Tennessee Little Leaguers near title game
It's been more than three weeks since the members of the Goodlettsville, Tenn., Little League team have been home.
But they're not homesick, they're living a dream. A win on Saturday in the United States Championship Game will put them in Sunday's Little League World Series Championship.
"It's just like a dream, really," said coach Joey Hale, whose day job for the last 21 years is as a Nashville firefighter. "Hopefully, we won't wake up any time soon. It's just been a wonderful, magical ride, I tell you. It's unbelievable. Better than anything we could've expected."
Hale spent Thursday with his family visiting Hershey, Pa., about a two-hour drive from Williamsport, the home of the World Series. On Thursday night when Hale was reached via phone by FoxSportsTennessee.com, his players were watching the Texas-California game, witnessing firsthand who their opponent will be for Saturday's 3 p.m. nationally televised game. California routed Texas in five innings, 11-1.
"They're enjoying it," Hale said of his players. "Being away, they're not with parents, they're with the coaches. They get a little freedom. It's something they'll never forget. It's been a lot of fun for them and us."
For now, the players don't have much of an idea as to the celebrity status they have attained back home. They hear in bits and pieces. But Hale said he is trying to keep tabs. On Wednesday, as Goodlettsville defeated San Antonio, 4-3, one Nashville television station did a story from a fire station, watching the game with the firemen. Hale said that one touched him personally. His father, an assistant coach on the team, is a retired Nashville firefighter.
On Saturday, Brock Myers will take the hill for Goodlettsville. The 13-year-old is 5-foot-8 and weighs 125 pounds and sounds like a gamer.
"He's an easy-going kid," Hale said. "He doesn't get real up or down. He likes to have the ball in his hand in the big games. He really wants to be the one on the mound in those games. It's a good trait to have because a lot of them shrink away or shy away from that challenge. He relishes it. He's just a good kid, not egotistical in any way.
"As far as this team, they're all equals. There isn't one guy who thinks he's better than anyone else. It helps them get along. If you don't get along, you won't have a very good team."
Goodlettsville has had plenty of heroes along the way. Among those Hale cited were Jake Rucker, who scored the tying run on Wednesday; Jayson Brown for his clutch hitting all tournament; Lorenzo Butler for his hitting and his defense, as he turned the double-play on Wednesday to end the game; Ryan Lyle for a key home run to start off the tournament; and Cole Carter for his skills behind the plate and at bat — he had the game-winning RBI on Wednesday.
"It ain't just one person," Hale said. "It's pretty much all of them have done something to help the team win. You can't rely on one guy or you won't be here too long."
On Friday, the players will get another thrill. They will be patched in via video conference with Tampa Bay all-star pitcher David Price, the Murfreesboro native who played at Vanderbilt.
Perhaps a motivational speech from Price will be enough to power Goodlettsville all the way.
"We're not worried about Sunday," Hale said. "We're just thinking about Saturday. If we win Saturday, Sunday is just kind of like the present on Christmas Day or something. If you win that game great; if you don't, that's fine, too.
"Our approach the whole way has been if we win, we win. If we don't, we don't. We're here. That was the goal, to get here. Once you're here, if you win games, that's great. If you don't that's fine, too."