And three Gordon Lee students have been at the core of the team’s success.
Tucker Bradley, Chaney Rodgers, and Gavin Roberson have been extremely valuable parts of the Bandits’ long and impressive resume over the years, which includes over 640 wins against less than 30 losses against some of the top teams in the state and in the nation.
In addition, the Bandits have won more than 10 national titles, including two in Cooperstown, N.Y., over 20 state titles, and countless other big-name tournaments.
The travel ball Bandits were the country’s top-ranked team in the 12-under division in 2011 and in the 13-under division this past season. They captured back-to-back USSSA Elite 32 World Series championships at the Walt Disney World Complex and also won this year’s Travel Ball Select National Championship in East Cobb, finishing the last two seasons with an overall record of 181-9-2.
The team won its first state title playing as six year-olds and was the World Series runner-up later that year. The team captured the World Series the following season and head coach Troy Roberson said they haven’t slowed down since.
“These boys have done some amazing things over the years,” said Roberson, who was named the Travel Ball Select 12-under National Coach of the Year last year. “They just continue to win, especially the big games. They are all very special talents, but they all have just worked so hard every day.”
Roberson said the team used to practice baseball and then swim at his house every night while team moms would provide dinner for everyone.
“It was just a really neat thing,” he explained. “My goal as coach was to always make it fun for the boys. As long as they were having fun, that was important to me, and I think the kids have given everything they’ve had because they were having fun. It’s hard to believe I’ve had the privilege of coaching these kids.”
Bradley, now a freshman at Gordon Lee High School, was the Travel Ball Select 12-under National Player of the Year in 2011, and could be the choice to earn the 13-under award this season.
Roberson respectfully called Bradley “a baseball freak”.
“He might be the best player at his age I’ve ever seen,” Roberson said. “He can do things on the field that I haven’t seen any other kids his age be able to do, and he’s been that way since he was seven or eight years old. He has all the tools, and he’s gotten older, he’s become more patient and made fewer mistakes. He’s really maturing as a young man and as a ball player.”
Roberson said Rodgers has grown over the years from simply being a good hitter into being one of the top baseball talents in the nation.
“Chaney might be one of the best hitters I’ve ever seen at his age,” he said. “I’ve never seen a kid that age hit the ball as far as he does. But he’s also become a great base runner and a phenomenal pitcher that really carried us on the mound this year. He’s kind of quiet, but he has a big heart and a great mental approach to the game. He’s also a great leader, which is one of his best qualities.”
Roberson also had high praise for his son, Gavin, the team’s shortstop, who like Rodgers is also an eighth-grader at Gordon Lee Middle School.
“He won the World Series MVP award when he was seven, and defense has always been his strong suit,” the coach said. “Several people have told me they think he has the best hands in baseball (for his age), and he has a high on-base percentage as a hitter because knows how to work pitchers deep into the count. He plays with a ton of heart and he’s sort of the team clown. He keeps everyone’s spirits up and he’s just tremendously valuable.
“I’m just very lucky and feel very blessed to have gotten to coach these kids,” Roberson added.
In addition, Bradley and Rodgers were recently selected to participate in the USA Baseball 14-Under National Team Identification Series in North Carolina Sept. 6-9.
The NTIS will feature players from around the nation competing for a chance to be selected by a USA Baseball National Team program and represent their country. A minimum of 16 players will be picked for the 2013 15-Under National Team Trials.
This will be the second straight year that both players were picked to participate in the NTIS.