24 years after Yuki Braxton’s near LLWS berth, her son earns trip

Yuki Braxton did not compete at the Little League World Series more than two decades ago, but she sure came close. Braxton, formerly Yuki Matsushita, played second base for Austria in 1993 and ’94 when her country played at the European Regional Tournament.

Little did Braxton know that 24 years following her final game she would finally live that Little League dream. This time it is Braxton’s son, Tai Peete playing. And this time the journey has reached the ultimate destination. Peete has provided excellent pitching, defense and offense, helping Peachtree City, Georgia reach its first Little League World Series.

Forgive Braxton if she does not feel like a kid again these days.

“I keep telling my son that this is going to be the best experience of his childhood. To this day I get chills thinking of the week we were there in Ramstein, Germany,” Braxton said. “It was quite an experience. It was so much fun. We got to play and hang out and have a lot of fun getting to know teams and players from all over the world. It was just amazing and now to watch Tai experience this is just incredible.”

Braxton has led quite an interesting life. Her father, Masayoshi Matsushita, is from Japan and her mother is from Switzerland. Masayoshi worked for the United Nations, so Braxton grew up in Vienna, Austria. At 15, her family moved to Japan. Braxton has dual citizenship, as does Peete and baseball is in the family genes. Her grandfather, Tomoichi Matsushita, is a Japanese coaching legend who led his teams to the prestigious National High School Baseball championship known as Summer Koshien seven times. The event is played at Japanese professional baseball stadiums and all other sports essentially stop during the tournament.

Masayoshi continued the family coaching business and coached the Austrian National baseball team. That love of baseball flowed to Braxton who aspired to play Major League Baseball. She started pursuing her dream at a time when Austria basically was just discovering baseball. It was not until the late 1980s that Austria really began developing baseball programs and it rarely even had baseball equipment available. Most of the equipment Austrian players used came from the United States.

Braxton played on baseball diamonds that were converted from soccer fields. They were a far cry from the immaculate fields her son is playing on at the Series and she once almost lost a tooth, taking a one-hopper that bounced off a sprinkler system rising through the ground.

Taking that into consideration, it is not surprising that Austria failed to capture the European championship in 1993 and 94 when Braxton competed there. Really, though, the games were insignificant to what Braxton remembers most. It was the joy of making new friends and being treated, not as a girl but as a baseball player by drill sergeant/coach Duane Deacon. It was starting of building something in Austria, something that helped lead to it nearly reaching this year’s Series.

“Our team was so new and we were so excited to be part of the experience. We were just thrilled to be at the European championship,” Braxton said. “We didn’t really expect to get to Williamsport. Just to see some of the other players was eye-opening. The team from Saudi Arabia had big kids who were throwing in the 70s and that was really impressive. It was fun to just see that level of play.”

Flash forward and Braxton now is seeing that high level of baseball being played every time her son competes. The baseball bug hit Peete early and he was swinging a bat or throwing a ball nearly as soon as he started walking. The flames have been fanned each year since and Peete has developed into one of Georgia’s premier youth baseball players. He is a five-tool athlete who throws 73 miles per hour and can play multiple positions.

He also hit .333 with a home run at the Southeast Regional and delivered a clutch three-run home run in the winners’ bracket final against Alabama. Peete also went 1-0 with a 0.86 ERA and struck out 10 in seven innings as Peachtree City went undefeated at a third straight tournament.

“Tai Peete probably hit the ball harder than anyone on the team at the (Southeast) tournament,” Peachtree City manager Patrick Gloriod said. “He probably would have done more, but a lot of times he hit the ball hard right at people.”

“He is a great kid,” said Peachtree City Little League president David Soper who coached Peete during the regular season and whose son Connor is also on the team. “I could tell from the first practice that he was great.”

That is what this experience has become as well. It helps Peete that he has a mother who has experienced nearly everything he has. Peete’s bed room is nearly a shrine to Los Angeles Angels’ center fielder Mike Trout. It speaks volumes about his relationship with his mom that Peete put a picture of her in the middle of those Trout photos.

Having this unique Little League link only makes that bond stronger. They certainly have some good stories they can share.

“It’s really awesome. I’m like a mirror image. We each love baseball and each got close or got to the Little League World Series,” Peete said. “She helps me a lot. She will tell me to relax and just do the best you can and have fun.”

Peete is now having more fun than ever before. Maybe it his mother’s experience, maybe it is his outgoing personality or maybe it is a little of both. Whatever the case, Peete provides Peachtree City not only a boost with his production, but also with his demeanor. He competes hard, but plays loose and helps keep his teammates relaxed. The results have been historic.

Now Peete has completed the final leg of a family journey that began 25 years ago. His mother has finally made it to the Little League World Series. And seeing her son playing really does make it a dream come true.

“After we came back from regionals, these two little kids went up to Tai and asked him to sign a baseball and that nearly brought me to tears to see that my 12-year old was signing autographs,” Braxton said. “I’ve only seen the Little League World Series on TV. It’s a dream to walk in there and to see my son playing at this type of level at an incredible facility. Our (family) love of baseball has been across the board and this is special.

“It’s really mind-blowing.”