Greenville LL team leaving behind a legacy

Sure, Greenville, North Carolina enjoys various sports and has achieved success playing them. If one is looking for what provides the city’s sports heart beat, though, head toward a baseball field.

This is a passionate baseball town. A rich culture has been developed over the past 50 years. Ronald Vincent, the J.H. Rose High School coach in Greenville, has won a state-record 900 games and six state championships. Nearby East Carolina came within a timely hit of reaching the 2016 College World Series. Then there is Little League, where Greenville’s North State and Tar Heel leagues have won 12 state championships.

Obviously, there is some rich history there. Standing out in Greenville is not easy, but the North State Little League All-Stars are standing above all the rest these days. Becoming just the second Greenville team to ever reach the Little League World Series can do that.

“It’s mind-boggling what they’ve done. I played collegiate baseball and in the Minor Leagues and never experienced anything like I did (when they won regionals). It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt,” Greenville manager Brian Fields said. “These guys have come together and done something special.”

“It’s a baseball crazy town and it all starts when they’re real young,” North Scott President Brian Weingartz said. “It’s amazing to me that our kids have been able to do that this year. It’s amazing for this town to reach this point.”

Tar Heel Little League, which shares a field with North State, is the only other Greenville team to reach the Series, doing so in 1998. This Greenville team is just the fifth from North Carolina to reach the Series and the first since Morganton in 2004. Whatever the level, Greenville has a long tradition of winning baseball.

This team not only is carrying that tradition on, but is enriching it. Greenville entered the Series undefeated and beat 2016 Southeast finalists Goodlettsville, Tennessee and Peachtree City, Georgia to win that regional title. So as good as so many other Greenville teams are, it is the Little Leaguers being treated like Major Leaguers.

“You would think they are about ready to play in the super bowl. The whole city has really come together,” said Aaron Givens, who coached the league’s regular season champions. “Everyone is very excited. They have been viewing parties at different restaurants. Any place that has a TV, everyone is watching. I grew up playing in this league in the late 80s, so it’s really cool to see the kids receiving such great support.”

North State Little League won its first state title since 1984 earlier this month. The Tar Heel Little League has won several others during that time, but North Scott laid the foundation for this run last year The 8-10 and 9-11 age groups both won state championships. The 9-11s competed in the Tournament of Champions Regional tournament against seven other Southeast teams a year ago, losing to perennial Georgia power Columbus.

That gave Greenville a sense of what it could do. It also provided added motivation. Greenville would not be denied this time, staging a big comeback in the state tournament and erasing a three-run deficit against Georgia in the Southeast final. It is a cliche, but it also is true that it has been a team effort. Look throughout Greenville’s roster and one will see that at some point during this all-star run, each player has been a big reason its team won that day.

“Roles change and one thing we preach is you have to accept what your role is going to be for the team and you have to embrace it,” Fields said. “It takes 13 players to win. Every player is important and we tell them that every at-bat, every out is important and they have done a nice job embracing that.”

One does not have the success Greenville has had without possessing strong coaches. Vincent is a high school coaching legend, but the youth coaches also figure prominently in those players being polished when arriving at high school. Greenville’s team is immensely talented but so are so many others that it has played against at every postseason tournament. The players are driven, fundamentally-sound and well taught.

Many coaches and board members competed in the North Scott Little League and that plays a large role in a good cycle continuing each year. They know not just how to teach the game, but how to push the right buttons and show the players they can shine on and off the field.

“They do it with pride. Mike Vaughn and Brian Fields are teaching them more than baseball which most of these coaches are doing as well,” Givens said. “Greenville Little League is the only place I know that doesn’t get complaints if people don’t play. We gets more complaints if they don’t practice enough than if they are practicing too much. We’re trying to teach more than just baseball. We’re trying to teach them how to be young men and how to do things the right way.”

They are doing a good job at it. North Scott and Tar Heel Little Leagues came together last year after Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina and donated more than $20,000 to league families hit hard and to the city. The players were as eager as the coaches and board members to help. That tournament/home run derby fundraiser was even more impressive than Greenville reaching the Series.

“The pulse of this town is Greenville Little League and when someone is affected, you see everyone come together,” Givens said. “It is just a great group of kids.”

Nine months later,Greenville continues producing positive headlines. Expect the city to keep doing that in the coming years at whatever level baseball is being played.

The bonus for these Little Leaguers is knowing that some day they can look back and know that in this town where baseball rules, they were once its kings.