"I was a little nervous at first," said Strandberg, who was selected to play for the Ramapo Rangers of Franklin Lakes, N.J. in the Cooperstown World Baseball Tournament two weeks ago. "I felt excited, because it was a great chance for me. I am a big baseball fan and I had never been to the Hall of Fame before. But I was a little worried if I could handle it."
Strandberg is a rising star whose reputation as a baseball player grows with every passing day. He is constantly being asked to play for traveling teams all throughout northern New Jersey.
At the beginning of this summer, David informed his father, Art, who helps to run Weehawken's youth baseball programs, that he didn't want to play for any teams other than his Weehawken commitments. "I left the decision up to him," Art Strandberg said. "He wasn't sure about playing for any other te
am." But when Ray Espinosa, who runs the Ramapo Rangers baseball program, approached Art Strandberg and asked about David's availability to join the team on the trip to Cooperstown, Art sat down with his son and had a little heart-to-heart.
"I told him that this was a chance that doesn't come along too often, and that he should think about going," Art Strandberg said. "The coach really liked David and wanted David to be one of their pitchers. I didn't think he could pass up the opportunity to go."
"I had to go," David Strandberg said. "This was the chance of a lifetime."
The team practiced together for three weeks before heading to Cooperstown. It didn't take manager Espinosa long to realize that Strandberg was a big-time pitcher.
"He eventually became the team's No. 1 pitcher," Art Strandberg said.
Young David is a superb hitter as well, so he fit in nicely with his new team. He was the lone Hudson County player selected to play for the team.
As for the setting?
"It was like going to baseball heaven," David Strandberg said. "It was so beautiful there. I loved it."
Even after practicing with his new team for nearly a month, Strandberg was uncertain about how he would fit in. "I wasn't sure about how I would do," Strandberg said. "I was just going to try my best and see what happened." As it turned out, Strandberg was one of the better players in the tournament, which fielded an amazing 97 teams from all over the country.
Pitching and hitting
As a pitcher, Strandberg won four of his team's seven victories in the week in Cooperstown. He pitched a complete game shutout against a team from Hawaii in his first outing and continued with wins over Chicago and Virginia.
At the plate, Strandberg was the team's leading hitter, batting .526 (15-for-28), with two homers and 14 RBI. Both of his home runs were three-run blasts and he had hits in nine of the team's 10 games.
The Ramapo Rangers were eventually eliminated from the tournament by a team from Maryland, but not after winning seven of 10 games and finishing among the top 30 teams in the tourney.
But the experience was one to last a lifetime. Strandberg spent a week in Cooperstown, right around the same time as the Hall of Fame held its induction ceremonies for Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. Ironically, David Strandberg just recently completed play in the Weehawken Cal Ripken League, named after the newest Hall of Famer.
"We did get to go to the Hall of Fame and that was a great treat," David Strandberg said. "It was nice to see all the plaques and the pictures of the great players."
"He got a chance to stay in the bunks with his teammates," Art Strandberg said. "It's a great facility with 22 fields. It's really amazing to see. And the kids did everything together. It was a very rigorous schedule."
Thought he could never play
What makes Strandberg's story more remarkable is that there was a time when he was a baby that Art Strandberg never thought his son would be able to play sports.
"David was born with a condition that affected both of his kidneys and required two separate major surgeries right after he was born," Art Strandberg said. "Both of his kidneys today are fine, but he can never play contact sports. He also wears a kidney protector when he bats and runs the bases. If he injured his kidneys now, it could be fatal."
Shows that he's a pretty remarkable kid and worthy of the nickname "Bulldog" that was given to him by one of his Ripken coaches, Richie Steen, when David was 8 years old. David currently wears a batting helmet that has a picture of a bulldog on it and the word "BULLDOG" written on the back.
David Strandberg was surprised with how well he did in the tournament.
"I'm really proud with how well I did there," Strandberg said. "It made me a better player and a better pitcher. I think it's going to help me later on. I met a lot of nice kids and I learned about baseball. I think this is going to make me more determined in the future to be better."
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org