For years, some of the best local baseball talent has spent its summers as a part of the Ardmore Cardinals.
What started out as the name of a minor league affiliate within the St. Louis Cardinals organization and member of the Sooner State League (Class D) in the 1940s and 1950s, has now developed into an American Legion sponsored summer league baseball team for local high school and college baseball players.
A stopping point for players at different points in their athletic careers — some leaving high school and headed to college, some coming back from college and looking to improve — it's a spot where everyone can do what they love to do: just play.
"It's a great opportunity for area kids to play that are looking to go to the next level, as well as a spot for high school kids who want to play against top competition and somewhere that the college kids can come back and have a place to play in the summer," said Cardinals head coach Bubba Tamez, who also serves as Lone Grove Middle School Principal.
"It just helps me stay loose and prepare for next season," said pitcher Garrett Edwards, who wrapped up his first year at Hillsdale College after his career finished at Ardmore. "Playing with these guys helps me a lot. It keeps me in the groove."
Led by first-year head coach Tamez, the Cardinals serve as a place where players can continue to hone their skills and stay in rhythm, but it's also a spot for the young guys to learn from the few that have dipped their toes in collegiate waters.
"These young guys just have to play hard and continue to hustle," said Chase Crites, who recently won a NJCAA Division II national championship at Murray State in his freshman year. "The college game is a lot faster, but it's still the same game we've been playing since we were little."
"It's all about hard work, whether you're going to college or are already there, you've just got to work hard," Edwards said.
And the young guys, they're taking notes.
"Guys like Chase (Crites) know how to get deep in the count and take a lot of pitches, as well as have the ability to hit the ball anywhere they want to," said Silo graduate and leadoff hitter Hunter Stephens, who will join Crites at Murray State next year.
"This is good for all of us," said former Kingston ace Jake Patterson. "It keeps you from sitting around all summer and removes the chance of you not being ready and out of the loop."
So it serves as somewhat of a mesh point for these young guys, bridging the gap for some and continuing to see stiff competition for others.
"The pitchers throw harder than most pitchers do in high school and it just makes for an overall better experience and you see better players," Stephens said. "Most of the guys we play against are either going to play in college next year or are already at the next level."
And for Tamez, it's his job to manage. But more importantly, he gets to watch the kids improve and continue to do what they love.
"All of our kids continue to get better and better," Tamez said. "It's really rewarding to see our kids be successful all over the state."
Follow Carter on Twitter: @wcarterARD