Palm Coast's 12U team was eliminated from the postseason after losing 19-2 to Navy Ortega.
Benjamin Apfelbach sits alone in the dugout at the Indian Trails Sports Complex, wiping the tears from his eyes with the sleeve of his clay-stained jersey. On the field, the players and fans of Navy Ortega Little League celebrate their 19-2 win over Palm Coast in the Little League All Stars sectional final.
Palm Coast coach Doug Berryhill approaches Apfelbach and lays a caring, calming hand on the shoulder of his player. They embrace.
It’s one of the last moments the two will share as player and coach. Apfelbach, who is 12 years old, will be moving up to the 14-and-under age division next season. He played under the tutelage of Berryhill for the last three years, starring on Berryhill’s recreational team, the Pink Power, and his 11U all-star team, which advanced to the state tournament in 2017.
“I’ve been with him for so long, and he’s taught me so much,” said Apfelbach, holding back tears. “Leaving him is like leaving a family member.”
Palm Coast’s 12U all-star team has never made it to the state tournament. And on Saturday, July 14, Navy Ortega’s Jeb Allen kept it that way.
“You get attached to the kids. It’s more than winning or losing. There’s always another game to play, always another game to win, always another game to lose, but we do this for the relationships.”
DOUG BERRYHILL, Palm Coast 12U all stars head coach
Allen struck out on his first at-bat, but in the second inning, Allen ripped a pitch from Palm Coast starter Isaac Trawick over the centerfield fence for a grand slam. In the third inning, Allen launched another pitch, this time from hurler Joel Gargon, high over the right field fence. His third home run ended the game due to the 15-run rule.
“We couldn’t get any pitches by him,” said Berryhill, whose team lost to Rockledge Little League 7-4 earlier in the day. “That team did a great job.”
Ten of the 12 kids on the roster, including Apfelbach, will move on to the 14U age division next season. And although Palm Coast was eliminated from postseason play, Berryhill said the hardest part is no longer being able to coach the older players, many of whom he’s coached for nearly three years.
“You get attached to the kids,” Berryhill said. “It’s more than winning or losing. There’s always another game to play, always another game to win, always another game to lose, but we do this for the relationships.”
Benjamin Apfelbach’s mother, Daniela Apfelbach, meets her son in the dugout. A few tears slip out from underneath her dark sunglasses. She’s going to miss Berryhill, too.
He was more than a coach, she said. He became family.
In addition to mentoring her son, Daniela Apfelbach said Berryhill also showed up for all her kids’ games, including her daughters, Mia and Heidi, who play 10U softball and T-ball, respectively.
“We love and adore him,” she said. “It’s bitter-sweet. You’re excited that they’re moving on, but you’re sad that you’re leaving someone that you’ve fallen in love with and care for.”