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Chris Masse on youth sports: To players at the Series, just have fun

SUN-GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Players from Louisiana collect infield dirt from Lamade Stadium after winning the 2019 Little League World Series. Whether a team wins the entire World Series tournament or goes 0-2 while in South Williamsport, players should enjoy their time at the Series and soak up every moment of a once-in-a-life experience of getting to the Series.

The moment has arrived. The 75th Little League World Series opens today. For a Little League player, this is Baseball Heaven. The great thing for the players is that this is the fun part. This is the Super Bowl of fun, the grand prize of fun, the jackpot of fun … you get the idea.

Here’s the deal, though, as I address the players. Always remember how fun this is. Never, ever forget that while you are here.

What I have told any youth athlete who will listen during my sports writing career is to savor these special moments because they go by so fast. Once they’re gone, you cannot get them back. A select few — like Tennessee’s Jack Rhodes and William Satinoff; as well as Hawaii’s Kekoanui Payanal — are living the dream twice. Still, for most this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and that is why it is crucial to focus on all the splendid aspects.

Hawaii manager Gerald Oda led his Honolulu team to the 2018 world championship and is again coaching this year’s team. He said it best to Brennan Tomas during an at-bat in the West Regional championship. Paraphrasing, the hard part is over. This is the good stuff. This is the prize for all the hard work, sacrifice and hours you have put into it.

Yes, it would be awesome to win the World Series championship, or the International or U.S. championships. But really, at this point, that is all icing on a glorious cake baked to perfection all summer. There is nowhere else to go after this tournament. You have reached the final destination, so might as well soak everything up and enjoy it as much as possible.

Maybe some here will play Major League Baseball on day. Some, almost certainly, will play Division I college baseball. But unless you make it to the MLB playoffs and/or College World Series, you likely will not have a time like this again in your baseball lives.

Think of all the joy you have brought not just your communities, but your cities, states and countries. Professional athletes all over the sporting spectrum are watching you and wishing you well. Parades, congratulatory messages and outpourings of love have become the norm.

Norman Dale — the fictional basketball coach from the classic movie, “Hoosiers” — told a critic during the film that most people would give anything to be treated like a god, even for just 15 minutes. You all are experiencing that now. You are rock stars, pro athletes and movie stars all wrapped into one.

Heck, when the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox arrive Sunday, they will be as excited to meet you as you are to meet them. That’s not an exaggeration either. I’ve seen it since the MLB Little League Classic started. Each year. That is the impact you have made.

So why worry about anything while here? Play hard, play to win but don’t get caught up in winning and losing. The chips will fall where they may, but when you get older you won’t remember the at-bats or the plays.

What you will remember is playing at Lamade and Volunteer Stadiums. You will remember your friends and all the awesome times you shared on and off the field. You will remember the places you went, people you met and joy you provided.

Take it from me. I once was 12, too. That was a long, long time ago, but I digress. The point is when I played, I was my own worst enemy. I treated every game, every at-bat, every pitch like it was life or death.

Don’t be like me. I’m in my 40s now and still regret that I let my own thoughts cloud what should have been a great time in my life. I wish I could go back and change it and just enjoy the experience of playing with my buddies, but I can’t. All I can do is encourage you all to have the time of your lives out there.

So, my advice is to stop and look around when you get a chance. Touch the grass and dirt. Run around the field with unbridled enthusiasm. Enjoy seeing all your fans there supporting you. Savor playing on one of the most pristine fields on which you will ever compete.

Remember all you did to get here. This is the pay off. Forget about the cameras and the tournament ramifications and things like that. In the grand scheme of things, that is all secondary.

Whether you win the whole thing or go 0-2 here, you already have secured incredible legacies and will long be remembered by your communities and all the fans you have thrilled. Make all your memories good ones no matter if you get a hit or not.

You already have made so many unforgettable moments and that has brought you to your biggest moment; the most rewarding moment.

Now go out and own it.

Chris Masse may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse

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