One week. Nineteen Games. Moments that will be engraved in memory banks for years to come. The 2016 Senior League World Series had more than its share of highlight reel moments. Mark Mailloux’ full extension catch near the tarp in right field will forever be etched in tourney lore. The acrobatic feat helped thwart a potential early rally by Texas for the host Hampden-Hermon contingent in their opening contest. So spectacular was Mailloux’ grab it earned him a spot on ESPN’s Sportscenter Top Ten Plays!
Alex McKenney for the hosts also turned in a spectacular performance both with his arm and his bat. The rising Hampden Academy senior allowed only one run into the fifth, while stroking a couple hits, building an 8-1 lead before the club from San Antonio rallied to tie the contest in the seventh. Alex Applebee’s walk-off single in the bottom half of the inning scored Kent Johnson to send the hosts off to a grand start to what would be a dramatic series.
Two nights later Maine watched Wailuku, Hawaii load the bases with one out before pulling another Houdini act. Zach Nash fielded Anthony Tuionetoa’s ground ball up the middle, stepped on the bag for the second out and promptly hurled to first to send the host team to a third straight SLWS semifinal appearance. The tables would be reversed in the semis, as Melbourne, Australia rallied, like they had all week, from a 6-2 deficit in the bottom of the seventh, walking off with a 7-6 victory.
For those in attendance, who can forget the final play of the Texas-Australia game? Jalen Battles hit a solid single up the middle with the apparent game tying run heading around third for the plate. Aidan Willis from his center field position unleashed a dart towards the plate. Ciaran Palmer fielded on one bounce, tagged the runner at the plate, leaving many in attendance wondering what just happened. It was a scene that would unfold many times during the week. The Australian outfield had some of the strongest, most accurate arms we have witnessed at the SLWS.
How about the way the Clear Ridge Little League from Chicago hit the ball up and down the line-up? They were the deepest team in the field, as evidenced by their run to the world championship.
If you have spent any time over the years at the Senior League World Series, you are keenly aware the play on the field is only part of the action. Take a look around the Mansfield Stadium grounds. You’ll see teams from different states and nations interacting, sparking new friendships. Through the advent of social media, many will rekindle these newly formed relationships for years to come.
Of particular note, when you looked into the stands at this year’s World Series, you may have noticed a group of young men in gold jerseys with green trim surrounded by many. Those were the uniforms worn by the Asia-Pacific champions, the Southern Mariners Little League from Melbourne, Australia.
What was it about the lads from down under which caused several to draw to them like bees to honey? Certainly, there was the curiosity factor. The Aussies speak in a manner we aren’t accustomed to in the states. Friends are mates. If they are happy to see you, you’ll likely be greeted with “Cheers, mate”. The reason they were able to draw so many supporters and make so many friends goes far beyond that. Having spent much time with them over the week, they were one of the most genuine, easy-going group of people I’ve ever been around. There wasn’t any pretense about them.
While they were there to win a championship, which they well one game short of, they also knew how to have a good time. Don’t confuse the outward laissez faire appearance for a lack of competitiveness. When it was time to play they gave it their all and did so in a most sportsmanlike fashion. This was evidenced in their come from behind victory over Hampden-Hermon in the semi-finals, who by the way was an exemplary host for this year’s series. Following their victory celebration, there was also empathy shown for their newly formed mates from Maine, who suffered an excruciating loss. Many of the players embraced through the line, a sign of mutual love and respect.
Due to the deep friendships formed between the hosts and the Aussies, several of the players expressed how they wished they could have played a different opponent in the semi-finals. They knew a victory for them would be devastating to their friends on the opposing team. Such were the bonds formed between these two communities continents apart.
As I reflect upon my time with the lads from Australia, I have this thought: Am I the type of person people would want to be drawn to? Do I have qualities in my life that repel people away? People will usually fall into one of these two categories. While it’s been said misery loves company, most simply don’t want to hang out with a Debbie downer. Think about it: we all have those in our lives we’d rather not spend time with, whether it be a work associate, acquaintance, or maybe even a family member? I choose to be with people who edify me, who bring out my best. I’m sure most of you do too. Which type of person are we and going forward what type of person will we choose to be?
Some will argue life lessons are no longer being taught in athletics. I defy anyone to have attended this year’s Senior League World Series and say life lessons were not taught. Lessons in how to enjoy oneself yet compete at a high level, while doing so with tremendous sportsmanship was on display for all to see. These lessons were taught by a group of fifteen and sixteen year old boys along with their coaches.
Through our American pride, if would behoove us at times to learn from other cultures. I wish as a nation we took ourselves a little less seriously at times and just allowed ourselves to be a little more laid back. We put up walls, caring too much about what others think. I learned from the Australian kids it’s okay to just be who you are.
Thank you to my fellow mates from Australia for reminding us how beautiful sports can be. You were the epitome of what sports at its best looks like. To my new found friends from down under: Cheers Mates!.