North Hall rising senior Colton Duttweiler said he had always wanted to play in the Little League World Series.
The Trojans southpaw never got the chance to go to Williamsport, Penn. Instead, he’s headed to Europe for two weeks as part of the Purpose Driven baseball team, which will play two tournaments and hold camps in three countries, while also acting as a Christian-based mission trip.
And the team will go up against the Italian National Team, in addition to a number of local club teams.
“I always wanted to play in the Little League World Series,” Duttweiler said. “So this is my Little League World Series.”
He even has a teammate to share it with, as fellow North Hall rising senior Preston Graham, who will play center field and pitch for the team, is headed over as well on a trip that includes stops in the Czech Republic, Germany and Italy.
“I have no clue what it’ll be like,” said Graham, who added that Duttweiler and he talked about going together. “I’m just going over there to have a good experience.”
It’s an experience that Trojans coach Trent Mongero said will be life changing for his two players, who will fly from Raleigh, N.C. to Prague, Czech Republic via New York on Monday.
“I’m very proud of Preston and Colton for taking a leap of faith and going to an unknown country,” he said. “I fully believe that it will change their outlook on life; I know it did me.”
Mongero, who played baseball collegiately and in the minor leagues before getting into coaching, led the Purpose Driven team for the first two years, in 2008 and 2009.
He was recruited for the role by Jay Stott who, like Mongero, had played at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Mongero said Stott had spent time in the Czech Republic on business and had been inspired to start the organization, which went to the country for the inaugural Purpose Driven trip.
“He saw the love that the Czechs had for baseball and started this organization,” Mongero said. “He felt it would, most importantly, be an opportunity to share faith through baseball.”
Since 2008, the Purpose Driven teams and coaches have conducted clinics and have competed in the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary.
“More important than the wins and losses,” he said. “Baseball has provided an opportunity to share our love of Jesus Christ.”
Mongero added that, since his trips over there, the teams have been improving, with the Czech Republic National Team winning the last two meetings against the Purpose Driven squad after falling to Mongero’s earlier teams.
“Over the last five years we have seen a tremendous improvement, the teams are getting more competitive,” Mongero said. “They’re accelerating their game, which makes it even more exciting.”
The team of American players certainly has helped make this happen, as the team will not only compete, but hold camps to teach new players.
“If we’re not at a baseball camp, we’ll be driving,” Duttweiler said.
The left-handed hurler added that he had known about the camp since he started in the North Hall baseball program in the eight grade, when he saw his coach wearing a PD baseball cap, but didn’t know the details until this past season, when Mongero encouraged him to give it a try.
The Trojans coach said he thought Duttweiler and Graham would make good players on for the team for various reasons.
“Jay and I stay in touch, and he always asks me if I have any players,” Mongero said. “And I saw in (Duttweiler and Graham) two players with strong faith backgrounds who are also very good baseball players.”
The two helped lead North Hall to the Region 8-AAA title game and the state playoffs this past season and, Mongero said, are only the second and third North Hall players to go on the trip, along with former player Hamilton Harper, who went with Mongero on an earlier trip.
The North Hall coach said he wished he had the time to go again, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t still tied to the organization. He puts on a camp in North Carolina every winter to help raise funds for the trips and said he is still very proud to be connected with an organization that has also seen a number of big league players teach camps overseas or in the US for international players who come to America.
Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, University of South Carolina baseball coach Ray Tanner and former MLB player Trot Nixon, among others, have been involved.
Graham has been involved with the current team for a little while, having played with them in a tournament in North Carolina recently.
He said that they later asked him to come on the trip and he and his family talked and prayed about it before he accepted. He added that he’s excited to try different foods and see different places, but that there is a little pressure that comes with being an American and playing an American game against other countries.
“It puts a little bit of pressure on, but it’s going to be a lot of fun to see how its starting to pick up over there,” he said.
Duttweiler, who’s also excited to see some of his family’s heritage in Germany, agreed.
“You have to keep the American baseball standard pretty high,” he said. “You don’t want to go over there and think that we’re not good.
“But it’ll be nice to meet the people, and use the game of baseball to spread the word.”