It was a great run. Just getting to the hallowed grounds of Williamsport, Pennsylvania is a major accomplishment. The boys of the Cumberland American All-Stars put a little town in the tiny state of Rhode Island on the map. They reminded us why we loved baseball in the first place– the camaraderie, the exhilaration, the simplicity.
Baseball is a simple game. You need a bat, ball, and glove. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You run. Anyone can do it. It’s an all-inclusive sport. Just look how great a story Mo’ne Davis has been. She — yes, she — has been lights out on the mound in Williamsport.
One loses sight of how simple and beautiful a game baseball is by watching Major Leaguers play. All the pomp and circumstance has gotten ridiculous. You have David Ortiz spitting in his gloves and clapping his hands before every pitch. You have Clay Buchholz taking a minute before every pitch. Games take forever to play. You have bean ball incidents over “unwritten rules.” You have players feeling “disrepected” despite making millions and millions of dollars to play a child’s game.
Watching the Little League World Series strips baseball down to its glorious roots. Baseball is a team sport. In the long run, no one player can be a dominant factor. The team is only as strong as its weakest link. An individual hitter only gets three or four at-bats a game to make a difference.
I thank the Cumberland team for reminding me how great a sport baseball is. They played with unity. They played with passion. They fought tooth and nail until the final out (and even beyond). Most importantly, they had fun. Friendships and memories were forged that will last a lifetime. They learned life lessons during their week in Pennsylvania.
A lot of the credit has to go to their coach, David Belisle. Throughout the week of games, Belisle enforced to various players at various opportune times that the team would not be where they were without their individual contributions. He reminded them to have fun. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. He reminded them that they had a community, a town, an entire state proud of them. He told them that no matter what the scoreboard might read at the end, they were all already winners.
Cumberland’s Friday victory over Nashville, Tennessee may have been the best baseball game I’ve seen all season. Cumberland coughed up a 5-2 lead in the final inning only to come back in their last at-bat (down to their final strike) to score a walk-off 8-7 victory. The victory embodied their never-say-die approach.
Monday night, the Cumberland kids were physically no match for their opponents from Chicago. It was obvious the Chicago kids were far superior, talent-wise, to the Cumberland kids. What the Cumberland kids lacked physically they more than made up with mental toughness. For a time it looked as if Cumberland was going to pull off the David versus Goliath upset. They had a 7-6 lead after four innings, but they couldn’t hold on against the murderer’s row offense of Chicago.
Even still, they put up a valiant effort in their last at-bats against a pitcher who was throwing the equivalent of 100 mph major league fastballs. They strung together solid at-bats against a pitcher who had struck out virtually every hitter he’s faced in Williamsport. Even the final strike was symbolic of the Cumberland team. Friday night’s hero, CJ Davock, swung and missed at a pitch down in the dirt for strike three and while the Chicago kids stormed the field and celebrated, Davock raced down to first and then slid into second. There was a chance the ball may have hit the dirt requiring a force play at first base and Davock knew it. Alas, the replay showed the catcher caught the ball cleanly, but it was a great example of how this team never quits.
Coach David Belisle then delivered a postgame speech to his players which will not be soon forgotten. Think Herb Brooks and Lake Placid. The video of Belisle’s video has gone viral and has made him a star, nationally. But it’s the kids that are the stars. For one shining moment, those kids put Cumberland, Rhode Island on the map.