Getting to LLWS is new norm in Grosse Pointe

Reaching the Little League World Series is the dream. For most Little League Baseball players, coaches and volunteers, that is all ever remains.

Becoming one of the world’s best 16 teams can be as challenging as solving a complex nuclear physics equation. But in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, it is nearly becoming the norm.

Grosse-Pointe Woods-Shores Little League is playing at the Series for a fourth time and for the third time since 2013. A standard has been set and this 2018 team keeps raising the bar even higher.

“It’ not easy and somehow we’ve done it three out of the last six years. They’ve kind of figured out in terms of work and attitude what it takes, but there’s no doubt that it’s really special to be here again,” Grosse-Pointe manager Kurt Barr said. “We have two players that had brothers on last year’s team and they had a picture taken at last year’s Series and they wrote on it that, ‘we hope we can do this ourselves next year.’ To see that happen is pretty amazing.”

The league does not start each year expecting that it will end in South Williamsport. That is not its mission either. Like nearly every league, Grosse-Pointe Woods-Shores values teaching life lessons and building strong people on and off the field above all else. This, though, sure is a nice bonus.

While the league is ultra-competitive, it also helps that so many aspiring all-stars have either attended the Series or know friends and relatives that have played here. The Series still is a dream for those developing players but it feels more real and that can make a huge difference.

“It’s great seeing how the younger kids respond. It helps the entire league and T-Ball and A-Ball continue to grow and that’s fantastic,” Grosse-Pointe Woods-Shores Little League president and coach Melissa Henderson said. “They are watching what everyone else is doing and they want to be like the big kids.”

It is more than Little League that is huge in Grosse-Pointe. Baseball in general is adored. Athletes of all ages play hard and Grosse-Pointe South High School captured the Division I state championship last spring. Good baseball seemingly has become ingrained in young players’ DNA.

That is especially true at the Little League level. Players from this year’s Great Lakes champion competed against last year’s players during the regular season. Games are fun, but the athletes also relentlessly compete. When it comes time for all-star competition, these players already have received a taste of big-time baseball.

“The balance of the league and competitive level of league is really good. That not only helps the kids on this team, but the league as a whole,” said 2017 Grosse-Pointe manager Jason Hill, who has had three sons play on Series qualifiers. “Baseball in Grosse-Pointe is really competitive and the kids put a lot of time in and the the league is serious about giving kids the opportunity to get better.”

“Our community is a hot bed for baseball,” Henderson said. “We have great volunteers who want to put in the time and educate themselves so that they can to educate the kids. The volunteers put in a lot of time during the offseason to help the league and the players do a lot of work as well and that is a huge help.”

The players take it from there and this group has built on the program’s tradition. Maybe even more impressive than reaching the Series is that Grosse-Pointe has done it with a completely new team. No current player competed on last year’s team. This group primarily has been together since they were 8. It lost in the 11-year old state semifinals a year ago and that provided some extra incentive entering 2018.

There really was no offseason following last year’s loss. Grosse-Pointe played fall ball, worked throughout the winter and continued improving throughout the spring. All that work has paid huge dividends. Grosse-Pointe entered the Series 14-0 and steamrolled through the Great Lakes tournament, outscoring four opponents, 46-6.

Not everything has come easy and Grosse-Pointe rallied from five and four-run deficits on consecutive days to win the state championship. This is a talented team, but it also is a tough one. It has become a reflection of those three other qualifiers.

Grosse-Pointe has done something just as important. It has shown the world everything that this powerhouse league represents.

“They don’t seem fazed by much,” Barr said. “We have a lot of depth on the mound, throughout the lineup and in the field. They truly are a team. It’s a really fun group of kids to be around and they really enjoy one another.”

“Williamsport always is the dream, but you know how hard it is to make it,” Henderson said. “This is the third team since 2013 and they have been three completely different teams with three completely different staffs. It is pretty impressive.”

The tradition continues growing stronger.