Houk league Rattlers take home the title

If there ever was an underdog team in the 2006 little league baseball season in Lawrence, it just may have been the Houk League Rattlers.

The seventh- and eighth-grade Rattlers started the regular season off in lackluster fashion, with only two wins and four losses.

By the end of the season, things had become better. They had forged for themselves an 8-7 record.

But the team still found itself looking up in the standings to the Bulls, who snatched a first place-season finish, and the Lugnutz who took home second.

Like many things though, it wasn’t over until the Rattlers said it was.

The team, which started out less than impressively in the Houk League, battled hard in the postseason to win the league’s double elimination tournament.

Al Bonner, Rattlers co-coach, said the team’s season- long effort clicked best in the postseason tournament.

“We were fortunate to stay in the winner’s bracket and maintain an advantage. We played the fewest games and had more pitchers with innings left to pitch in the championship game,” Bonner said. “Our team did a great job staying focused in very hot weather and keeping mental errors to a minimum.”

Bonner coached the team this year along with Rick Werner and Tony Berg.

While Bonner and Werner have been coaching together for five years, Bonner said he began the season this year with clear goals to improve the Rattlers.

“At this age baseball is no longer recreational,” Bonner said. “There is more focus on strategy. We tried to focus the boys on being more serious about their play and set some goals to get them ready for the next level.”

Werner echoed Bonner’s sentiment and said that strategy was sometimes more important to the team than playing well or even winning games.

Though the team is focused on serious goals, Werner said the best part of the team is watching the players grow in their appreciation and comprehension of the game of baseball.

“My favorite part was watching what we teach get put into motion and get positive results,” Werner said. “The look on the kids faces when they do something you taught them was great. And it was very successful.”

Werner said he witnessed the attitude in the Rattlers’ game with the second-place Lugnutz during the first round of the post-season tournament. Werner said the team hit the field to play serious baseball and played almost mistake-free.

“Everything we tried to teach them all season, it all came to head and it was like it all just clicked,” Werner said. “They earned winning the tourney.”

The Rattlers earned their tournament victory by blasting out 45 runs in three games.

Werner said he was also very impressed with the Rattlers’ persistence and commitment.

Throughout the season, other teams in the Houk League dealt with losing a number of players for various reasons.

Yet the Rattlers started off the season with 14 players and managed to finish the campaign nearly intact with 13 only because one player went to Germany on vacation.

Werner credits the Rattlers follow-through to the team’s positive attitudes and love of the game.

“I would like to think it was our whole outlook on baseball and the kids, but the fact is that for them if you’re not playing baseball you’re not having fun,” Werner said. “If we can help in making them better ballplayers, you’re going to have even more fun. That showed at the end of the year when we won it all.”