Beyond two mounds of dead grass and through thick dust, the gravel walkway at Columbia’s Atkins Memorial Park leads visitors through barren surroundings to three pristine baseball fields full of life.
Columbia locals and visitors from around Missouri enjoyed a cool breeze and admired the near perfect baseball conditions Friday during the first day of the Show-Me State Games' baseball competition.
As fans in the stands discussed the picturesque weather and scenery, the 12-year-old Columbia Cardinals, champions of their age group a season ago, looked across the field to size up their opponents. They addressed the players by their jersey numbers and discussed their opponents' noticeable size advantage.
Not only were the Florissant Mustangs larger, they were also a year older — a challenge the Cardinals signed up for.
“At this age, one year actually makes a big difference,” Cardinals coach John Miles said.
After an average 2012 summer season, the Cardinals went on to win the 12-and-under Major Division of the MO/KAN United States Specialty Sports Association state championship tournament. They wanted to test their abilities against tougher competition in the Show-Me State Games, so the 12-year-old team signed up for the 13-year-old age division.
The Cardinals have been playing together for two full seasons and have had their ups and downs.
“We will go out there and beat teams that are better than us, then lose to the teams that are worse than us,” Miles said.
Cardinals pitcher Devin Bernskoetter said that playing against older competition does not intimidate him. Bernskoetter played with confidence, throwing his first career no-hitter in a 10-0 win. He said throwing strikes and a good curveball allowed him to strike out eight of the 16 batters he faced.
The Cardinals' bats matched their pitcher’s great performance, scoring 10 runs in five innings.
Bernskoetter and the Cardinals were proud of their opening day performance. However, they are focused on the challenges ahead.
“We want to win it all,” Bernskoetter said.