You Can’t Beat Little League


Anyone who has a son or daughter that plays baseball or softball knows that things are starting to wind down for your family’s baseball journeys. It doesn’t matter if they are part of a team that follows the USSSA circuit or they play in the Park and Recreation Leagues.

 

Usually, July is a time for vacations, county fairs, and hanging around an air conditioner.

 

I’m afraid there wasn’t near that much baseball organization growing up in a small, Nebraska town in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. The only organization I could see was the baseball equipment always showed up in the dugout for the first practice. Several bats, a few worn-out baseballs and a set of cheap catcher’s equipment were stored in a burlap sack.

 

No one brought their own bats. All the bats were made of wood. A couple had skinny handles, other had fat handles, some were very heavy, and some were just right.

 

It was the coaches that stand out in my memory. Some were parents just trying to help their kid play on a decent team. My cousin’s coach in Hallam, Nebraska, was a young guy from the community that really knew the game of baseball. If I was visiting during one of their practices, I was asked to leave when they went over the signs the third base coach would send to the batter.

 

I was envious of that coach and I hated their team. Mostly I hated the team because we couldn’t beat them. They had a pitcher that rarely faced more than the minimum. He was big for his age, could throw it very hard and hardly ever walked a batter, our main source of offense.

 

That Hallam team could really hit the baseball, too. My cousin was one of the better hitters. His neighbor was a chunky left-handed batter that could hit it in corn fields that bordered most ball diamonds. They were good and I hated them.

 

Beside parent-coaches in Clatonia, we had a few memorable characters. One coach the parents found for us was an alcoholic. He didn’t know much about baseball and asked a friend of mine and me to help him coach. Thirteen year old coaches probably didn’t help the team much.

 

At the end of the year, he offered to take my friend and I on a fishing trip as a reward for helping him. The lake was a six hour drive. By the time we arrived about midnight, the coach had drunk enough beer that he put his tent up inside out. It’s a miracle we made it home.

 

Another time, we had a guy who managed a local saw mill coach the team. We never saw him drink during a game, which was an improvement over the other coach. He knew a lot about the saw mill, but not much about baseball. I asked him if we would have any signs for the batter and I got a blank stare.

 

Little League Baseball is now defined by the ESPN coverage of the Little League World Series. Maryville is part of that Little League system, participating in the Northwest Little League that goes as far east as Albany.

 

Each year, teams compete for the Northwest Little League title in several age groups. That includes the 11–13 age group that concludes in Williamsport in August on ESPN. The Northwest Little League selects an all-star team at the end of the year. Coaches are nominated and they begin regional play.

 

Right now the Northwest Little League is competing in Eaglesville for a spot in the Missouri State Championship. They look like they are a shoo-in to make it, steamrolling all their competition to date. The state tournament is played in De Soto, Missouri where four team fight for the right to go to the next level.

 

That level is competing for the national regional championship which includes teams from North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri. Win that tournament and you are one of eight national regional champions that gets an invitation to Williamsport and face time on ESPN. There also are eight international regional champions in the Little League World Series. What you see on television is the American champion against the International champion.

 

You can see the enormous odds against the Northwest Little League of advancing all the way to Williamsport. This year’s team may not make it, but they are as talented as any from Northwest Missouri.

 

For several years, I coached a Maryville Little League team with Jeff Patton. Jeff’s oldest son, Zach, is the same age as my son, Sam. Both will be seniors at Maryville High School and out of the Little League system.

 

Jeff isn’t through with Little League. His youngest son, Adam, is playing on the Northwest All-Star team. He hit a walk-off, grand slam homer last week in regional play. The grand slam made the 10-run mercy rule go into effect. It gives you an idea of how good this team is playing.

 

Adam’s not the only Maryville kid on the Northwest All-Star team. Drew Burns and Caden Stoecklein made the cut. According to Jeff, Caden more than made the cut. It sounds like Caden possesses a lot of skills that allows him to dominate at the plate and in the field. Besides all that, he’s a great pitcher.

 

Memphis Bliley and Matt Jermain represent Conception. The word is Memphis is a shut-down pitcher. Boston Adwell, Dillon McIntyre and Alex Mattson come off the tournament champion Ravenwood team. Dillon is one of the boys that can really pitch or so I’ve heard.

 

Rounding out the team is Truman Runnels from Albany, Wyatt Miller from Barnard, Grant McIntyre of Ravenwood and Colby McQuinn from Stanberry. They are coached by Brett Adwell, Lloyd Bliley and Keith McQuinn.

 

I hope they keep their signs secret like that Hallam team did many years ago. Maybe we’ll see them on ESPN. You just can’t beat Little League.

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