McCrea overcomes injuries to reach Series

The mask he wears which protects his face makes Matthew McCrea Jr. look like a superhero.

While he is just a human, McCrea has displayed superhero toughness this summer. The Des Moines, Iowa, center fielder/second baseman twice has endured brutal facial injuries, but he is still standing. Against the odds, he even made his Little League World Series debut Saturday against Coventry, Rhode Island. He has missed a few games along the way, but McCrea is a huge reason Des Moines is playing at the Series.

McCrea was sidelined at the Midwest Regional when a fastball struck him in the face. McCrea broke an eye socket, his nose and his cheekbone. It was similar to an injury he suffered last April when he was hit by a pitch in nearly the same spot. McCrea missed little time from that injury and became one of the all-star team’s most valuable players.

Showing his trademark toughness, McCrea missed only one Series game before returning yesterday against Rhode Island. He is a player who shows no fear and plays each game like it is his last.

“He’s a real strong kid,” Des Moines manager Matt Kunert said. “He’s the smallest guy on the team, but he has a strong heart and he has battled through a lot of injuries through all the sports he plays.”

One of those sports is wrestling and McCrea has made an even bigger mark there. The 4-foot-8, 77-pounder has captured state and national 70-pound championships, constantly showing the grit which has defined his summer-long journey.

McCrea is as fast as he is strong and has provided Des Moines a weapon at the top of the lineup. That he even earned all-star honors and played this season is a testament to his courage. Showing courage after the April injury, McCrea returned to the field wearing a protective C-flap helmet. His blend of hitting prowess, speed and fundamentals made McCrea an ideal lead-off hitter who also helped solidify the defense.

Then disaster struck again. McCrea opened the Midwest Regional by reaching base in two of his three at-bats, but suffered a cruel blow when he took another fastball to the face. Blood gushed from his face as McCrea lay on the field with his tearful teammates watching. These are kids and seeing one of their friends in so much pain hurt. The coaches huddled the team after McCrea exited the field and that is when the players knew what they had to do.

Winning regionals in McCrea’s honor became a mission. Four days later, the mission was completed as Des Moines beat North Dakota, 7-4, for the region championship on McCrea’s birthday.

“The kids kind of shut down (after the injury). They were crying, upset and wanted to quit,” Des Moines coach Danny Watson said. “We had a meeting and they got fired up and said, ‘Let’s do it for Junior.'”

McCrea wore an American flag mask which covered his cheek following the injury. In a show of solidarity, his teammates often did, too. That speaks volumes.

“They rallied around him,” Grandview vice president Larry Sellers said. “He was right in the dugout with them, cheering them on. He’s a pretty phenomenal kid.”

Take McCrea away and Des Moines would not be playing on Little League’s biggest stage. Even when he could not run the bases, catch flyballs or deliver hits, McCrea continued making in impact. He provides motivation and is serving as a role model.

This run started in late June and McCrea helped ignite it. Two months later he still is.

“Matthew helped get things started from the get-go,” Grandview Little League president Patrick Turner said. “He has been a big part, to say the least.”

Even if McCrea could not play again at the Series, look at the impact he has made. Look at how much he influences his teammates. His work is done.

Simply put, McCrea has done enough.