Whether following bloodlines or the white-chalk base lines, Red Land baseball’s success story resembles a family tree.
At the top is the undisputed father of Red Land baseball, Brandt Cook, who later this month celebrates his 75th birthday.
Fifty years after Cook created the baseball program at the brand new Red Land High School, the area’s Little League team is embarking on a historical run.
And Red Land’s legion baseball team just ended a sensational run of its own, finally falling Sunday to national power Brooklawn, N.J., in the Mid-Atlantic championship.
The Red Land Little League team, which opens its Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournament Tuesday night in Bristol, Conn., is the first Harrisburg area team to get this far since Shippensburg won the U.S. championship in 1990.
That same year, Cook directed the high school Patriots to their first and only PIAA championship, a team that starred the Wagner twins (Bret and Kyle) and Tom Peifer, among others.
The 2015 state champion Little League team also features a Wagner and a Peifer, and not just on the coaching staff.
Cole Wagner, first baseman and pitcher, is Bret’s son. Kaden Peifer, catcher and pitcher, is Tom’s son.
Last year’s Red Land Little League team, which finished third in the state, starred Luke Wagner (Kyle’s son) and Reese Kauffman, the son of another 1990 champ, Mitch Kauffman.
“[Cook] put Red Land baseball on the map even before our state championship team,” said Tom Peifer, manager of this year’s Little League team.
“High school was an incredible experience. If it wouldn’t have been, we couldn’t have been as excited about passing baseball down to our kids as we have been. When you have a son, and he takes interest in baseball, it quite honestly rekindles all that excitement.”
BUILDING THE FOUNDATION
Cook was still a fresh-faced young man when Red Land High School opened its doors for the 1964-65 academic year.
A graduate of the former New Cumberland High School, Cook played three years at West Chester State College (now University) before a shoulder injury cut short his playing career.
He spent three years helping coach baseball and football at Northern and Cedar Cliff before becoming Red Land’s first head coach in both sports.
While he ended his tenure as football coach in 1971, he stayed with the baseball program until his retirement in 2000.
“From the very beginning we had players the scouts were interested in,” Cook said, pointing to early Red Land standouts like longtime Phillies pinch hitter Greg Gross and Marietta College ace pitcher Al Witmer, whose playing career was halted after an automobile accident.
Danny Sheaffer, a catcher, journeyed through Red Land a few years later en route to successful stints in college (Clemson) and the pros (seven MLB seasons). Sheaffer is currently a minor league manager in the Tampa Bay organization.
But perhaps the greatest group Cook coached was that 1990 team that went 23-3 and took down Indian Valley in the PIAA championship at Shippensburg University.
Bret Wagner, now an assistant coach on this Little League team, was the ace and would eventually get drafted in the first round (1994) by the St. Louis Cardinals. Kyle, the catcher, joined his brother at Wake Forest before he was also drafted (12th round, California Angels, 1995).
Overall, Cook estimates 13 of his players went on to play professional baseball.
While that championship team wasn’t able to get together this year to celebrate its 25th anniversary, it did gather in 2010. And they stay connected through social media, all following the progress of this year’s Little League team.
“The baseball success has always been there, and I give a lot of that credit to Brandt Cook,” said Matt Jones, a power hitter on that 1990 team who’s been head coach at Shippensburg University since 2006.
“He’s an outstanding coach, and he’s the reason a lot of the former players got into coaching.”
SIMILARITIES FROM 1990 to 2015
It’s not just some of the last names that ring familiar when comparing the 1990 high school championship team to this year’s state championship Little League team.
“This team has tremendous chemistry,” said Jones, who’s been following Red Land’s run closely. “They’re really good baseball players, but the better teams you [see] are probably all a little bit weird.
“They have that Minion in the dugout, those kinds of traditions, and all of that stuff can be the difference when two good teams are playing. Our 1990 team was no different.”
Jones remembers team sleepovers at the Wagners’ house, with the movie “Major League” a constant in the VCR and Snap!’s “The Power” on repeat on teammate Jamie Beisel’s boombox. Peifer recalls the team shunning charter buses in favor of the traditional — and less flashy — school bus, which they nicknamed “Old Yeller.”
“Those kids played together for a long time, and they were willing to work hard every night,” Cook remembers. “And they were good friends. There were 16 or 17 kids on that team, and they would come to school in four or five cars. The year after they left, if we had 17 kids, they came in 17 different cars.”
Peifer says the smiles you see on this current batch of Little Leaguers is no accident.
“What’s funny to me is the way we were with that  group is the way we are with this group,” he said. “Practice was fun. You were just hanging out with your buddies.”
NO DISCOUNTING THE TALENT
Thing is, everybody could — or should — be having fun playing Little League baseball.
Red Land’s chemistry, their joy throughout this playoff run, is so obvious, astronauts could see it from space.
But joy and hard work alone don’t outscore 13 opponents 208-8 over the district, sectional and state playoffs.
Both Wagner twins independently used the phrase “perfect storm” when describing what we’re seeing with this Red Land team.
“This has a ‘Hoosiers’-type element to it,” Bret said, “and they’ve been playing together since they’re 7. But there are some super talented kids within the area. It’s not all just hard work.”
A majority of the team trains at GoWags Baseball in Camp Hill, a company started by Kyle in 2008 when he was coaching Red Land’s high school team. The company’s website includes a passionate “Open Letter to All Parents” from Kyle about the importance of learning from the many failures in baseball.
All of the lessons they’ve learned in various levels of baseball are being utilized to keep Red Land baseball atop the food chain.
“Playing for Red Land, winning a state championship, having success beyond high school, I suppose we created a baseball culture,” said Kyle Wagner, who coached his son, Luke, during last year’s Little League run.
“We tried to create a mentality of, dare I say, greatness. I guess in some respects, maybe that has sort of worked its way down to our sons. Maybe they appreciate the value of good baseball as well.”