Simply the best — that's the moniker proudly worn by the Bethesda Big Train summer league baseball team, which earned the No. 1 ranking in the final 2011 Perfect Game USA poll.
Along the way, the Big Train earned a third consecutive Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League title, going 33-9 during regular season play before sweeping all three postseason opponents.
With some key components returning from that stellar squad, the Big Train is poised for continued success in 2012.
“Are we going to win a national championship every year? Probably not,” Bethesda manager Sal Colangelo said. “Are we going to win the league every year? Probably not, [but] we stick with our philosophy of getting the best possible student-athletes we can get and have them jell together as a team and have them play hard and do the right things between the lines and have fun.”
Making things much more enjoyable for Colangelo and not so much for the rest of the nine-team wooden bat league, which includes the Rockville Express and Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts, is the return of left-handed pitchers Matt Bowman (5-2, 0.82 ERA) and Kelly Secrest (4-2, 0.97 ERA), right-handed reliever-infielder Michael Aldrete (5 saves) and catcher Hunter Renfroe (.305 batting average, 8 home runs, 30 runs batted in).
Looking to challenge Bethesda's supremacy is the Express (17-24 in 2011), which welcomes new manager Rick Price, who started and coached the Gaithersburg Post 295 American Legion squad since its inception in 1984.
Price, whose Post 295 teams won three Maryland State American Legion crowns, will look to continue that success in the Cal Ripken League with several of the same players he coached in the past, including pitchers Chris Sbily, Tyler Klitsch, Dominique Vattuone and Mike Ryan. Gaithersburg graduate Nick Riley also joins that vaunted pitching staff.
Other former Post 295 players include outfielder Gary Schneider and infielder-outfielder Peter Bowles, and they're joined by Georgetown Prep graduate Austin Richards and Walter Johnson graduate Carson Kenney.
“I'm really looking forward to getting these guys together again,” Price said. “We're getting the band back together. It makes me more comfortable going into this league having those guys around me.
“I think we can be competitive. We have some good athletes and we have speed. It will be another step above legion yet the age is a year older than what we've been doing.”
James H. Blake graduate Tommy Cunningham and Montgomery Blair graduate Peirce Marston are slated to play for the Thunderbolts, who finished the 2011 season with a 13-26 record.