BATAVIA – A group of local youth baseball players shouldn’t have much trouble whipping up a compelling “What I did this summer” essay once the new school year arrives.
Several players from the Kane County Bronco League 13U age group are planning a trip of a lifetime Aug. 5 to 15 to Taiwan, where they are scheduled to play nine games in 10 days against Taiwanese teams.
“Lots of videos, lots of pictures,” said Batavia Bandits coach Mark Pelley, the trip’s chief organizer. “A lot of memories.”
On Monday afternoon, players, coaches, family members and even Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke gathered at Prairie-Lathem Park for a kick-off gathering that included photos with the boys flanked by a U.S. flag. Pelley said his understanding is this will be the first U.S. youth baseball team to make a trip to Taiwan, ever.
“We’ve been told by the Taiwan people that we are the first American youth team to go to Taiwan to play,” Pelley said. “They’ve had relationships with some Korean teams and some Japanese teams but they’ve never had a U.S. team come visit them. We’re supposed to be the first, and they’ve been coming over here since the ’70s.
“The Taiwan Little League guys have been in our [Little League World Series] since I think ’77. But this guy that’s in charge of it thinks ‘No, we’ve never had a USA team express interest [in playing in Taiwan].’ So we’re pretty excited about that.”
The unorthodox tour was set in motion by connections from Pelley’s business dealings. Pelley, who works in the hardware industry, said he goes to Taiwan about six times a year, and his wife, Sherry, was born there.
Pelley said he was conducting business with a man from Taiwan a few years ago when their mutual passion for baseball come up.
“He introduced me to his uncle, and he’s in charge of all of the youth baseball in Taiwan,” Pelley said. “ … About three years ago when I started coaching my son in baseball, I kind of floated the idea, and it’s taken us this long to get everybody kind of moving in that direction.”
Pelley and fellow Bandits coach Dan Rothengass said they are still looking for a few additional players for the trip after a couple boys who originally planned to go no longer are able to make the journey. So far, eight boys are on board.
Fundraising also is ongoing; the trip likely will cost between $30,000 and $50,000 with airplane tickets alone about $2,000 each for a trip that will take about 22 hours to complete, including a short layover in Los Angeles.
Rothengass said many of the games in Taiwan will be played in large stadiums and he expects several thousand fans could attend in the baseball-loving country.
“Even my son, he doesn’t even realize how big this is going to be,” Rothengass said. “I don’t know how big it’s going to be. The more it happens, the closer it gets, it’s going to be huge. But I don’t know if they quite grasp that. I mean, they’re kids.”
Bandits team members were on the original invite list for the trip but, needing more players, Pelley and Rothengass opened it up to others in the Kane County Bronco League, and representatives from Batavia and St. Charles North Youth Baseball and the St. Charles Crush will be part of the traveling contingent.
Joey Beaudoin, 13, plays for the St. Charles Crush, and is part of the group. Beaudoin said a successful trip would include “winning some games, like four or five.” He acknowledged some nerves.
“Playing in front of a lot of people that are out of [our] country,” Beaudoin said.
Pelley called Taiwan “a beautiful place.”
“It’s very modern, very clean,” he said. “The people are super friendly and it’s super safe.”
Pelley said he’s unsure what the competitive landscape will be for the games.
“In meeting with them, I kind of explained to them our group pretty much is a ‘B’ level team,” Pelley said. “We play in the Kane County Bronco League and we’re a silver team in that division. So I explained to them, we’re not great, we’re not bad. We’re kind of in the middle.”
The temperature in Taiwan is not expected to be so moderate – scorching hot weather is the expectation. As for the food, even some potentially picky middle-schoolers shouldn’t have much trouble, Pelley said.
“There’s plenty of Chinese food that they’ll enjoy, and we want them to learn a little bit about the culture,” Pelley said. “But we have one night at T.G.I. Friday’s … a little McDonald’s here and there. It’ll be a good mix. We won’t make them eat really spicy stuff, unless they want to.”