Brock Myers jogged from the first base dugout to the mound on Field 1 at Moss Wright Park carrying himself with a confident demeanor unlike that of most 13-year-olds.
Amy Myers said it’s all business when her son is on the field.
His windup and delivery, not unlike his on-field attitude, are mature beyond their years. With fluid motion, he sent a pitch to home plate, cutting through the breeze that moved toward right field.
You couldn’t tell by his expression and body language, but late in the game, Brock found himself in a jam. With two outs and two runners aboard, he gave up a home run to left-center field that shortened his team’s lead to two runs. The opposing side’s fans rose and roared. Home runs against Brock Myers don’t come easily, after all.
Stone-faced, the pitcher waited for the umpire to toss him another ball. He stood tall once again on the rubber and struck out the next batter, ending the inning like nothing happened.
“Since getting back from Williamsport, there has been this phase we went through where everyone really wants to strike him out and hit his pitches,” Amy Myers said.
Kurt Myers, Brock’s dad, said they thought the 2012 Goodlettsville all-star team would have targets on their backs after returning from the Little League World Series.
Brock shrugged his shoulders, smiled and said he’s used to it now.
“It makes me want to get the next guy out even more,” said the poised little leaguer.
The boys from Goodlettsville are nearly a year removed from their journey that landed them on Little League’s field of dreams in Williamsport, Pa., and in the championship game against Japan.
The target on their backs wasn’t the only thing they had to get used to when the new baseball season rolled around.
The field that their age group now plays on is significantly larger than a year ago. The pitcher’s mound sits 60 feet 6 inches from home plate, 14 feet farther than last year. The base paths moved from 60 feet to 90 feet.
“I have to cover a lot more space in the outfield, and as a hitter, you have to wait on the ball a lot longer because it isn’t coming as fast,” said Jayson Brown, who plays both infield, outfield and also pitches. “As a pitcher from the new distance, you have to place the ball a lot better, and you have to work the outside corner and the inside corner.”
Kip Brown, Jayson’s dad and a coach at Pope John Paul II High School, said it took about a month or two for his son to adjust to the bigger field.
“They also had to learn how to lead off and read a pitcher’s moves, which are things they didn’t do in the younger league,” Kip said. “But after that transition period, he has done pretty well with the change.”
Jake Rucker was on the 2012 all-star team, and plays in the 13- and 14-year-old league in Goodlettsville as well. He and Brown also play together on the same travel team out of Franklin.
Rucker, a pitcher and shortstop, agreed that the transition to the field’s larger dimensions was tough at first, but said like Brown, has adjusted over time.
Last year’s Goodlettsville all-star team was the first to represent Tennessee in the Little League World Series championship game. The all-star team from 2011 finished as the runner-up in the Southeast regional tournament, and they felt there was unfinished business to take care of.
“When we were 11 we got put out by North Carolina in the championship, and we should have won that game,” said Jayson Brown. “So we got mad, and last year we came back and really wanted to make it to Williamsport.”
And after beating the team from Warner Robins, Ga., in the Southeast Region tournament, that’s exactly what they did. And when explaining that feeling, the players all used the same description. A dream.
“That is what it was to make it that far, a dream,” Jake said. “It really didn’t feel real when we got to go to Williamsport.”
Jayson had played Little League World Series video games and watched it on TV and said making it that far just didn’t seem real.
“I will never forget when we pulled up in the bus, we looked over the hill and saw the stadium with the lights on,” Jayson said. “We went out and walked on it, and it was awesome.”
Kurt Myers recalled watching his son over the past four years sit at the computer looking up every video he could find on the Little League World Series. He said Brock watched old games, new games and anything related that he could get his hands on.
“I knew it was his dream,” Kurt Myers said. “When we got there I realized that it is rare for parents to watch their kids live out their dream, and you always encourage them to dream, so it was just incredible.”
The players’ families even found out once they got there, that Williamsport is a special place.
“I remember how beautiful it was,” said Kip Brown. “Walking up and seeing the stadium was breathtaking. It was baseball heaven.”
The team soaked up every second of the experience, and the boys quickly became stars in their own right. They received free gear and were asked for autographs and pictures with fans.
“A big thing I noticed with the kids was they were very popular with the ladies,” coach Joey Hale said. “You know how when a 12-year-old kid starts to get interested in girls, normally the guy has to go chase the girl, but up there it is totally the other way around. I am pretty sure it boosted their confidence.
“I could really tell a difference because guys that were hitting pretty good at the time started hitting great all of a sudden. I’m convinced that was because all these girls were patting them on the back saying how awesome they were.”
Goodlettsville finished with the tournament’s highest team batting average, .385. It also led the 16-team field with a .460 on-base percentage, .748 slugging percentage and 14 home runs.
Hale said they just took being there as a gift with the mindset that they were just going to play hard, and whatever happened would happen.
“Next thing you know, we looked up and we are beating everyone in sight,” Hale said. “Just being around the kids and watching them enjoy that success was a lot of fun for me.”
Although Goodlettsville and its high-powered offense fell to Japan in the championship, there was still a celebration awaiting them.
When the players arrived back in their hometown, they were immediately taken to the city hall where family and friends greeted them as heroes. It didn’t stop at city hall as they made appearances for the Predators, Titans, Vanderbilt, the Sounds and the Braves over the course of the next several months.
“I knew there would be a lot of people around here that cared about how we did and it felt amazing to have all the support from the people when we came back,” Rucker said. “It was awesome to make those appearances and just to be there was great.”
Kip Brown said for a while, the team was doing as many as three or four events a week and it was hard to get back to a sense of normalcy, but they didn’t want to miss anything because it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“It has mostly died down,” he said. “Jayson still gets some people coming up to him, mostly the little kids that play there run up to him and still look up to him.”
Some may think that that team’s impact has reached an end along with the appearances and attention. But their effect went beyond baseball and the height of fame they achieved.
If anyone knows how much last year’s all-star season meant it is Kip Brown because as a kid, he also played little league in Goodlettsville who he said has always been a baseball town.
“For the community I think there is a lot of pride around here and they just really rallied behind us, and it gave a lot of local people something to cheer for,” Kip Brown said. “To hear the announcer say Goodlettsville vs. Japan over the speakers was wild when you really step back and think about it.”
That is one of the special things about not only Little League Baseball, but also Goodlettsville’s story.
Unless all these players end up attending the same school in the future, which is unlikely, then last summer was the last time they will all play on the same team.
Sure, some might not even be playing baseball in a few years anyway, but the chances that those who are playing end up on the same team are low because it has been years since Goodlettsville had a central high school, and the players aren’t going through the same school system.
“Our community doesn’t really have a high school identity, so it kind of created a community identity that normally would rally around a high school, and it brought a lot of people together around here,” Kurt Myers said.
Think of the feelings every four years when Olympic and World Cup teams come and go. Some of the players come back, but some of them will be past their primes or retired by the time the next games come around. And at some point along the line, we come to the realization that it is not just the end of a season, but in a sense the end of an era.
The boys from Goodlettsville made every second of their “era” count.
Hale said it meant the world to the people of their town and many would say it put the town on the map. He has also seen a large influx of younger players join the league since last summer.
“To see the involvement of the children in the community grow is great and being on teams teaches them so much,” Amy Myers said. “Brock in the past year has learned more life lessons than you could imagine just from being on a team by learning to win, learning to lose, learning to have bad and good days, learning how to deal with adversity and to motivate yourself. Those things are invaluable.”
Added Kip Brown: “I think they handled themselves last summer with a lot of class, respect and dignity and didn’t boast or anything like that so I think that they earned a lot of respect. They are just good kids and then they ended up doing really well so it is just a really great story and we were blessed to be a part of it.”