The opportunity to play baseball in the sport’s birthplace produced lasting memories for 18 Johnson County athletes.

Travel teams made up of 12-year-olds from Franklin (Powerhouse Baseball) and Center Grove (Indiana Elite) were among 104 ballclubs from across the United States converging on Cooperstown (N.Y.) Dreams Park.

Both made it all the way to the Round of 16 before being eliminated.

“It was amazing. The coolest experience I’ve had in a long time,” Powerhouse Baseball assistant coach Joe McGuinness said. “We had a great season, but even back in April everyone was talking about Cooperstown.

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“They met kids from as far away as Hawaii. And the boys certainly played up to their environment.”

Every team played six games before being seeded Nos. 1 to 104 for a single-elimination tournament.

The experience included playing at the home of baseball, which is near the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Opening Ceremonies were July 1 at Cooperstown Dreams Park, a sprawling 22-field baseball complex located a 15-minute drive from the Hall of Fame.

Cooperstown Dream Park hosted its first tournament for 12-year-olds in 1999. Over the course of nine weeks that summer, a total of 426 baseball teams helped launch what has become a sought-after destination for young players everywhere.

This summer, the nine tournaments combined are expected to draw approximately 950 teams, their coaches and families. The local teams paid or raised money to cover a $1,000 fee per player and coach.

“The camaraderie among the coaches and players was big,” said Steve Sawa, coach of the Center Grove team, Indiana Elite. “Just an awesome experience, but winning always makes it a little more fun. Being able to play teams from Florida to California in a five-day window of time is pretty unreal.”

Indiana Elite features nine Center Grove players and three from out of the county.

Powerhouse Baseball, coached by Kye Baker and featuring seven Franklin players and one from Whiteland and Center Grove, entered the tournament at the No. 7 seed after winning all six play-in games.

Powerhouse earned a bye the first three rounds before defeating Tombigbee Tribe from Mississippi, 7-3, to advance to the final 16. It then lost, 9-0, to Genesis Baseball out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a team stocked with players from the Dominican Republic.

Sawa’s Center Grove team lost only once and earned the No. 17 seed. It earned a bye for two rounds before defeating Pacific Coast (California) and Texas Clutch. Elite then lost, 8-6, to M3 Elite out of Tennessee.

Powerhouse Baseball made a favorable first impression in the Around-The-Horn competition, placing second of the 104 teams. This is the time it takes for a team to go first throw (catcher to third base) to the last of 11 throws (left field to catcher).

Franklin, one of only six squads making it to the final round, finished in 20.7 seconds.

“We got out there and the boys just turned it on,” McGuinness said. “They were in the moment. The lights were on and the stands were full. It was, ‘Boys, you’ve made it this far. Just go out there and have fun.’”

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Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at mbeas@dailyjournal.net.