DENVER – Youth baseball is an avenue for learning not only the fundamentals of the game, but also the fundamentals of life, and the Triple Crown Lookouts nine-and-under team has done that while developing into one of the top teams in the state over the past three years.
“From the beginning, we put together a set of rules to establish a culture that we wanted to build,” head coach Matt Phillips said. “Our rules are to have fun, do our best, pay attention, put the team first, be good sportsmen, become servant leaders and be the best we can be on the last day of the season. What myself and the other coaches are doing is teaching them not only to be good baseball players, but also to be good citizens in the community and in school. We tell our kids to live in the circle rather than the square, where the circle is filled with things we can control and the square is stuff that’s out of our control.”
The Lookouts came together for the first time in 2016 as the East Lincoln Optimist Club seven-and-under all-star team.
“About 90 percent of our kids live in Denver, and we’ve had the same core group for the past three years,” Phillips said. “That 7U team actually went to the state championship with Optimist Club and was one game away from becoming the state champion, which was completely unexpected after we took a rag-tag group of kids and really built a team over about four weeks. It was an awful lot of fun and the kids wanted to stay together so we decided to form the Triple Crown Lookouts.”
The Lookouts are not affiliated with Optimist Club, instead functioning as a travel team that participates in tournaments across the Carolinas. The transition to tournament baseball was rocky, with the team struggling to win games in its first year before suffering through another difficult stretch while playing against older teams.
“The first year we lost at least 75 percent of our games when we started playing tournament ball,” Phillips said. “Then after that we had a group of eight-year-old kids playing up to nine-year-old baseball.”
It wasn’t long before the Lookouts turned it around, however, gradually improving from tournament to tournament before eventually being recognized among the top teams in the state.
“The next season after that tough stretch all our kids were nine and had experience playing nine-year-old baseball, so we were ready,” Phillips said. “We won about 60 percent of our games that fall and then we went into the spring and that’s when we started getting ranked as we were winning about 90 percent of our games. We won seven of the 10 tournaments we played and took off from there.”
The Lookouts won four more tournaments in the fall 2018 season en route to a 19-7 record, and have posted a 10-4 record in the spring 2019 season with five tournaments still left to play. Travelball247, a website dedicated to all things travel baseball in North Carolina, has the Lookouts ranked as the top team in the state’s “mountain” region while checking in at number five overall in the state.
“We knew right away when we formed that 7U all-star team that these kids really loved the game because they were focused and they really wanted to learn,” Phillips said. “When you’re a coach and you’ve got kids that are willing to put in the time and effort, it makes my job easy.
“What’s allowed us to take this next step has been their communication on the field. I told them before this season that this is their team too and we’ve seen leaders start to emerge on the field. That means we, as coaches, don’t have to yell out what to do on every play, and that communication among teammates has helped them trust in each other.”
In addition to the team success, Tanner Matile – son of East Lincoln High School baseball coach and athletic director Chris Matile – has been invited to play in the United States Specialty Sports Association Select30 Championships in Florida in July, while teammate Zac Phillips will play in the All-American Games in Myrtle Beach in August. The team will play in three more tournaments before the North Carolina State Championship in June.