Shortstop Grant Gomez is like many Texas baseball players.
He loves the game, but the past few seasons Gomez enjoyed only playing travel select baseball. Last fall, though, his football coach Mike Shull asked him to give Little League a shot. Gomez would not regret it, he told him.
Shull had some big-time pull, considering he coached the McAllister Park American All-Stars to the Little League World Series national championship three years ago. Gomez listened and gave it a shot.
Here is thinking Gomez loves that decision these days.
Gomez and McAllister Park from San Antonio, Texas, once again are playing on Little League's biggest stage. McAllister Park once again is one of the world's top Little League teams.
It also has become one of its model programs.
"All the kids that I talk to are convinced that Little League is really more fun and exciting," said Shull, who led the 10-year-old McAllister Park all-stars to a state championship earlier this summer. "Travel ball is tournament all the time and you really don't know anybody else except who's on your team where as in Little League you get to know about 100 other kids and hang out and play with them. It's a wonderful community experience."
Especially for those playing in the McAllister Park Little League.
Prior to 2009, no team from San Antonio had reached the Little League World Series. McAllister Park changed that and in doing so changed its league, possibly forever. An already strong league, that is split into two divisions, its enrollment shot up.
Each year those numbers have been increasing and there could be a huge upward spike next year. McAllister Park is becoming Texas' premier league. Now, so many who live in the area want to take part. Nobody wants to miss out on the next big thing.
"Select baseball has a good grip on the rest of the country, but in our area most of the best baseball players still play at McAllister Park," McAllister Park coach Mike Morrow said. "There is a legacy that if you are a player you go to McAllister Park because that is where all the other good players are. I'm not sure a lot of Little League programs have been able to have that kind of legacy."
The 2012 McAllister Park American all-stars have greatly enriched that legacy. Just getting out of the Texas West Region is an accomplishment in itself, but McAllister Park made it look easy at times. It shutout its first five opponents and outscored its first eight 92-7 before winning two straight one-run games against 2007 Series qualifier Lubbock Southwest to capture the championship.
The Southwest Regional tournament was another demonstration of McAllister Park's dominance as it outscored five opponents, 51-3, shutting out four of them. McAllister Park is where the best of the best in that area compete and now, for the second time in four seasons, a world championship is within reach.
"I compare it to when we play other Little Leagues and the coaches from McAllister Park do a great job on the field," said Neil Scarborough, whose son Tanner played on the 2009 team and whose other son Jack plays on this year's team. "There's a network there. All the kids are friends and all the families know about it. McAllister Park truly is a family. It takes a village and we have one."
McAllister Park does not just excel at the 12-year-old level, either. It is in the hunt for state championships at every level, including softball. Shull coached another state champion this season and current manager Jack Wideman won several state championships while coaching softball in the past.
Wideman still is the vice president of softball on the McAllister Park board so this is a league firmly focused on helping boys and girls of all ages excel.
"What McAllister Park has done the last five years is take a lot of pride in the way we coach the kids. The coaches from the 2009 team, like Mike Shull, showed us how to do it," Wideman said. "You have to have a good group of kids and these kids are winners. They have good parents, too, who believe in the system and believe in the coaches.
"It just works."
And because it does, the McAllister Park family has increased the last few weeks. Since it started romping through regionals, McAllister Park has added many fans to its fan base. These days they are the talk of San Antonio.
The Spurs usually are the big sports story in San Antonio but these days the 12-year-olds from McAllister Park have taken over.
"San Antonio is a very supportive community in terms of teams and special events," Morrow said. "It's really a unique place in that when you get a team on a roll like this it truly becomes a community event. There have been watch parties when we are on TV that the league didn't have a hand in setting up. They are getting the 'rock star' treatment."
And the best Little League in Texas is reaping the benefits.