoroughbred Marlins fan.

And then came December 9, 2017.

Giancarlo Stanton got traded to the New York Yankees.

Now at the time, I tried to remain with the Marlins due to not really having a team, and for some reason, I wanted to get back into baseball beginning with the new 2018 season. When April arrived, the Marlins did their usual Marlins thing: They played really bad baseball. The interest started to decline again.

But then I got access to the YES (Yankees Entertainment and Sports) Network on television, the home of the New York Yankees. The iconic NY was there, the Yankees hat, the pinstripes, the city of New York, Yankee Stadium, and oh yeah, Giancarlo Stanton was there now.

Day by day, I began to watch Yankees games. I saw a few wins, and was already seeing the glory and feeling the ‘pinstripe pride’ from watching this franchise. Next thing you know, I’ve been watching Yankees games for a couple of months now, and did I mention that I bought two Yankees hats, a pinstriped jersey and a Yankees polo within this time?

My passion for baseball was coming back. After years of dead interest in such a beautiful game, the passion was finally coming back.

But that’s just one part of the story.

The Keystone 10-12 All-Stars Little League Baseball team had began practice last month, and I had the honor of writing the tournament season preview. I still remember writing the story while glancing over at a Yankees game from time-to-time. It was pretty cool to write the Keystone preview for the second year in a row, now as a Yankees fan.

Being a fan of an iconic franchise while writing about an iconic program?

It was pretty cool to say the least. And little did I know that I’d be writing about a state championship team — their second in three years.

I remember going out to cover the second game of the district tournament. Keystone was playing Loyalsock. At the beginning, it was looking great for Keystone. They were up 4-0 heading into the sixth inning and the next round of districts were in sight. But Keystone had blew the lead, and Loyalsock had took a 4-4 tie heading into the bottom of the sixth — eventually getting a 5-4 lead in extra innings. But in the bottom of the seventh with their backs against the wall, Keystone had showed their talent and heart while pulling out a 6-5 win. It was one of the coolest comebacks I’ve ever seen as a baseball fan.

Another magical moment for me from this beautiful sport and in this particular game as well was when Keystone had just won. I remember Braylen Corter and his father and coach, Wally, were celebrating and hugging each other after the victory. There’s an iconic photo of that moment caught on Keystone’s official Facebook page if you want to check it out.

What that moment did for me though is made me put myself in the shoes of Braylen’s father, and how that must have felt celebrating with his son like that — not only as a father, but as a coach. It had to be one of the coolest feelings ever, and I’m sure his father is extraordinarily proud of Braylen. I hope to experience that with a son of my own one day, even coaching his Little League team to a state championship — maybe even playing for Keystone someday.

A man can dream.

But speaking of Braylen Corter.

Now I love all of these kids, and I hate to show favoritism because this whole team has been so fantastic to watch and cover. But this Braylen Corter kid: He’s got it.

The kid can hit, the kid can throw, the kid can pitch, the kid has charisma — I mean, seriously, he’s always smiling every time I see him. I can’t help but to be mesmerized by that kid. So young and so talented. Keep him going, Father Corter. That kid is going somewhere special.

Besides the dominance throughout the district, sectional and state tournaments, another thing I can’t help but to take away from this team.is how bonded they are. Looking through photos and covering this team everyday like we’ve done for over a month now, you can easily tell that these kids are having fun playing America’s pastime and love being around each other. Winning, having fun and loving your teammates is always a good mixture.

And none of this should come as a surprise if you know their manager, Pat Johnson. I’ve had the luxury of meeting and talking to Johnson a few times throughout the tournament season, and my biggest takeaway is that he is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. Anything I’ve ever needed, and he’s helped me as much as he could. He’s an all-around nice guy and great coach — obviously by Keystone’s undefeated record.

I honestly could sit here and talk about this team all day, and that’s weird considering where I’ve came from as a fan of baseball. I went from dead interest to passion. Yes, passion. For these Little Leaguers. I can honestly say that this has been one of the greatest experiences in my life as a fan of baseball.

At first a couple of years ago, I didn’t get this community’s fascination with Little League Baseball. Fast forward to now, and I’m fully indulged in the passion myself.

I’ve even been thinking about getting myself a Keystone jersey, I love the look of them. (If anybody can help me out with that, my email is apowell@lockhaven.com. Just saying.)

Not only have I became a baseball fan again. Not only have I became a New York Yankees fan. But I’ve became a legitimate fan of the Keystone 10-12 All-Stars program. And my passion for baseball is back, with, well, a passion.

Levi Schlesinger, Nathan Wian, Cayden Culvey, Dallas Alexander, Gardner Fravel, Gabriel Johnson, Elek Fravel, Wyatt Kramer, Gavin Burnell, Brady Myers, Connor Foltz, Braylen Corter and Kevin Grenninger: Thank you to every single one of you talented kids for rejuvenating my passion for baseball. You have certainly played a key role in that, and I’m extremely grateful. Baseball truly is a beautiful game, and I never want to leave it again. Thanks to you kids, I know I won’t at this point. You brought the passion back.

And now you sit here as Pennsylvania state champions, getting ready for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournament in less than a week. Do you kids know how excited I am to watch you guys on ESPN+ on August 6?

Better question: Do you kids realize how much you deserve this?

You really do. The magic that you have helped me and this community experience has been out of this world.

I speak for me and the community when I say: Thank you. For everything. And it has been such an honor playing a major role covering you guys and your success.

But now back to business! Let’s take this tournament in Bristol and get to Williamsport! GO KEYSTONE!