Chelsea Raw Dawgs in World Series

Published 4:15 pm Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Chelsea Raw Dawgs, an 8-year-old All-Star team, competed in the Dizzy Dean World Series this week.

The Raw Dawgs follow the lead of first baseman and team captain Hunter Griffin, who goes by the nickname Raw.

“This is a special group,” Griffin said. “Everybody wants to be a part of the Raw Dawgs.”

The team began practicing at the end of May after the Chelsea Youth League completed its regular season. The coaches had no idea that the 12-man team would eventually turn out to be so popular in Chelsea.

“At first we just stayed pretty quiet and practiced hard,” assistant coach Mark Gilmer said. “After a few days, we began to notice the crowds just getting larger and larger. We started to hear people outside the park talking about the ‘Raw Dawgs.’ It’s just taken off and fortunately for us, everybody wants to be a part of this thing.”

The Dawgs are led by hard-hitting left fielder Zack Nuyt, who played a big role in jump starting the Raw Dawg mania with a leaping, diving grab to rob a Jemison player of a homerun in the first inning of the Columbiana Invitational three weeks ago.

“That was when we knew we had something special” assistant coach Mike McNamee said. “When Z-Nuyt made that grab, the whole park in Columbiana just went berserk. Everybody just jumped on the bandwagon and it hasn’t slowed down since.”

Nuyt finished the tournament strong as well as he catapulted a 280-foot blast over the left centerfield wall in the fifth inning against North Chilton.

Chelsea blitzed through the field at the invitational, defeating Jemison, Vincent, Montevallo and Calera before eventually losing to North Chilton in the semifinals.

Shortstop Brayton Lowery ranks as another fan favorite with his aggressive style in the field.

“I just try to catch everything,” Lowery said. “I get hit with balls all the time, but coach says as long as I stay in front of the ball, then I can make plays.”

Matt Fant has been a key addition at third base for the Raw Dawgs, leding the team in hitting in the district tournament, including a home run in a win over Montevallo.

Clayton Gilmer has moved from first base, where he played during the regular season to the outfield, where he has impressed the coaches.

“He might be our biggest surprise,” McNamee said. “Not that we didn’t think he could play the position. We just had never seen him off first base. He has been a pleasant surprise. Everybody looks up to him in the outfield.”

While there is a good level of talent and leaders on the team, the Raw Dawgs make it clear who their leader is.

“It didn’t take long for the team to take on Raw’s tough, relentless personality and work ethic,” coach David Ingram said of Griffin.

Born in West Virginia, Griffin has moved from city to city across the Southeast before landing in Chelsea in the fall of 2008.

“We haven’t seen any kid from these parts like Raw before,” Ingram said.

Griffin leads the team with a .1000 fielding percentage and a .565 batting average and has been the cornerstone of the team’s success, according to Ingram. He doesn’t worry about his personal success however.

“I take it as my responsibility to get my fellow Raw Dawgs ready to play every game,” Griffin said.

The Raw Dawgs practiced three weeks between the district tournament and World Series. Ingram says the Dawgs’ hitters have become more consistant entering the tournament, which began Friday.

Two players were peaking entering the tournament: Gaston Pharr and Mac McNamee. Closing out the Raw Dawg roster is Mitchell Beck, who was a member of the 25-1 regular season champs Braves.

The World Series featured 64 teams from across the country. In addition to the Raw Dawgs, the Chelsea Nationals made the tournament as the District Champs and third-place finishers in the area. The Nationals finished eighth in the state.

“It says a lot for our 8 year old group to have two teams with enough motivation and love for the sport to still be playing this late in the summer” Ingram said.

Tournament results were not available at press time Tuesday.