This is the weekend coach Robert Prieto's team, SGV Hustle, has been waiting for all summer -- for several years now, really.
The National Youth Baseball Championship is the endgame for the 16 12U teams that have forged their way through regional qualifiers to this final tournament to crown a national champ. Baseball Heaven, a seven-field complex in Yaphank, N.Y., plays host this year for the first time.
SGV Hustle is widely considered to be one of the favorites, having held the No. 1 ranking by Baseball Youth magazine all year after finishing in the top spot at the 11U division in 2013.
"They've been looking forward to it since they were 9 years old," said Prieto, whose SGV Hustle squad plays out of Azusa, Calif. "We're going to leave it all on the line when we get there, and have a good showing."
This is the seventh annual NYBC, founded by White Sox vice chairman and minority owner Eddie Einhorn, who wanted to bring together top-notch youth teams from across the country to determine a national champion.
The 31-game schedule begins Friday at 8 a.m. ET and concludes with the title game Monday night. The first day and a half or so is strictly pool play, from which eight quarterfinalists -- the top two teams from each group -- are selected. The teams, as well as their rankings by Baseball Youth magazine, which organizes the tournament, are divided up as follows:
Pool A: No. 22 Diamond Jacks Super 12 (Flemington, N.J.), No. 8 VSA Vipers (San Fernando Valley, Calif.), Indiana Bulldogs Baseball (Crown Point, Ind.), No. 1 SGV Hustle.
Pool B: 360 Elite Cobras (Pasadena, Calif.), No. 2 Banditos Black (Houston), Capital Renegades (Clifton Park, N.Y.), No. 23 Hamden Yard Dogs (Hamden, Conn.).
Pool C: No. 3 BPA DeMarini Elite (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.), Oklahoma Ambush (Tulsa, Okla.), No. 5 San Diego Show (San Diego), Team Baseball Heaven (Yaphank).
Pool D: Long Island Titans (Mount Sinai, N.Y.), Team B.E.A.S.T. (Commack, N.Y.), Team Florida (Tampa, Fla.), No. 4 Team MVP Elite Squad (Miami).
Following pool play, the quarterfinals are Saturday night. The two semifinals will be at noon and 3 p.m. ET Sunday. The 6:30 p.m. ET final on Monday will cap the festivities.
Before any trophies are handed out, however, two of the marquee matchups during pool play will air live on CBS Sports and stream live on MLB.com Saturday afternoon. The Indiana Bulldogs and SGV Hustle square off at 1:30 p.m. ET, followed by Banditos Black-360 Elite Cobras at 4:30 p.m. ET.
Bill Nelson, the Bulldogs' head coach, knows his team will be the underdog for at least that game, and his team is embracing it. Nelson wants his players -- none of whom come close to boasting the near-6-foot frames some of the competition does -- to play with a chip on their shoulder.
"You wouldn't look at us and say, 'They're going to be hard to beat,'" Nelson said. "We're small, we're scrappy and we do a lot of things fundamentally right. That's how we win ballgames, and we're hoping to continue that.
"I could tell by the kids' attitude they're real excited, real motivated."
SGV Hustle is entering the tournament with a different perspective. The team is annually a top contender in its age division, and this year is no different. Prieto and his assistants have had the team practice more frequently and longer of late, and in an effort to keep motivation high throughout the season, the coaches have shown a willingness to change the lineup game to game.
Even if one athlete has batted third for a month, for example, he could find himself down in the No. 9 hole -- or out of the lineup altogether, according to Prieto, if he doesn't perform. The reverse could also be true.
"None of the kids get [too] relaxed," Prieto said. "Every time we put up the lineup, everyone goes to it to see what it is."
Then, of course, there is the thrill of just coming this far. These are some of the best 12U teams in the country featuring some of the best 12-year-olds in the country. Not too many kids get to play ball on national television, after all.
When Nelson told his son, second baseman/pitcher Tyler Nelson, that their game Saturday afternoon would be one of the contests on live TV, the younger Nelson immediately took to his phone to tell all his buddies back home and help spread the word among his teammates.
But as the dust settled this week from the team's qualifying during the Baseball Youth National Championships, and throughout the 13-hour drive from Indiana to The Empire State, it dawned on the Nelsons: They're here. Why not make something of it?
"I think at first we kind of weren't sure what to expect," Bill Nelson said of the NYBC competition. "At first it was excitement -- 'Hey, we're happy that we're going.' Now it's kind of like, 'Now that we're going, we want to win some games.'"
Tim Healey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less