Forest Hill Express Represents Harford County with Pride
By CJ Harbach
You would have thought you were at an IronBirds game, if the IronBirds played at Fenway Park, and the players were pint-sized. The atmosphere inside The Ripken Academy for the Cal Ripken World Series was so charged with energy that it could easily be mistaken for professional baseball. The miniaturized versions of prominent baseball parks in addition to the very precise operation of each game gave the establishment a solid, expert feel.
The feeling was no different at the Harford game Monday where the Forest Hill Express, representing Harford County as the host team, took on Ohio Valley. Hartford County sported orange jerseys with blue lettering; purposefully matching the Aberdeen IronBirds. Fans of the host team were exactly what fans should be: donned in identical Harford jerseys or homemade Harford t-shirts, the cheering was constant.
There was the feel of longtime friendship and hometown pride in the stands. Siblings of the athletes were grouped together chatting incessantly, as were the mothers gathered in the shade and the fathers further down the line near the scoreboard. While the conversation may have differed depending on the seating, there was no questioning the reason everyone was at Fenway Park; everyone was proud to wear the orange and blue.
The CRWS consists of 16 teams (10 domestic and six international) of 11 and 12-year-olds from around the world. One local team each year is honored as “hosts.” Forest Hill received the credit this year after an unexpected turn of events at the District Tournament led to a World Series berth. Forest Hill initially found themselves in the loser’s bracket after Friday and Saturday pool play, but were able to triumph over the undefeated Hickory team twice to win the District Title in June.
“I know there aren’t a lot of expectations for the Harford team,” Bob Johnson said, head coach of Forest Hill. “They’ve struggled in the past, but we wanted to come out here and battle, and try and win some games. If we don’t, we don’t. But we’re not going down lightly.”
Even if Forest Hill had few expectations, they certainly seemed to soak in the experience. “It’s actually pretty amazing. We scrimmaged Australia, we scrimmaged Korea. It was awesome for our kids,” Johnson stated. “I think they had a great time with both teams, but we did a pizza party with Korea afterwards. There were a couple kids on the Korean team who spoke English very well and they were able to translate for the other kids. There was a language barrier, but baseball was the common theme.”
The coaching staff and many of the players for Forest Hill have been with the team since its creation, including Bob Johnson’s son, Jake, who was named the “Player of the Game” and went 2-for-2 with a run in Monday’s game.
The 2012 season is the first time Forest Hill has been privileged to represent Harford County at the CRWS and they are taking advantage of the available acquaintances and socializing when they can. As a product of the pizza party, Forest Hill and Korea have a secret handshake they perform as often as they’re allowed.
“What I think is the neatest thing is when they’re actually out on the field, is that they’ll talk to one another,” Coach Johnson said. “The fact that they’re verbalizing out there, instead of just being quiet because they don’t know one another. It’s neat to see them do that,”
The Johnson family is no stranger to the Aberdeen IronBirds or the CRWS. The family previously owned season tickets to the IronBirds games and was the host family for several Australia players in the past, who are now in the minor leagues.