WHEELING - Often times, there's debate amongst what's best for youth baseball players.
Should the athletes play travel ball or should they just play in their hometowns for the respective junior sports organizations?
It's a question that will be debated for many years to come without a clear-cut answer, but the Ohio Valley Mudcats' organization is running strong.
The group, spearheaded by Linsly School and Notre Dame product Mike Coss and St. John Central and West Virginia University graduate Eric Petho, has three teams in this weekend's giant Beast of the East Baseball Tournament, which continued despite heat indexes well into the triple digits throughout the Ohio Valley Friday.
The Mudcats' oldest team is winding down its time together. The group was originally formed when they were nine years old and now, some seven summers later, are entering their final two days as a squad.
"Pretty much, it's been the same group of kids," Coss said. "I've seen these kids improve tremendously and if you look at our roster of 11, we had eight of those kids start for their respective varsity team. These kids are good with better fundamental skills."
Coss, who will remain involved in the Mudcats despite his son's Colton leaving the group, has decided this weekend will be the final tournament for the team because since high school sports is so consuming in June whether it's summer basketball, football or something different all together, kids' time is of the premium.
"We've found that with all of the commitments that these kids have they're just drug in every direction," Coss said. "For instance, on Thursday, we had kids play in a doubleheader (with the Mudcats) and then they had to go play a basketball game that night."
Coss is almost hoping time stands still the next 48 or so hours because bidding farewell to his players is going to be difficult.
"This is just a great group of kids," Coss said. "They're all playing varsity baseball. My son plays at Linsly, so we play a lot of these kids during the season, so we'll get to see them. I'll be rooting for them every game, but just not to win if they're facing Linsly."
Just a year after finishing unblemished in pool play and advancing to the championship round of the 14U bracket of the Beast, the Mudcats fell to 0-4 Friday when they failed to maintain what was once a seven-run lead.
"We came out strong, but we just can't finish it," Coss said. "This was the second time we got caught with the time limit. Our kids battled, but that was a good hitting team and there's nothing we can do about it except come back ready to go (Saturday)."
As a travel team, the Mudcats have had to adapt to different sets of rules for the variety of tournaments they enter. For instance, last weekend, the club was Rehobith Beach in Delaware where it finished undefeated in a wooden-bat tournament.
Now, when they returned to the Ohio Valley, the Beast of the East implements American League rules and uses a 2-hour time limit.
"The Beast of the East is a great tournament," Coss said. "They have their rules as much as I disagree with playing American League rules at this age. We typically play federation rules where you bat the lineup, so kids can get in, and you have free substitution."
The moving up a division has caused some growing pains, but the Mudcats' roster all has a year of high school baseball under its belt, so Coss won't begin to use that as an excuse for his team's struggles this weekend.
"It's not that big of difference," Coss said. "They're used to facing these types of athletes and this type of competition. Once you get to high school, it's pretty much the same."
The younger Mudcats have also had their struggles in the tournament. According to Petho, the team made up primarily of 11-year olds is playing in the 12U division.