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For the Arlington Little League A’s, baseball is a game of growth

The Arlington Little League A’s team photo (photo courtesy of Dan Uscinski)

They say baseball is a game of inches. Okay, maybe that’s football. But for one Arlington Little League team, this can be taken somewhat literally.

The Athletics (A’s, for short) are a team made up of players and coaches who have been together for as long as six years, very much a rarity in a league where players often find themselves with new teammates every season.

This means they’ve seen each other grow up, in literal inches, from five-year-old tee-ballers to 11-year-old grand slam hitters.

“I have loved to see the team grow and I feel like we’ve bonded and made a lot of good memories and friends together on this team,” 11-year-old Alex Ng told ARLnow, who’s been on the team since he was six. “Players have come and gone, but the heart of the team is really nice to be around.” 

At this level of Little League (the “majors”) teams are drafted, with the most skilled players often going first as is the case in the professional leagues. But A’s coach Dan Uscinski, or “Coach Dan,” has decided that their draft strategy is different: Pick the kids who’ve played together on their team before.

“It’s not like this is a blockbuster squad that I’ve manipulated the system to keep them together,” he said. I thought it was important for these kids to just keep the team dynamic together as long as possible.” 

The kids come from schools across the county, including Fleet Elementary and Thomas Jefferson Middle. This fall, they are playing their games at newly-renovated Jennie Dean Park.

Most seasons the team loses just as many times as they win, but that’s kind of the point. The players are learning how to win — and lose — together while growing and developing as a team. And making long-lasting friendships along the way.

“We built a pretty fun environment for the kids as a team. Kids go out, play for each other, and they built friendships out of it because baseball is ultimately supposed to be fun,” Uscinski said. “I’ve formed friendships that’ll last a lifetime too.”

Maya Kaufman has been on Coach Dan’s team since 2017 when she was six. She said that because the team has been together so long, they all know what each other is good at and what they need to work on.

“Because I’m so close with all these people, we give each other feedback and can tell each other what we need to do [better]… we pump each other up, but help each other know that you could have done this better,” Kaufman said. “If I was on another team, that might not happen.”

One of her favorite things is that over the years they’ve been able to come up with “funkier chants” than other teams.

“A lot of other teams have generic chants,” she said.

Jason Kaufman is an assistant coach on the team (and Maya’s dad). He says that’s probably the best part of it all, the kids are having fun and learning what it means to be responsible to one another.

“They don’t always work hard, but they are always having fun,” he said. “And they are certainly accountable to each other.” 

And, this past spring, something special happened. Getting over a slow start, the team finished with a winning record and got into the playoffs. Then, they rattled off a bunch of upset wins to get into the championship game.

“Then, we got our butts kicked,” Uscinski laughed.

Again, that was kind of the point. Success and failure are all part of life, so why not experience both with a bunch of friends who you can rely on?

All the players ARLnow spoke to said that them playing together so long “absolutely” contributed to their magical run to the championship last season. Ten-year-old Desta Semroc-Clarke, who’s been on the team since 2018, said the run with a team full of friends made him “love baseball even more.”

However, the end is near for the A’s.

A number of the players are graduating out of the league after the fall and Uscinski has announced that he won’t be coaching again in the spring. So, the fall baseball season, which began in September and ends in November, will be the last for A’s as a team.

Of course, it’s sad and a bit disappointing for all, but they are embracing the last few games together. And it’s already been an unforgettable season with Maya Kaufman hitting her first grand slam ever.

“She’ll remember that the rest of her life,Uscinski said

The hope is that it’s those memories, friendships, and the feeling of joy that these kids will look back on when they remember the A’s.

“I’m a little sad that we’re going to be split up,” said Ng. “But I’ll always have my teammates as friends.”

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