The 2019 Little League World Series has been marked by memorable plays and inspirational moments. We asked some of the folks who had front-row seats for all the action — on and off the field — in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to weigh in with their favorite LLWS stories.
A brave little brother
Marshall and Maddox Louque, two baseball-loving brothers from River Ridge, Louisiana, share a bond that extends beyond the field.
Marshall’s Louisiana team, representing the Southwest Region, lost its opening game of the 2019 Little League World Series, falling 5-2 to Hawaii. He started the game and surrendered four runs in the first inning. It was an uncharacteristic performance for the ace, who had helped power River Ridge to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, with both his arm and his bat. But the 12-year-old didn’t despair. He needed look no further than his younger sibling for perspective — and inspiration.
In 2016, at age 6, Maddox was diagnosed with a stage 4 Wilms tumor, or kidney cancer. He endured six weeks of chemotherapy, then had his kidney removed. He was in remission for almost two years before his cancer returned. More spots were found on his lungs.
Maddox underwent a stem cell transplant in March. Now, almost 200 days post-transplant, “He’s doing great,” said his mother, Carmen. She and her husband, Fabian, are joined by Maddox in Williamsport to cheer on Marshall and his team at the LLWS.
“Maddox looks up to his brother, and Marshall looks up to him,” Carmen said. “They’ve both loved baseball since they were little.”
Less than two weeks after his stem cell transplant, Maddox was out in the hallway of the hospital playing whiffle ball. The fact that his IV was still attached didn’t stop the 9-year-old from ripping line drives back at dad. This past spring, even as he underwent chemotherapy, Maddox — a pitcher and infielder, like his brother — played the entire season for his Little League team back in River Ridge.
“On Monday through Friday, he’d be in the hospital, doing chemo, because he wanted to play baseball on Saturday and Sunday,” Carmen said. “The doctors said it was OK. As long as he could keep playing baseball, he was happy.”
Maddox’s fight has helped Marshall and his teammates keep things in perspective this summer.
“Giving up a run or striking out isn’t such a big deal to our guys when they look over at Maddox and see what he is fighting,” said Louisiana manager Scott Frazier. “Marshall doesn’t get too high or too low. He knows it’s nothing compared to what his brother has to go through.”
Louisiana battled its way back through the elimination bracket at the LLWS after that opening loss, reeling off wins against Oregon, Minnesota and New Jersey. Then Marshall threw a no-hitter against Virginia on Thursday that propelled his team into the U.S. Championship game on Saturday — and a rematch with Hawaii at 3 p.m. ET.
Whatever happens in that game, the experience already has been a happy one for the Louque family.
“For Maddox to be here celebrating with his brother is like a dream come true,” Carmen said. “Baseball has been the best medicine.” — Aimee Crawford
Aussies rule the name game
My favorite part of the 2019 Little League World Series was interacting with the Australian team. When I first met the Aussies, a couple of the players called me “mate.” No one has ever called me “mate” before.
The Australians have the best names in the tournament, including a big kid named Oscar Clout. His favorite player is, predictably, Aaron Judge.
They also have a second baseman named Harrison Ford, who listed his favorite actor as … Harrison Ford. “My mom didn’t name me after him; they just liked the name,” he said.
And 83-pound Ewan Choat, who broke so many windows hitting baseballs out of his back yard that his dad built him a batting cage.
Then there is 4-foot-11 Lincoln Gruppelaar, whose birthday is Aug. 27. The Australian team is flying home on Aug. 26. It is a 30-hour flight to Sydney, and with the time change, the players will land on Aug. 28. Lincoln’s birthday will disappear. “It’s OK,” Lincoln said, “we will have a party on the plane.” — Tim Kurkjian
Most inspirational mom
Jenn Bloom, who is battling leukemia, is being interviewed and has a touching reaction when her son, Minnesota’s Dylan Bloom, scores vs. Kentucky.
Jenn Bloom is fighting Leukemia. She was hospitalized for 48 days earlier this year, and she received a bone marrow transplant in May. She wasn’t cleared to travel to Williamsport to watch her son, Dylan, play until just days before the LLWS started.
During Minnesota’s opening game against Kentucky, I was interviewing her when Dylan came around to score his team’s first run. Jenn — who also was celebrating her 16th wedding anniversary with her husband, Greg, who manages Dylan’s team — was explaining how much it meant for her to be there and to have some normalcy back in her life.
“This is why I’m here,” she said, fighting back tears. “We were definitely tested this year. This is why my husband became a single parent for about three months.”
It was an incredibly touching moment. — Julie Foudy
Maddy Freking makes history
Minnesota’s Maddy Freking — the first girl to play in the LLWS since Mo’ne Davis — records a strikeout and makes a great play to throw out a runner at home vs. Virginia.
Minnesota’s Maddy Freking was the 19th girl to play in the Little League World Series — and first since Mo’ne Davis and Emma March in 2014 — and she became only the sixth girl in LLWS history to fire a fastball to opposing hitters. I loved the intensity in her eyes when she was on the mound but enjoyed even more how much being “the only girl” at the tournament didn’t faze her one bit. She was just another pitcher trying to help her team get a win. — Jessica Mendoza
Honoring a teammate’s memory
After each of his four strikeouts against Minnesota, Kentucky’s Grayson Newman traced the No. 11 in the dirt on the mound. He did it in honor of one of his teammates, Mason Goodnight, who played for Bowling Green Eastern Little League until he died on April 6, 2017, at the age of 10 from a rare form of bacterial meningitis.
“[Mason] was one of my best friends and we were really close,” Grayson said. “It’s important to honor him when we play.”
Mason died just six days before Bowling Green’s opening game in 2017. His No. 11 jersey has hung in the dugout during every game the team has played since. Kentucky’s fans wore “MG11” shirts in Williamsport, bringing attention to the Mason Goodnight Fund, which helps provide kids with athletic opportunities.
Jef Goodnight, Mason’s father, is a coach for the Kentucky team. His biggest wish when Mason died was that he wouldn’t be forgotten.
“The Goodnight family has endured something that no parent wants to. One of the things I wanted to achieve was to tell Mason’s story,” Kentucky manager Rick Kelley said.
Jef Goodnight considers the Kentucky players “an extension of Mason.”
“I love them with all my heart,” he said. “I could never in a million years tell them how much they’ve helped me. … Mason and I talked many times about how he wanted to come [to the Little League World Series]. He didn’t get to come here, but he’s made it happen for these kids. And he made it happen for me.”
An angel in the outfield
The No. 11 has special significance in Williamsport. In 1991, Michael Cammarata ran out to right field at the Little League World Series wearing No. 11 for the team from Staten Island, New York. A decade later, Cammarata raced into the World Trade Center and became the youngest firefighter to die following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. His number, which graces the right field wall of Lamade Stadium, is the only one ever retired from use in the Little League World Series.
Mike Whissel, one of Cammarata’s teammates on that LLWS team, returned to Williamsport this year with his father, Jack, and son, Harrison, to celebrate his friend’s memory. One of the first people he met was Janna Goodnight, Mason Goodnight’s mom. They exchanged stories about Mason and Michael.
“I love that Mason’s team keeps his memory alive,” Whissel said. “I find it hard not to root for them.”
Whissel paused by the No. 11 emblem on the outfield wall at Lamade and said a prayer for Cammarata.
“This number is helping keep Mike’s spirit alive and celebrating his joy of life,” Whissel said. “He was a tremendous athlete — and an even better person. He was the ultimate teammate.” — A.C.
Minnesota Little Leaguer Jaxon Knutson makes a diving catch to end the fifth inning and prevent a possible game-tying run.
A true web gem
The play that Minnesota shortstop Jaxson Knutson made in his team’s first game was so good, it brought me out of my seat. Bowling Green was threatening in the bottom of the fifth inning, with runners on first and second and Minnesota up 2-1. Luke Idlett roped a line drive destined for the gap.
From out of nowhere, Knutson dove to his right, extended as far as he could — and made the catch to save the game. After the game, Knutson told Julie Foudy that he was simply thinking, “I’ve gotta keep the ball in the infield.” — Karl Ravech
A show of sportsmanship
Rhode Island pitcher Alex Anderson gave up a home run to Virginia’s Brady Yates in the fifth inning of their game on Aug. 16. As Yates rounded the bases, Anderson stuck out his glove to congratulate him — as did catcher Christopher Promades and several other players in Rhode Island’s infield — as he trotted past.
Yates’ homer broke a 0-0 tie in the fifth inning and ultimately represented the winning runs in Virginia’s 3-0 victory. Anderson could have reacted to it in countless other ways, but his show of sportsmanship resonated with many who were watching, including Yates.
“I didn’t expect it, but it was a cool thing to do,” said Yates.
Was the high-five spontaneous or something Anderson has done before?
“I haven’t given up many homers,” he said with a shrug. “But it seemed like a way to show him some respect.”
Bienvenido a Williamsport
None of the families of the team from Venezuela made the trip to the Little League World Series, so hundreds of fans in Williamsport “adopted” the kids from Cacique Mara Little League in Maracaibo. And perhaps no player from the team got a warmer reception than Diego Boscan.
Boscan did not travel with his teammates to Williamsport from Panama, where the Latin America regional tournament was played, because of visa issues. He missed Venezuela’s opening-round LLWS loss to South Korea and wins over Australia and Mexico.
Jose Briceno, the national director of Little League in Venezuela, said that Boscan was asked during his first application if he had family in the U.S. His application was denied. Boscan’s 23-year-old brother, Francisco Boscan, lives in the U.S. and is a military veteran. As part of the second application, Francisco wrote a letter to the U.S. embassy in Panama. The application was approved on Monday.
Boscan arrived at the Little League complex on Tuesday morning and was on the mound for Venezuela’s 3 p.m. game.
The game didn’t turn out in his favor — Boscan allowed five earned runs in 1⅓ innings as Venezuela was eliminated from championship contention with a 9-2 loss to Curacao — but he finally got to share the experience.
“The important thing is he made it here,” Venezuela manager Luis Gonzalez said. “Now he can enjoy the rest of the week.”