A late afternoon thunderstorm on Wednesday shut down most of the action, and what had been a beehive of activity at the Al Morrison baseball complex in Dixon.
As lightning flashed, thunder cracked, and rain began to fall, youngsters and parents scurried to their cars, eager to beat the storm. One group of boys, however, were huddled in the equipment shed, waiting out the storm and hoping to get in some baseball, even if it meant just playing some catch.
"We all just love baseball," said Michael Bivins, a member of the Dixon Rebels, a 10 & under squad of mostly Dixon youth. "Just the excitement of the games and the fun of playing it. It's just great."
The Rebels are a second-year team, but this marks the first year they are playing in United States Specialty Sports Association-sanctioned tournaments. They play at the Class AA level, and have done quite well this spring.
They currently sport a 26-4 record, with first-place finishes in tournaments in Rochelle and Rock Falls. They also took second in events in Rock Island and Huntley, and sixth in a tourney in Eldridge, Iowa.
The Rebels' four losses have come against teams in Class AAA or Major, which most often has players from urban areas.
"This year, we really haven't played from behind too much because we've been getting better pitching and catching," head coach Russ Bivins said. "Last year, they came back from a 13-run deficit, a 12-run deficit, and a 9-run deficit to win. There's no quit in these kids. They have drive and heart."
Preparation for the season began back in early January, when the squad practiced twice a week, either in a gym at the Bethel Ministry Center in Dixon, or at the indoor facility at Sauk Valley Community College.
Tournaments began in April, and based on their finishes, the Rebels were ranked first in the state and 17th in the nation by late May, according to USSSA power rankings.
They are currently second in the state, behind a squad from Jacksonville, and 41st in the country. When the Rebels go to tournaments, they are often the team to beat, but they're comfortable in that position.
"Everyone's trying to work hard so they can beat us," shortstop/pitcher Eli Dever said. "So we need to work hard to keep winning."
Next up is the state tournament, to be held Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Cary. Sixteen teams are entered, and if the Rebels fare well, they could be looking at a mandatory move up to Class AAA next summer.
Regardless of the outcome, however, they have already earned the right to participate in a World Series sometime in July, based on earlier performance. A Series featuring AA teams will be played in Canton, Mich., while others including Class AAA and/or Major squads will be played in Des Moines and Mauston, Wis.
Travel time and cost will determine which, if any, of the World Series the squad will play in.
Down the road, Bivins is eager to see where baseball will take this group of boys.
"I look forward to these boys being on the high school field," Bivins said, "and for a lot of them, moving on even further. They are that talented."
From Dixon: Michael Bivins, Gage Burdick, Eli Dever, Jacob Gaither, Lucas Healy, Beau Hoggard, Mason Randick, Jacob Schumacher, Hayden Steinmeyer, Ethan Van Horn
From Rock Falls: Julian Heald, Dillon Schueler
From Sublette: Beau Evans