WV youth baseball

With over $22,000 raised, the AZ Sugar Skulls will be headed to the “birthplace of baseball” to compete in the 2023 Cooperstown tournament, a “dream” that the kids will get to fulfill at only 12 years old. (AZ Sugar Skulls/Submitted)

Home to Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame, Cooperstown is the ultimate honor for successful baseball players.

It is also a tourist destination for many of baseball’s biggest fans, as they can see the players immortalized there.

Lastly, it is home to one of the biggest youth baseball tournaments in the country — the American Youth Baseball Hall of Fame Invitational Tournament at Cooperstown Dreams Park.

Among the teams who were invited to Cooperstown for the June tournament is Goodyear-based AZ Sugar Skulls Baseball Club. For team owner Curt Carmichael, it will be “a really cool experience.”

“I am super proud; you can’t put words to words,” Carmichael said. “So, what’s going to be happening here in the near future for the kids, it almost brings a little bit of a tear to your eye for them. It’s a great, great experience that’s going to happen … and we’re looking forward to it.”

The nonprofit Sugar Skulls specialize in giving youth around the Goodyear area an opportunity to play high-level baseball, while teaching them the game in a fun way. 

“Seeing the kids’ growth and all the work that they’ve put in, there’s been a lot of hard days, a lot of good days, but they’re 12 years old and we have to keep reminding ourselves that they’re not professionals,” Carmichael said. “So, we expect a lot out of them, but we also understand that you know that they’re 12 years old as well. So, we try to get them to play at the highest level that they can personally be at.”

The talent of the squad is just one factor to the invitation in playing in Cooperstown. Once invited, earning the funds to getting to afford the trip is a whole other factor. 

To attend Cooperstown, a team must pay a fee of over $22,000, which only covers 12 players and four coaches. This does not cover travel expenses, so that leaves most of the fundraising to the club. Carmichael said the Sugar Skulls do that throughout the year. 

“We’ve done quite a wide variety of things,” Carmichael said. “We’ve had a little bit of sponsorships with some businesses that have helped us. We’ve also done a lot of fundraising things such as selling Super Bowl squares, weekend type cooler events, and the kids actually go out, partaking in different things and just helping out and a lot of parents.

“It goes back to the parents doing a lot of helping on the fundraising. They volunteered many, many hours. It was a lot of different hours going on volunteering, parking at State Farm Stadium. We’ve done a lot of stuff over that direction. It’s just been there’s been a lot that’s happened.”

Cooperstown is nothing new to the Sugar Skulls organization, though, as they have been feeding teams there for years. Past teams have performed well, and this success will look to be translated this year for the next batch of players.

“We actually were able to send a team last year as well, and they fared very well,” Carmichael said. “They had some tough competition across the country, and it just lit the fire a little bit more to even to continue the tradition for our organization. The kids are super excited to play teams from all over the country. (There will be) some tough competition to work out for looking forward to.”

At the end of the day, Carmichael is grateful for everyone who has been involved in getting his organization back to the American Youth Baseball Hall of Fame Invitational Tournament. He said it has been a “global effort.”

“As an organization, we are super excited to give all the kids the opportunity to go put a lot of work behind the scenes to get everything to happen and fundraising and all that,” Carmichael said. “So, a lot of work with the parents, it is a team effort, not only with the kids but the club and the parents as well with everything together.”