Tennessee’s ‘Big Daddy’ is quite the leader

Nashville, Tenn., all-star Trae McLemore is collecting nicknames at the rate he delivers big hits and makes outstanding plays on the baseball diamond.

His parents gave him the nickname “Big Papi,” in honor of Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, a few years ago and now all the Tennessee fans chant that name when McLemore bats. Still, to his teammates, he has another nickname that sums him up better.

“I call him ‘Pops,'” Tennessee pitcher Ben Pickman said. “He’s just a big daddy. Everybody just loves him. He’s encouraging, loud and helps fire up the team.”

McLemore might be just 12, but he plays a fatherly role for the Southeast Region champions, serving as a consummate team leader.

He also is a dominant player. McLemore revealed that on a worldwide stage Saturday at Lamade Stadium, going 2 for 3 with a mammoth, grand-slam homer, go-ahead two-run single and a solid inning of pitching as Tennessee routed Texas, 10-1, in a Little League World Series elimination game. That performance helped his team advance to today’s game against Mid-Atlantic titlist Newark, Del.

“Everyone looks up to him on the team,” Tennessee manager Chris Mercado said. “For him to come out and have the game he had was great.”

It was just McLemore being McLemore.

The 6-foot first baseman/pitcher has all the tools. He has good defensive range, pitches well, runs the bases fast and has tremendous power. McLemore’s grand slam Saturday traveled 270 feet and capped a performance in which he reached base his last three times at bat.

“When I hit that grand slam it was just amazing what went through my body. It’s been one of my dreams to come and play in this tournament and we’re here,” McLemore said. “After I hit that I looked up at my mom (Brenda Gonzalezz) and she was crying and I was like, ‘this is awesome.'”

McLemore said his mother is the team’s top cheerleader. Her son has given her plenty to cheer about, playing great throughout Tennessee’s run to South Williamsport. He hit .312 at the Southeast Regional tournament and did not allow a run in 7 2/3 innings as Tennessee rallied to win the championship.

Like Ortiz, McLemore has a flair for the dramatic, consistently delivering in the clutch. The bigger the games, the better McLemore seems to play. He threw three scoreless innings in the regional championship as Tennessee beat Virginia, 5-3, and avenged its only previous regional tournament loss.

McLemore not only plays well, but also has a calming influence on his teammates. That is one reason the Southeast champions still are playing despite losing the first game of every postseason tournament they have played.

With Tennessee’s all-star run at stake Saturday, McLemore shined again as his two-run single broke a scoreless fourth-inning tie and he struck out two in closing out the win.

“I just try to stay encouraging to all our teammates and tell everyone not to get down on anybody,” McLemore said. “Just keep everyone focused on the game and be ready.”

Attitude reflects leadership and Tennessee’s results speak for themselves.

This big daddy is quite the leader.