SHELBY, N.C. — When you have spent your summer playing baseball, a long trip on a bus before heading back to school is probably not on your list of things to do.
That's unless you are the Danville Post 210 Speakers and the nearly 10-hour bus ride is to Shelby, N.C. for the American Legion World Series.
Danville left first thing Monday morning, arriving there Monday night. On Tuesday, the Speakers spent the day exploring the town in south central North Carolina, about 45 miles west of Charlotte, and Danville got its first look at Keeter Stadium.
"It's an awesome field,'' Danville manager Allan Shepherd said. "It's like walking on carpet. The grass is almost like an artificial surface.''
On Thursday morning, the Danville Post 210 Speakers will open the World Series with a 10 a.m. (Eastern) contest against Destrehan Post 366 Cardinals, the Louisiana State Champions. The game can be seen on ESPN3, which is an online broadcast available through ESPN.com/watch.
"We just got done with our ESPN interviews,'' said Shepherd from the team hotel Tuesday night. "Thankfully, we have a really great host family here that is helping us with all of the logistics. There are quite a few things that need to be done before we play a game.''
But, how did this Post 210 team get to this stage?
"Ultimately, it's because of how well they play together,'' said Shepherd, who has taken four straight teams to the Great Lakes Regional. "Every year it has been a little different. I wish all of our kids, including 2016, 2017 and 2018 teams could have experienced Shelby.
"And the experience that we got from the last three years is why we are going this year.''
The last two years, Danville was just one win away from the American Legion World Series, losing to Midland (Mich.) Berryhill both times.
That was something that Danville right-hander Dalton Dalbey, who took the loss against Midland a year ago, was thinking about on Sunday when he got the victory in the Speakers 14-6 win over Beverly-Lowell, the Ohio state champions, in the first game on Sunday to set up the winner-take-all championship.
"I started that second game against Midland last year and I just came a few outs short,'' said Dalbey. "I was going to do whatever it took to get us there. This is my last year of baseball, so it really means a lot to go this year and not just talk about it.''
Shepherd said that Dalbey didn't have his best stuff all year because he didn't get innings in the spring, and that starter Ryan Drayer was pitching through some arm soreness.
"Dalbey and Drayer showed up when we needed them,'' Shepherd said. "That first game on Sunday was all about guts.''
That was also true about the winner-take-all championship game.
Elijah Harden, who had only thrown 5.1 innings in 23 days, got the start for the Speakers. After a little early trouble, Harden settled into his role and went five strong frames for Danville, allowing just two runs on six hits, including working out of a one-out, bases-loaded situation in the fourth inning.
"It was the most nerve-wracking thing that I've done,'' said Harden, a senior-to-be from Oakwood High school. "I realized that I just needed to throw strikes.''
At the beginning of the season, Shepherd claimed that Harden wouldn't say two words to him. On Sunday, the big right-hander had a few more words for his coach.
"No. It's my game. I want it. I will finish it,'' said Harden as Shepherd removed him after five innings and brought in Chase Rademacher.
"I wanted to keep throwing. I felt good,'' said Harden after the game. "I didn't want someone else to be the reason why they came back.''
But, how did the coach take it?
"Some people could have taken that as disrespectful, but for me, that was a proud coach moment,'' Shepherd said. "I want those kind of guys on my team. The guys that want the baseball or that want the big at-bat.
"Elijah wouldn't have done that at the start of the season. We might have created a monster.''
But, there was only one true monster on Sunday for Post 210.
That was tournament MVP Ernest Plummer, who went a remarkable 8-for-8 with four runs scored, three RBIs and four stolen bases in the wins over Beverly-Lowell.
"It was a pretty good day for me,'' Plummer said.
Pretty good? What could he have done better?
"I could have had a couple of doubles,'' he answered as all eight hits were singles.
Not bad for a kid that Beverly-Lowell kids were calling "too cool."
"Well, he might be 'too cool' to play for Beverly-Lowell, but he is good enough for us,'' Shepherd said. "What he did on Sunday is unheard of. The tournament officials, who have seen 20-plus years of regional tournament, said they have never seen an 8-for-8.''
And now, Plummer and the rest of the Speakers get the opportunity to play on the biggest stage in American Legion Baseball.
The format for the World Series is that the eight teams are separated into a pair of four-team pools with each team being guaranteed three games.
Danville is in the Stars Pool with Destrehan, La.; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Festus, Mo. While the Stripes Pool has Idaho Falls, Idaho; Shrewsbury, Mass.; Randolph County, N.C.; and Fargo, N.D.
The top two teams in each pool advance to a single-elimination tournament, with semifinals on Monday and the championship set for Tuesday night.