Purify one of Series’ best players

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Michigan's Jarren Purify attempts to make a catch on a hit against Idaho during a game earlier in the Little League World Series at Howard J. Lamade Stadium.

Jarren Purify hit mammoth home runs at the Great Lakes Regional. Monday, he helped keep the Grosse-Pointe, Michigan season alive when he used his speed and beat out a a bunt single.

Earlier that day, Purify had Grosse-Pointe fans jumping when he fully extended himself, stopped a sure two-run double headed down the left-field line and made the final out. And that was the second time he made a play like that at the Little League World Series.

Those sequences reveal so much. Purify is an incredible talent who hits with power and can run like a deer. He also has the acumen to match and is one of the smartest players on the field at all times.

Grosse-Pointe is still battling to see if it’s Little League’s best U.S. baseball team. But Purify might just have been the best player here.

“He’s special,” Grosse-Pointe manager Kurt Barr said. “I’ve said it a million times. That kid has speed, he’s a smart player and he has a high baseball IQ. He will add value and find a way to help this team any given night.”

Purify is an opponent’s nightmare. He is a five-tool threat and it is hard picking what exactly he is best at because he excels in every baseball fact. Purify hit safely in each of the first three games, helped spark big comeback wins against Idaho and Iowa and played third base like few others in recent memories at the Series have.

Humble and determined, Purify has provided whatever Grosse-Pointe need on its way to becoming one of the country’s top four Little League teams. That went double at the Series and he earned the respect of everybody Grosse-Pointe played.

“My pitch caller Steve Saunders spent hours and hours going over tape. Steve and (pitcher) Chris (Reynolds) put together a perfect plan to shut him down, but that kid is legit,” Idaho manager Sean Cherry said after Purify helped Grosse-Pointe turn a four-run deficit into a 5-4 win. “The third time he came up and rocketed that shot (a double). You know eventually he’s going to beat you. He’s just a wonderful, wonderful player.”

Purify generated a buzz before he reached the Series. He was a wrecking machine at the regoinals, going 9 for 10 with two home runs, three triples, three doubles, eight RBIs and nine runs. So dominant was Purify that he reached base in each his final 11 at-bats in Indianapolis.

The ultimate sign of respect came when Grosse-Pointe played Indiana for the championship. Indiana opened the game with a strikeout, but still chose to intentionally walk Purify with nobody on base in a scoreless game. The strategy backfired and Grosse-Pointe built an early lead. An inning later, Indiana pitched to Purify.

That backfired, too. Purify crushed a 2-run home run and Grosse-Pointe took a 7-0 lead. Indiana did not pitch to Purify again, intentionally walking him two more times.

“Jarren is such a great kid that he’s like, ‘OK, that’s fine, walk me and I’ll come home and score with the other hitters batting me around,” Grosse-Pointe Wood-Shores Little League president and coach Melissa Champine-Henderson said.

That is the dilemma opponents face. Giving Purify a free pass instead of pitching to him can be a disastrous because once on base, he becomes the ultimate weapon. As great a baseball player as he is, Purify might be an even better runner.

Purify turns routine grounders into singles, stretches singles into doubles and seemingly can manufacture a run out of thin air. Against Hawaii, Purify tagged up from second on a ball hit to left field, reached third and scored on a wild pitch. A day later, he slipped rounding third, but still scored when the ball was thrown to the third baseman, easily beating the throw and scoring a critical run that made it, 4-3.

“He’s been doing it for two months and it puts a lot of pressure on the defense,” Barr said. “On a lot of occasions it speeds them up and forces errors. That’s happened to our benefit in a number of games. It’s a great thing.”

So is Purify understand his gift. As far as he can hit a baseball, Purify knows the game well. When he came up in the fifth inning against Iowa Monday, Grosse-Pointe trailed, 4-1 with one out. The team desperately needed baserunners, so Purify dropped a bunt that went toward the pitcher. Most players would have been thrown out, but Purify beat the throw and a game-tying rally gathered steam.

” He’s not a selfish player. He just knew he had to get on base and that’s pretty special for a 12-year old kid,” Barr said. “Quite frankly, I think he could bunt a ball to the pitcher and be safe. We encourage it from time to time but there’s a balance there because his power is nice to see every once in a while, too.”

Oh yeah, Purify also plays third base like a modern-day Brooks Robinson.

He possesses a hose for an arm, super range and cat-like instincts. Purify is like a vacuum, gobbling up everything hit his way. He makes the routine plays, but it is the highlight-reel plays that have left so many at South Williamsport in awe.

He might have made the two best plays, thus far at the Series. The first came last Friday when Idaho’s Chase Saunders rocketed a liner down the third-base line. It looked like a sure two or three-run double that would give Idaho a six or seven-run lead. Instead, Purify did his best Super Man-impersonation, flying through the air and knocking the ball down. Just as impressive, he immediately rose and fired a perfect strike from near the outfield grass.

Purify’s miraculous play ended the inning and ignited Grosse-Pointe as it scored five runs in its last two at-bats and won, 5-4.

“That third baseman made the greatest play I’ve ever seen in Little League,” Cherry said.

Purify provided a near replay in a similar situation against Iowa. The Midwest champions led Grosse-Pointe, 3-0 in the second inning and looked like they would have more when Alex Stewart smashed a hard grounder right down the line.

Again, Purify made a fully-extended leap and snared the grounder. Again, he still needed to complete the sequence and used his speed to sprint to third, record the forceout and keep it a three-run game. Again, Grosse-Pointe rallied and won, 5-4.

Not only do Purify’s plays hurt the other team, they inspire his teammates.

“The third baseman made a really good play. That would have opened up the game a little more,” Iowa manager Matt Kunert said. “That was a big turning point in the game.”

“That was amazing,” Grosse-Pointe pitcher Preston Barr said. “He saved me there.”

Those watching Purify at this Series should savor the memories. It could be a while before they see a player like him again.