Field of Dreams
J.K. Kolmansberger, MBA ’00
Nearly 46,000 people packed Lamade Stadium in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to watch the final game in the U.S. bracket of the 2015 Little League Baseball World Series. The record crowd included a multitude in red T-shirts chanting their support of the Red Land Little League Team from Lewisberry, Pennsylvania.
At the bottom of the final inning, the score was tied with Red Land at bat.
A single hit deep into right field launched the fans to their feet. Cheers resounded as 13-year-old second baseman Braden Kolmansberger scored the winning run for a 3-2 victory against the team from Pearland, Texas.
Red Land assistant coach J.K. Kolmansberger, MBA ’00, embraced his son in a moment that he says felt suspended in time. “To watch him cross the plate, to see his face as thousands of people erupted in the stands—that moment as a dad was as good as it gets,” recalls Kolmansberger, co-founder and president of data analytics company VisiQuate.
“I always knew [coaching] was something I would do. If I just sat in the stands, I would probably go crazy.”
Red Land’s win in August marked the first time in 24 years a Pennsylvania team had taken the U.S. title. It also advanced the team to face off against the winner from the international bracket for a chance to become world champions.
Kolmansberger was one of three fathers on the team’s coaching staff. When his son first started playing T-ball at age 5, he knew he would serve as a coach. Baseball was in his blood. His father, Jim, coached high school and Little League baseball for nearly 40 years. His uncle Jack played in the 1955 Little League Baseball World Series. And his own baseball career lasted from childhood through high school.
“I grew up with a glove on my hand and played a ton of baseball,” he says. “I always knew [coaching] was something I would do. If I just sat in the stands, I would probably go crazy.”
As it would turn out, Kolmansberger did spend a lot of time on the field. He and Red Land’s other coaches spent more than six years working with the same group of players who competed as a team in both Little League and a travel league that toured the East Coast. While other travel teams recruited top players from throughout their respective states, Kolmansberger’s club comprised players almost exclusively from a single, small ZIP code. The team’s commitment to developing local talent may have cost them some travel games, but Red Land’s players honed their skills and became a close-knit team, a strategy that paid off for them later on.
“We chose to invest in our kids, and we weren’t going to replace one of them with someone from outside Red Land just to win a few more tournaments,” Kolmansberger explains. “No travel tournament could ever equate to the experience of playing together in the World Series.”
The plan worked. Although the team lost to Japan in the final game of the Little League Baseball World Series, Kolmansberger and the team still etched their place in Little League baseball history. And, according to Kolmansberger, their story will eventually hit the big screen: A feature film about the team’s journey called Against the Odds is scheduled to begin filming in August and is expected to be released in 2017.