Ch. 1: First Catch (Huey)
It was always a dream of mine to be in this moment. I was about to play in the biggest game of my life and I hadn't even reached my teenage years. From the time I picked up my first glove to now, it has simply been a crazy journey. But I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.
I was born in a small town in the state of Indiana. My dad was 36-years old when he met my mom, who was eleven years his junior. It sounds pretty bizarre in my opinion because I always thought parents should at least be five years apart from each other. That's what many of my friends say because they had parents that were five years apart or less. Yet, I wasn't going to question the logic because the heart plays tricks on people. That's what would happen to me later on.
Anyways, my dad was a military man who took part in the Gulf War. He was engaged in any battle but was only there to prepare the troops who would be taking part. It was a job he despised because he felt like he wanted to be part of the action.
In a cruel twisted way, he was part of the action. While traveling with a unit that had just completed another mission by way of a jeep, there was an explosion that occurred by the side of the road where the jeep was driving. A majority of men were wounded while only a few men lost their lives. Dad survived the explosion but was left with scars and injuries all over his body. He was taken to a nearby medical center where he would recover.
Amazingly, his nurse would turn out to be my mother. Dad thought she was a beautiful woman and fell in love with her on the spot. But, he never made a move to ask her out for fear she was either married or was never interested in relationships because of her work. Both reasons were somewhat true. My mom had previously been married, which ended in divorce because of her stints in the military. She was so dedicated to her position as an army nurse that she couldn't find the time to meet a man in her life.
But when she saw my dad, she claimed her heart started to beat somberly as if it felt sorry and she wanted to help. She did everything she could to make him fully better as she could. Despite her efforts, the scars were still there while dad had a limp in his walk. He remained on assignment with his squad before receiving word that he had been discharged. That wasn't the news he wanted to hear. But he had no other choice. He went back home and tried to go back into civilian life working as a construction worker.
It took him a while to get the process down of being a worker. But once he figured it out, he became one of the construction company's best employers. He made friends with the other workers, who invited out to grab a few drinks. Ironically, one of those workers was interested in a local woman, who recently became friends with someone that she felt needed a date. As crazy as it sounds, the two of them arranged a double-date with my dad and this friend. They met at a deli restaurant of all places.
But to my dad's shock and amazement, as the door opened and he saw the two women, one of them was none other than my soon-to-be-mother. She had also finished up her stint in the military and was enjoying life as a citizen. This was supposed to be a double date, but it wound up being a full night of my parents flirting, talking, dancing, and nearly having their first kiss. That part wouldn't happen until two days later when Dad asked Mom on a date.
It took my dad six months to realize my mom was the one, but he waited until a year-and-a-half later to propose to her. Of course, Mom said yes and they were married seven months later. It was a year later that they had my older brother Bryce. Then I came into the world a year after that.
I don't remember much of Indiana because I was only there for six months before Dad got a job down in San Antonio, Texas. So we moved and spent the rest of my childhood there. I was about six years old when I first got into baseball. My parents like to say four because of the advantage of getting a head start in the sport. I played all sports like baseball, football, and basketball. But there was no denying that baseball was it for me.
My first exposure to baseball was when Dad took me to see the Astros play. It was an exciting time for me as I got to see real-life pros play the game. I got my first baseball after dad caught a foul ball off the bat of one of the players and fortunately, the Astros won the game. So that was a moment I felt like it was my destiny to play the game.
Low and behold, after a few seasons of playing on tee-ball teams, my dad met a co-worker, who had a son that started playing for a little league squad and he thought it would be a good idea for me to join the team. Being nine at the time, I happily agreed because it was a way to finally face pitching for the first time ever. But early on in my tenure, I wished I had stayed in tee-ball.
I just couldn't hit anything. I would swing at pitches that were right in the middle or outside. But every time, I came up with nothing but air. I thought about quitting the game my first year because I was striking out almost every time. But my parents, coaches, and teammates told me to keep my head up. After a while, I got my first hit and everyone was happy for me. By the end of my first season in little league, I had picked up 10 hits and I was ok with that because most of my teammates had recorded 20-25 hits throughout the season.
We were really good in my first year in Little League. But we had our sights set higher. Our goal was to make it to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The coaches believed we had the team that could compete and get there. But after two more seasons as a 10 and 11-year old, our team couldn't get past the regionals. The kids from Louisiana seemed to build a dynasty during my time there and we would always run into them.
It was down to my last season in little league. We couldn't waste our chance this year. If we failed to get there, our potential to get to Williamsport would not be fulfilled. So it was Williamsport or bust. But we were blessed to have a bunch of up and coming kids that had played together well below us and produced championship teams in their previous leagues. It was like they knew what strengths they had to win. As soon as I saw that, I felt like this was our year.
We had no trouble winning district and sectionals by going undefeated. By the time we reached the state tournament, we were on such a roll that we believed there wasn't any team that could touch us. It was pretty ideal for any team to get from confident to borderline cocky. We looked at the teams in our state tournament and felt nobody was going to beat us.
The first three games saw us outscore the opposition 40-3. I can remember one at-bat when I went yard for my first home run of the season. It was an opposite-field shot against a team from Lufkin and it set the tone for what wound up being a 20-1 win for us. That moment brought me a feeling that we were destined to win.
We needed to win four games in the tournament to advance on. Sure enough, we won the first three games. But then, we stumbled with a loss to a team from Arlington of all places. That didn't eliminate us from the tournament yet. It just brought a winner take all game where the winner moves on and the loser goes home. Yet, even with that loss, I still felt confident that we were going to win the next day.
Thank god for six runs in the first inning as we tore into those kids. It took only four innings before we finished off the 13-2 win. After the game, our coach gave us a pep talk about not overlooking anyone in this tournament because we would get beat if we did that. That was a lesson we learned the hard way and it was a mistake we vowed never to make again.
Now it was on to regionals. After winning our first few games, we were in the championship against a team from Lafayette, Louisiana. This was the team that had beaten us for the regional championship the previous year. So we had unfinished business against them.
The game didn't start well for us as we fell behind 2-0 in the first inning. It stayed that way until the bottom of the third when we put together a rally to load the bases. I came up and hit a line drive into the gap that cleared the bases and gave us a 3-2 lead. At that time, it was the biggest hit of my career because I was never a run-producing player. But that moment gave me three RBIs and the lead. We then added insurance as we scored two runs in the fourth and one in the fifth to lead 6-2.
But the Louisiana team never gave up. They loaded the bases in the top of the sixth inning with nobody out. Thankfully, our defense recorded two outs at the expense of two runs. So with two outs, the tying run came to plate as we led 6-4. Our pitcher threw three of the best pitches I've ever seen and all three went by the hitter for a strikeout. We dogpiled on the pitcher's mound and celebrated as we were on our way to Williamsport.
Around this time, we would be gearing up for school. But since we were moving on to the Little League World Series, we got to miss out on the first week of school. Oh, we were aware that we had plenty of stuff to catch up on. That would come later because, for the time being, we were on cloud nine.
It was really great being in Williamsport. But most teams there were just happy being here. We weren't. We were there to win it all. That statement was made clear when we destroyed Georgia 14-2 in the first game. The second game was closer, but we managed to pull out a 3-1 win over New Jersey and advanced to the second round.
The thing with the Little League World Series is that it's a double-elimination tournament until you reach the United States championship game. So one more win and we were in. However, we were blindsided in a loss to California. That was a team we felt would be the best team we faced on our side of the bracket. We started that game off well with two runs in the first inning. But then, California stunned us with four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning and we never recovered. So they went to the U.S championship game while we were in a do-or-die elimination game.
I was probably more nervous for that game than any other game because I hated playing pressure games. It was going to be a coin flip. Either we win and stay alive or we lose and go home. Fortunately, Michigan had a bad game against us as we put up seven runs in the first and never looked back. We were back and ready to take down California in the championship game.
Whoever won this game would go on to take on a team from Japan for the World Championship game. Both teams had the capability to do the job of winning it all. I was convinced we were going to win. That was until I saw who California was going to start.
If there was one thing California had going for them, it's a 1-2 combo. That means they had two pitchers that could pitch really well. We faced their #1 pitcher in Joe Stevens. He had taken a perfect game into the last inning in the first game against Missouri. While we did have success against him in our first meeting, he still got the win because of our late-game collapse. Stevens was not going to be pitching until the world championship game. Therefore, we were going up against the number two. This pitcher was getting more attention than Stevens in more ways than one.
I had seen something like this happen before. But never before would I ever imagine getting involved in a situation I was about to get myself into. The pitcher's name was Jordan Klinger, a southpaw pitcher who could not only deliver a fastball, but also a devastating curveball. In Klinger's first start, Massachusetts didn't even get a runner to third base as California shut them out as well.
In a time where the spotlight was always on you, no one got the bigger headlines than Klinger. I still to this day wonder how it was handled, but Jordan Klinger had to be the most sought-after little league pitcher in the world. On this day, the eyes of the world would be watching as my team would go toe-to-toe with the mighty Jordan Klinger, the best number two pitcher in the world. And also, the best female little league pitcher in the world.